Do people have visions and premonitions of death?

  Painting by Joshua Reynolds, wikimedia commons

The question people ponder, but experts say many reject because of fear, is when they'll die. But do people have premonitions, and could the costs of health care be reduced by knowing more about the process of death?
While the health care debate continues in full swing in the United States, even after the passage of the recent bill to create better access to medical care and to reduce costs, some scientists and religious folk believe if we knew more about death and accepted what has been discovered already about it, perhaps the costs of medical care prior to death could be reduced. This is not, however, to suggest death panels but to understand that death is natural and normal and certain processes can be identified and accepted as such. One important factor has to do with premonitions of death and near-death experiences that researchers have found present a universal message about death and dying. A Tucson, Arizona support group investigating and providing information for those interested in or who have experienced premonitions announce on April 21, 2010 a significant presentation by a physician who has written a book especially about the issue of premonition about dying and the near death experience as well. Dr. Allan Hamilton has written a book called “The Scalpel and the Soul," and his announced presentation is "Experience the Spiritual Side of Surgery." The group offers this as an overview of his Hamilton's anticipated presentation "
Based on thirty years experience as a Harvard-educated brain surgeon, The Scalpel and the Soul: Encounters with Surgery, the Supernatural, and the Healing Power of Hope tells the stories behind remarkable patients and the moral and spiritual lessons they can teach everyone. In this book, Dr. Hamilton shares a rare glimpse of how the spiritual and the supernatural manifest themselves even in the high-tech world of 21st century intensive care units or operating rooms. The soul often needs more than an Intensive Care Unit can provide. The Scalpel and the Soul explores how premonition, superstition, hope and faith not only become factors in how patients feel, but can change the outcomes as well."
 A journal recently returned from a trip across the United States, encountering a story learned just days ago about an old friend who died quite young and seemed to know she would. She was a lovely girl, filled with life and hope and dreams. She lived in La Grande, Oregon, born 69 years ago, part of the memories that come up when folks revisit friends and find them gone as happened when a journalist returned to the little town after 45 years had past.

Her name was Janice Shenfield. Her name had later changed, but old friend's memories seemed to stay with matters learned in childhood. She could top the class in spelling, vying for the place with two other girls who worked so hard to be the best in school. She married young and made her life in her hometown of La Grande, Oregon, where family members yet remain, remember, think and wonder, what her life just might have been were she alive today.

Shenfield's Richard, spoke with this journalist on the matter of premonition in relationship to his sister. He said she died those 30 years ago, but for those who knew young Janice far before those years the news was new, the sadness fresh, the loss of something, someone special who represented life in years that were and never are again. He said, "She always said she wouldn't ever see 40, and she died before that age. She was only 39 but knew. The cancer came and took her. But we miss her still, these many years that pass."

 "How did she know?" the question asked, the brother spoke again.

"Who knows for sure. She seemed to know. She talked of it from time to time. Your visit brings this back so fresh. We loved her too. She was a special girl and a person of great faith."

 But does faith conflict with premonition, with extra-spiritual experience in ways outside of what most people think as normal ways? A talk with Reverend Kathy Muder  gives insight into what some spiritual advisers, ministers and people of faith believe.

 Indeed that belief in God does not preclude, but may include, experiences like an old friend, Janice Shenfield, had. Muder said this in answer to the question of premonitions and experiences related to death. "I'm not unconvinced these things don't happen. God can intervene in ways we can't understand. We often don't believe beyond ourselves, but there's a lot that goes on that isn't valued that includes extra communication that goes beyond what we consider normal."

The Reverend told a story not unlike those heard from time to time about messages that come from that somewhere else, someplace some folks disregard and simply think of strange. The story related this, "My sister and I shared a room. We had a built in desk. While I was out and away, my grandmother would sit at the desk and speak to my sister. My grandmother had died but came and told my sister an aunt had breast cancer. When the aunt eventually died, the grandmother didn't reappear."

 "Do you believe it true?" Muder replied, "I believe premonitions and experiences can happen like my grandmother. If you believe God is active in the world, how can you not believe?" And Muder ended thus, "And Christ did say, 'Let those who have ears let them hear.'

