Spirituality in the End of Life:
Other States of Consciousness

Dr. Suzanne Engelman

California Licensed Psychologist PSY7977
Board Certified in Biofeedback
Certified Thanatologist
Certified Animal Assisted Therapist

30100 Crown Valley Parkway
Suite # 17C
Laguna Niguel, CA 92677

Office Phone:  (949) 460-4908 
FAX:  (949) 248-0421
Confidential email: srephd@hushmail.com
Other States of Consciousness--End of Life Dreams, Death Bed Visions, and Terminal Lucidity are all spiritual doorways into self-transcendence, i.e. to our being with an essence, beyond the separateness of the ego we know from day-to-day living.

The night before her brother Dolf died, my grand-mother told me that he came to her in a dream. He was about to go through a doorway, and she was asking him not to. He did nonetheless.  The next morning Dolf’s wife called my grand-mother to tell her he had died.  Another story: A very dear friend came to me in a dream to offer me advice. He was surrounded by luminous, golden light in front of a window in my other deceased grandmother’s NYC apartment. He walked translucently, as if floating in the air, with flames of fire-like-light, surrounding him.  A few days later, I found out this dear friend, a physician, had died, but not before he exclaimed, “God is love”!!  Both of these stories are examples of End–of-life-Vivid Dreams. Sometimes they happen to the person dying, sometimes to the family member or close friend.

A final example—I was working with a 60 year man who was a patient in my psychotherapy practice. He wanted my help in transitioning through his long, painful process of dying, to death.  In the course of our working together in his home, as he was able to “surrender” to the terror of his greatly declining sense of self and body, he began to communicate with his deceased father and grand-mother.  They stood on one side of a white bridge beckoning to him.  He talked with them from the opposite side. He was not ready to cross over yet, but after an initial period of alarm and fear, as death came closer, he began to feel a sense of awe and relief in knowing they awaited his arrival. This transition was almost palpable as I entered his room. This is an example of Death Bed Visions. For other people approaching death, they may unexpectedly return from a long standing comma with great mental clarity and memory, including increased emotions and peacefulness, before dying. This is an example of Terminal Lucidity.

Spirituality in the End of Life: Other States of Consciousness

During the sometimes brutal and anguishing path of dying, the usual way of defining one’s identity, begins to fall away as the physical body increasingly ceases to function; one may experience the chaos of panic, great physical pain, and resistance to dying.  With surrender to this unfolding process, minutes, days or weeks before death, the dying person may pass into a stage of acceptance of a greater, and sometimes frightening sense of being without boundaries, a realm of essence, communion with God, or still, loving awareness. It is at this time, when Other States of Consciousness may emerge. These experiences may symbolize a deeper, inner transition from terror and rage to surrender and peace--offering spiritual comfort, increased meaning and well-being; and decreased depression, hopelessness and sense of isolation--for the dying person, as well as caregivers and family members.  

One of the best ways I know to “be with” people at this time, is to simply lovingly sit with them listening, breathing, and curiously accepting of and working with, Other States of Consciousness if they arrive. It is a privilege to be asked to participate with people in the dying process, whether in my professional life as a psychologist or in my personal life with family and friends.  Addressing spiritual issues in end of life is a priority.  Rather than discounting Other States of Consciousness as hallucinations due to delirium or the effects of medications, acknowledging their power in facilitating spiritual transformation nearing death, may provide greater peace and comfort to  dying persons and their families alike.

Presentation Given at Temple Beth-El, Aliso Viejo, CA, 8/19/15 Suzy Engelman, Ph.D.