“He lay on his death bed, mumbling and moaning. I noticed his eyes- they were transfixed at the room door. Did I catch a movement of his pupils? Well, probably once or twice in a span of an hour.”
Just a month back, I had met father’s oncologist. “The cancer is terminal”, she had said. I asked with a grim face, “So how long more?” A tough question for any doctor to answer. But she answered, diplomatically, “Unlikely months may be weeks.” I had got the message. Father wasn’t really going to make it through. And his first sign of the impending death came sooner than expected. The onset of jaundice in terminal liver cancer marks the beginning of the end. The liver is a vital organ responsible for regulating metabolic activities across our body. And a failure would mean a slow death of all other vital organs. The unregulated count of ammonia in the blood becomes a toxin to the brain. Hepatic coma is what the patient finally gets into.
And then his mumbling became clear. He called out, “Mother you have finally come? Where had you been?” An hour or so passed and he called out again, “Shankar, you have come too. And you look so young.” Shankar was my mother’s brother, whom father had always disliked. He had expired a year ago. Upon hearing this last line, I instantly felt a sudden chill. Father was having death bed visions (or known as DBV in short). He was talking to my grand mom and uncle- both of them deceased.
In scientific literature such experiences have been referred to as death-related sensory experiences (DRSE). Many a dying patients have often reported such visions of comfort to hospice staff around them. The scientific community considers deathbed phenomena and visions to be hallucinations
Specific studies on deathbed phenomena have described the visual, auditory, and sensed presences of deceased relatives or angelic beings during the dying process as hallucinations. The hallucinations occur due to cerebral hypoxia. When the body is injured, or if the heart stops, even if only for a short period the brain is deprived of oxygen. A short period of cerebral hypoxia can result in the impairment of neuronal function.
I have almost always looked up to science for life’s various questions and mysteries. Yet, for what I have experienced watching my dying Dad, I am still to receive convincing answers. Going with the hallucinations theory, I still have questions unanswered.
Why were there only dead people in his hallucinations? If they were a game of the brain, why did he call out to my uncle whom he seldom liked? How come he had clarity in his voice when he called out? He wasn’t coherent otherwise.
As I sat by dads bedside in his last few hours, I was greatly comforted in many a way to hear his death bed visions. I felt despite his pain, the sight of family members ready to take him with them, may make his transition, from dying to the world beyond, easier.
Probably that’s what I want to believe.
Hopefully, as time goes by, science would be able to give us a greater insight into such phenomena.