Does Life End at Death? The Answer is No! Below we share an excerpt from Carla Wills-Brandon who has researched nearly 2,000 departing visions/encounters for more than 30 years. This comes from her new book Heavenly Hugs: Comfort, Support, and Hope From the Afterlife.
The world of science continues to be at odds with that of spirituality. Skeptical thinkers scoff at tales of departing visions, calling them superstitions, hallucinations, or the wishful thinking of those individuals who fear death. Such scientific skeptics aren’t the only barrier to the open discussion of afterlife encounters; mental health professionals also shy away from such discussion during therapy sessions.
Many of my peers and colleagues have been judgmental of my investigations. I’ve been publicly ridiculed by skeptics and nonbelievers on numerous occasions, and at times, even members of the media have portrayed me as some sort of “flake.” Watching this from the sidelines my close friends often ask me, “Why do you continue to dedicate years of your life to exploring these spiritual reunions?” My reasons for doing so are very simple. Professionally, I strongly believe that those who experience departing visions are no longer plagued by a fear of death. Because of this they are able to resolve issues of grief and loss in a healing manner. I want to support these experiencers. Currently there are limited resources for those who seek out validation after such encounters.
Personally, my own otherworldly encounters with deceased friends and relatives have helped me grow spiritually. I started having departing visions and after-death communications when I was just 15. These treasured experiences continue to this day. When blessed with such contact I’m reassured that love never ends. With no fear of death, I now understand dying is just part of the journey to the next adventure.
In the early days any form of spiritual contact left me with a great deal of uncertainty. This confusion forced me to break out of my rigidity as a professional and then sent me for answers as a seeker. In order to begin this journey I first had to be willing to reevaluate my spiritual beliefs and my views on religion, life, death, and the afterlife. Traveling this path I opened myself up to other afterlife experiences. This created even more questions. With an increasing number of encounters it was necessary to find other experiencers who were just like me. With support and validation, I no longer felt overwhelmed or upset when skeptics refused to hear me. Instead, I began to realize they had their own spiritual road to follow. And every once in a while such paths cross mine.
Watching a Dying Skeptic Deal with an Afterlife Encounter
When experiencers share an account with me, I’m often the first person they have ever opened up to. Once I let them know that they haven’t frightened me off, I then talk about some of my own afterlife encounters. My favorite personal accounts involve my own family, and I always start with the worst skeptic of the bunch: my beloved mother-in-law!
The year was 2002. It was a dark and gloomy day on the Gulf coast, but Mom’s room was cramped and overheated. As I sat with my very ill mother-in-law, little did I know I was about to witness an unbelievable event.
She had decided to stop eating and wasn’t taking in any liquids. With this, I knew death was near. Forcing nutrition on a person who is dying actually makes the process more difficult, so my husband and I were bound and determined to respect her wishes. Fighting with medical staff insistent on feeding her left us feeling extremely frustrated. Once Mom began describing visitations from unseen visitors, we knew she was almost ready to go and we were glad we had stuck to our guns.
Some hospice workers are familiar with the departing vision, but the woman sitting next to Mom’s bedside didn’t have a clue. The poor gal began to emotionally unravel as my mother-in-law started having animated discussions with her invisible visitors. Immediately, medications for hallucinations were strongly suggested and the doctor was called. Sadly, the hospice worker didn’t realize this common, comforting spiritual event was more potent than any pill.
During a departing vision the dying will often describe those invisible visitors they are communicating with. For experiencers, the visions are very real and they respond as they would to someone visible to everyone in the room. Some experiencers become extremely confused or even angry when others at the bedside don’t acknowledge who it is they are seeing.
Though I understood the departing-vision phenomenon inside and out, I never dreamed this would be part of my skeptical mother-in-law’s exit script! Mom was a scientifically minded professor with not one but two PhDs. A radical, hardcore feminist, always dressed in stylish heels and high fashion, she believed an evening devoted to arguing politics was a good time! Discussions about pop culture, the afterlife, or religion were a waste of brain cells. When my first book on the spiritual experiences of the dying was published, she didn’t rush to read it. My mother-in-law let me know right away that she had no time for what she called “superstitious nonsense.”
One could confidently say she was incredibly cynical about all things spiritual, and for good reasons: In her early 20s Mom lost her own mother to the Nazi death camps in
. After such a loss her questions were,
“Why did I survive?” and “How could six million have been murdered? Why would a
kind God let this happen?” Because of her tragic history she rejected spiritual
matters for decades, but my husband, Michael, and I often talked about how
wonderful it would be if Mom had a reunion with her own mother at the moment of
her physical death. After such discussions we’d look at one another and shake
our heads no. Both of us were convinced she would go out kicking and screaming.
