Vision Trips and Crowded Rooms, David Kessler

How do the dying prepare for death? In many cases they have visions of their loved ones, particularly loved ones who have already passed away. This book, ‘Vision Trips and Crowded Rooms: who and what you see when you die’ describes those deathbed visions, in the words of care takers, clergy and others who have lost loved ones. As an introductory note to the reader says:

These firsthand accounts suggest that deathbed visions are normal and actually common, and they were culled from believers and skeptics alike, with no agenda. This book is simply a report from the front lines, featuring stories of average people, in their own words, experiencing extraordinary events .
… All stories have been edited for length and clarity.

(p. xi)

I’m not sure this book was written without an agenda. There are two agenda’s I see:

  1. Bringing these experiences to the general public, so they become aware that there is a mystery to dying.
  2. Bringing a particular interpretation of these experiences to the fore: these experiences say something about what happens to us AFTER we die.

The first is of course very much in keeping with the stated objective. The second however is, for this theosophist, a bit harder to take. The interpretation of these visions is, from a theological perspective, rather simple: people on the edge of death often experience their (dead) loved ones coming to take them. This must mean that we do all survive, and are spending our time up there surrounded by other dead people, and waiting for those we love to come and join us.

The book is expressly not about the metaphysical implications, which makes sense: the first order of business is emotional: helping people become less afraid of death. And helping them deal with their dying relatives when they do experience something like this, and their own deaths as well.

This is not an academic study, nor a para-psychological one. There are no stats to compare those who have these visions with those who don’t. We do not get any idea of the frequency of such experiences. This study only charts various types of such experiences and suggests possible explanations in the words of the caretakers who report them.

A few interesting tidbits from the book:

  • People who work with dying people usually take such visions as a symptom of oncoming death. Only in one case, in the book, did a woman NOT die subsequently.
  • These visions take place weeks before death, or hours, or anything in between. This makes the medical ‘lack of oxygen’ theory look a bit blank.
  • There are a few cases mentioned that do cross into parapsychology: where the person who is dying is aware of a loved one who has passed, with nobody around them knowing that yet.
  • People on the edge of death often prepare for it as though for a trip, including packing a bag.
  • People on the edge of death will often feel their room is crowded with people, whom they talk to.

For me the main point of this book is that whether or not the experiences are real in an objective sense (do we really wait around for our loved ones to die?), they are real as experiences: people on the edge of death do experience their loved ones coming to take them on. And like NDE’s, it is a positive experience on the whole.