 The notion of preconceiving death is one that mystics and religious people write and think about at times. Some folks do not include a faith when talking of these things, but the narrative remains much the same, the experiences related in a fashion about folks who seem to know when they will die or what might happen next. It has been reported in the news from time to time, as it was in the case of Anwar Sadat whose wife declared he had a premonition of his own death.

There are blogs and stories on the Internet that maintain the experience happened to people around the world. But what does science say?

 The well-known writer-researcher of near death experience, Dr. Melvin L. Morse, MD, FAAP, maintains it is common to feel intensely or have visions someone you love will die. In a Sudden Death research study it was found by comparing parents with children who had died of SDS with two control groups, 25% of those parents whose children had actually died had distinctly unique perceptions not seen in the control groups. They reported these impressions either in journals or in conversations with physicians. Morse declares, "Recent medical research indicates that we are all born with a "sixth sense", localized in our right temporal lobe, which allows us to perceive spiritual realities." Morse' work and manuscripts, such as Parting Visions and Transformed by the Light, has been studied by near death and death researchers around the world.

An article written in Mindspring, available on the Internet, discusses some of his summations about the death experience. These include: * Having visions about death is normal affecting more than 10% of the population who recall having visions about death related to loved ones. * Most parents who have had children who died had visions of it within a year before the death. * Happy marriages bring more after-death visions than others and are more common in marriages with children * Before death many dying patients have visions of deceased family members and of another world. Many of these experiences are shared by more than one person. * Angels figure into many of these visions, with 50% of children reporting this from near death experiences. * Folks report being conscious during death and able to see and hear events taking place around them at the time. *

 Those who experience near-death are often transformed by the experience, with the fear diminished and the love of life increased. They also tend to be more charitable than the population at large. People who hear about their experiences are also changed. * Visions of death have not been found as products of wish fulfillment and don't unfold in ways one would expect. They also don't conform to traditional views of heaven. * Researchers on the matter declare the right temporal lobe of the human brain is developed for these spiritual experiences and can be cultivated to enhance them.

 Morse believes also that having visions of impending death can also be helpful and life-changing. He puts forth the view that 30% to 60% of medical expenses occurring the last few days of life could be saved if folks could view death as a natural and normal part of life and if folks could die peacefully and with dignity. Morse also intimates that death visions can impact prevention as well, as those experiencing near-death visions usually take better care of their health than others do.

 Dr. Peter Fenwick, a neuropsychiatrist, reported on his study of near death and premonitions in his book The Art of Dying. He said this in an interview with skeptics on why the issue of premonitions and death aren't discussed as much as he believes is necessary and important to learn about ourselves. He said,
"We don’t allow ourselves both from a scientific point of view and to some extent in a cultural point of view to look at this. But the phenomenology is just fascinating and it starts, the Dalai Lama says that we know, and this is my current research interest and if any of your listeners have information on this, I’d love to know about it. The Dalai Lama says that two years before you die, you get inclinations that you’re going to die. So, I would like to know from people if their relatives who have died had inclinations that long before. I don’t mean once you’ve gone to the doctor and found a lump and you know you got cancer, that’s not that. It’s mental inclinations that you know that you’re going to die, probably when you consider yourself to be well before anything happens. So that’s one point.
Fenwick goes on to give specifics about death visions by saying,
About a month about you die, then you’ll start getting visitations from dead family members. We’ve got enough accounts of these to say who comes and it tends to be spouses are the highest on your list. Then brothers or sisters and children quite often see their grandparents."
A sister years ago tells her brother and her family she will die and says it some time before it happens, as it does. Family folk remember to this day. Premonitions might seem fantasy for some, but there are those who say they are real, enough for conscious, careful study and for consolation of those who remember loved ones attuned to listening to messages that some believe, like Dr. Fenwick, allow the soul to transition with advanced knowledge of its course. Some say that knowledge could reduce those interventions that maintain an artificial life that disregards its quality and that can be expensive and unnecessary, while others believe near-death experiences can bring information about prevention too so that people take better care of their health, thus reducing the overall costs of health care. It is, however, an issue both scientists and those interested in spiritual matters are bringing to the discussion as part of both the health care debate and the need to provide information that can affect how people view death and prepare for it.