Distinction of Nearing Death Awareness
When people dying slowly of a terminal illness are approaching death, they too, have remarkable experiences (like “terminal lucidity” – the unexpected return of mental clarity and memory shortly before death) and seem to develop an expanded awareness. This is called Nearing Death Awareness (NDA), and these experiences bear distinct parallels to NDEs. They occur, however, without warning and without disruption of vital signs, or other medical crisis. In fact, dying people seem to be able to drift from this reality into another and back with relative ease. Their attempts to share the wonders of these experiences by words or behavior are often thwarted by our lack of understanding of the symbolic language they use. But they are talking while the experience is actually happening.
As they drift back and forth, we understand the language they use for this reality, but not the language that belongs to the other reality. Observers are quick to label this communication as “confused” and, therefore, discount it, or sadly to medicate it. Once caregivers have the tools for understanding and participating in this verbal communication, they are afforded the unique and exciting opportunity to actually participate in these glimpses beyond, while they are actually happening. In this regard the NDE and NDA differ dramatically.
Healthcare providers and family members are valuable facilitators in the process of NDE and NDA. Patients may look to both for guidance and understanding of their experiences, and for support of their emotional and spiritual needs. On a daily basis, large numbers of patients are discharged from hospitals after undergoing a Near-Death Experience during their illness, accident or surgery—many without the benefit of sharing that experience with a healthcare professional who is often quick to label the NDE as a symptom of drug reaction, lack of oxygen, or confusion. Oftentimes when these patients attempt to explain their experiences to their family members, they, too respond incorrectly. The presence of an informed and positive person in the support of patients who have had NDEs and NDAs is critical in offering comfort, support and holistic care to experiencers. It is also a profound opportunity for the caregiver, friend or family member to grow themselves.
Providers around the world are hearing patients, especially terminally ill patients, describe their experiences; unfortunately, many do not recognize the phenomena. They have the opportunity to be supportive and take an active role in educating families, friends, and professional colleagues to become informed listeners who can discuss patients’ experiences in an objective and positive manner. To do so enriches both the caregiver and the patient.