Sitting at my mother-in-law’s bedside as her frail body gave way, I learned that even skeptical university professors can be surprised. On the morning of her passing, Mom was very irritated. She didn’t understand her departing visions. Her sister was with us and the two were deep in conversation. In Polish my mother-in-law said, “These scenes are annoying! Crazy!” My aunt then turned to my husband and me and asked, “What on earth is she talking about?”
We told Mom’s sister and the rest of the family, “This is normal, and it’s a good thing. Don’t worry.” We then shared with them information about the departing visions.
“She’s talking to people we can’t see, and calling this ‘scenes,’” I said to my worried aunt. “The dying will revert to the language of their youth, and for Mom it’s Polish. She’s being visited by deceased relatives or friends and we need for you to continue translating for us so that we can know who it is she is talking to.” This not only eased my aunt’s concern, but also soothed her grief.
With the help of my aunt’s translating we quickly learned that Mom was having a passionate conversation with my father-in-law. As Mom talked back and forth between us and Pop, we noticed she was using the Yiddish word malpe. Malpe means “monkey,” and this was Mom’s nickname for Pop. Though his visit seemed to be reducing her fear of dying, she was still letting him know she wasn’t ready to go. Michael and I knew she was stubborn, but wondered what was really behind her reluctance to move on.
Like Mom, my father-in-law had been a nonbeliever. As a matter of fact, his views on death were even more depressing than Mom’s. He would say to us, “When I die I’ll make tasty food for worms!”
The day after Thanksgiving, 1996, my father-in-law, or “Da,” as my boys called him, suffered a paralyzing stroke. The kids were extremely upset—especially my older son, Aaron, who was devoted to his bigger-than-life grandfather. After Pop’s health improved, the two of them were back to clowning around. The only difference was, Aaron would ride in his Da’s lap in a wheelchair as they made loops around Mom.
Pop had lived a rich, active, and adventurous life. He was born in
, and as a young man he found himself at a
Communist rally one afternoon; he was then promptly asked by the French
government to leave the country! This incident provided us as a family with a
wealth of jokes at Pop’s expense, and the boys knew the story by heart. Expulsion
from the land of his youth turned out to be divine intervention because this
actually saved both he and my mother-in-law from the Nazi death camps.
Immigrating to the France , he then turned around, enlisted in the
Army, and served as a military medic in United States Europe. After the war he traveled to the
concentration camps and found surviving family, bringing them back to the
Intuitively, I knew his stroke would eventually be his physical downfall, but talking about dying, death, and spirituality with him was pointless. He was a serious agnostic who had never completely grieved over the death of his father in
. Often, when there is an early loss or
unresolved grief, spirituality suffers. With this awareness, I knew better than
to share my experiences about otherworldly visitations with either of my
Those who are dying will take care of us to the very end. Our loved ones will put death on hold until after a holiday, anniversary, or birthday. This is extremely common, and my father-in-law was no exception. In spite of his “all we are is worm food” attitude about death, Pop planned his own exit: He waited until after Hanukkah to die, so that my sons were able to enjoy their holiday. He knew Hanukkah, with eight nights of presents, was his grandsons’ favorite time of the year. Once the holiday passed Pop left us with one final cherished memory: Having a wicked sense of humor, he began his spirit journey on Friday the 13th!
The morning after Pop physically died my husband, Michael, walked into our downstairs sunroom to find his father sitting on our couch in his favorite spot. No longer confined to a wheelchair, he looked healthy and happy. Michael said, “I felt like he was there to let me know he was okay.” My response was, “Worm food? Who’s laughing now, Pop?” That afternoon I walked over to my father-in-law’s place to pick up a few mementos for my boys. Walking through the hallway, I saw one of his friends, a short, gray-haired woman. She waved me over. She was very persistent, so I went and sat down next to her. Instead of telling me how sorry she was about Pop’s passing, she said, “I’ve seen your father-in-law this morning. He was just walking through the halls.” We both smiled at one another knowingly and then sat for a few moments in silence. She knew I believed her.
As powerful as these afterlife communications were, neither my husband nor I shared them with his mom. The skeptic in her wasn’t ready for such information, and we knew we needed to respect this.
Healing Old Wounds as Death Nears
Six years later, we watched Mom call out to Pop by his Yiddish nickname, Malpe. Her conversations with him were now very lively, and the more she talked the more relaxed she became. She even seemed less anxious about leaving us and joining Pop in the afterlife. With my father-in-law’s visitation the first step in healing old wounds had been taken. Any remaining fear of death she had was evaporating. At this point, all Michael and I could do was grin.
Meanwhile, as my in-laws’ reunion continued, the hospice worker at the bedside was growing even more controlling, ordering an even stronger medication for Mom’s “significant hallucinations.” I could tell that underneath her pushy exterior she was downright frightened by what she was seeing.
My mother-in-law was not in pain, and she didn’t need strong narcotics. Looking at her chatting away, we knew she was just fine. The hospice worker wanted Mom sedated because she—not Mom—was uncomfortable with the departing visions. As a family we voted “No more medications,” but the hospice worker still tried to make us feel guilty. I finally took her by the arm, escorted her out of the room, and said, “It’s really okay. We can take it from here.”
When I returned to Mom’s room, I noticed her mood had changed, and she was no longer talking to Pop. Now speaking to someone else, her eyes were beginning to well up with tears. Suddenly, she cried out to her mother, who had been gassed to death in
Auschwitz during the Holocaust. Listening quietly,
we realized she was finally confronting the deep emotional grief she had
carried for almost seven decades. After my mother-in-law and father-in-law
escaped to the , Hitler’s rage rained down hard upon all
of United States Europe. Family left in ended up in Poland Siberia gulags or Nazi concentration camps. Carried to the
camps in icy-cold cattle cars, the family barely survived. When the train
finally stopped in Auschwitz, my mother-in-law’s mother, brother,
sister, brother-in-law, cousins, and friends were brutally pushed out of the
cattle cars and into a scene of barbaric cruelty and chaos. The Nazis
immediately began to divide families up. Younger people were separated from
older family members, as were husbands from wives and children from parents.
Mom’s sister would not leave her mother’s side and instead grabbed her hand
more tightly. Her mother took in the panic and turmoil around her, and quickly
understood what was happening: There was a line for camp workers and another
for the gas chambers. She pushed her daughter into the line for the camp
workers, knowing this would save her from certain death. A tall Nazi saw what
she was doing and angrily shoved the mother into the death line. Saving her
daughter cost my mother-in-law’s mother her life. Living in the States Mom
didn’t know where her family was, and living with not knowing who was alive or
dead for so many months had a devastating effect on her. Unresolved grief over
the violent death of her mother and other family members in the camps was a
wound that never healed.
Tears were running down our cheeks as Mom sat up in her bed and called out to her mother who had died so brutally. This loss, which had almost destroyed her with Survivor’s Guilt and had been at the core of so much anguish, was finally dissolving before our eyes. Mother and daughter had found each other, and I was able to witness this. It truly was a grand reunion. The lifelong anguish that had been at the core of her fear of dying was suddenly no more. She was almost ready to go.
Mom was extremely lucid the rest of the day. When my husband, children, or I would speak to her, she would turn and talk to us. She knew we were in the room, and she told us she loved us. She also hugged her sister, nephews, and nieces. Being 88 years old, and having healed spiritually, she finally realized it was time for her to move on. The visitations from Pop and her mother helped her finally begin to let go. Death was nothing to fear.
A Departing Vision for Me
Later on that evening, the storm passed and Mom was finally sleeping peacefully. We were not sure when she would leave, but knew it would be soon. Acceptance had taken over and she was now ready to go with her mother and Pop. Turning to Mom I took her hand in mine and said, “You are safe. It’s alright. I love you.” Michael also added, “I love you, Mom. Tell Pop ‘Hi’ for me.” After kissing her we made our way home to our boys and a hot cooked meal.
As we walked into the house Aaron and Joshua left their computer games, came downstairs, and asked how Grandma was doing. I told them, “She’s almost ready to move to her new home.” Growing up with a mother who openly investigated afterlife matters, they both knew what I was saying. After a few tears, dinner, and cups of hot chocolate we made our way to our beds, hoping to grab a few hours of sleep.
I’d just nodded off when suddenly I felt something shake me. I woke up and knew Mom had finally passed. Rubbing my eyes, I said out loud to her, “You had to wait ‘til everyone left before you would go?” If the dying believe their death will upset us they will wait until they are alone before moving on. Looking at the clock I saw that it was in the morning. Just down the street my mother-in-law had finally shed her tired body and was crossing the threshold separating this life from the next, escorted by my father-in-law and her mother.
Pushing warm quilts aside, I hugged my tired husband and told him we needed to call Mom’s place. Picking up the phone, we quickly learned she had indeed begun her new journey at the exact moment I had awakened.
Carla Wills-Brandon has published 13 books, one of which was a Publisher's Weekly best-seller. A licensed marriage and family therapist and grief expert, she has worked with individuals impacted by the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle, the bombing of the World Trade Center, Holocaust survivors, and veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, among many others. Wills-Brandon is one of the few researchers focused on the departing vision as proof of life after Death.