What happens when we die? Where do we go and who do we see?
That's something we will never know till we die ourselves, but in their last moments do the dying get a glimpse into what's waiting for them?
A national survey of thousands of hospice workers who work with the dying has revealed some startling findings about what the dying see and hear near in their final hours.
The heart slows, breathing fades and death nears.
With it comes the fear, of pain, of loss and of what comes next.
It's something we can never know until we die, or can we?
Somewhere between fading life and the last breath, before crossing the threshold between this world and the next, do the dying see the other side?
Those who work with the dying, who are there to witness these final moments tell what they see and hear at the hour of death...at death's door.
"Lots of times they'll hear, you know, voices. They'll hear choir music," says hospice nurse Mary Kay Buckley.
"Scenery," is what hospice aide Maria Guerrero recalls hearing about. "I see them see a lot of their favorite places where they've been before."
"Often you see sometimes people reaching up," adds Buckley.
"There's a world out there that they see that we're not able to," offers Guerrero.
From the descriptions, it's a world of beauty and inspiration.
"We had another young woman with us and her roommate had passed away," relates Hospice nurse Susan Tellier.
"Later, she said, did you see all the angels in the room?"
"There's times when I've been there and they'll say, I feel God's arms just wrapping around me," remembers Buckley. "I feel this presence."
"They are seeing the physical presence," insists hospice nurse Steven Sams. "They are seeing that person they are talking to."
They are also hearing voices, the voices of lost loved ones returning to call them home.
"Children that have been dead for 20 years saying come see me," relates Sams. "Family members that have passed they say we're waiting for you it's okay to come up here to see us. They tell me about their mothers who are talking to them."
And what are they saying?
"Don't be afraid. You're not alone. We're here," says Tellier.
It happens time and again, those who work with the dying say, bringing comfort, peace and an overwhelming presence even they can feel.
I had a lady, her husband had passed away a few years before and she was just talking about how excited she was about going to be with him and a few nights he would come and see her in her room," Guerrero shared. "She was very happy. She was beyond happy."
Hospice workers themselves say, sometimes they can sense things too.
"I hear sounds and I can't really explain it," explains hospice nurse Bobbie Wheaton. "Sometimes it's like a cool breeze will go over me or pass by me."
"Ohhh, you feel energy. You feel a lightness, a presence, a peace," Buckley added.
"When people die with a smile on their face," says Sams, smiling himself, "it doesn't get better than that."
Medical science has a name for these kind of visions; "hallucinations" and the fading images of a dying brain, but, those who are there to witness them and feel their impact have another name.
"I feel that there is a connection to the next world taking place," shares hospice nurse Cheryl Inman.
"When I tell them that they're not talking to them but they're hallucinating, I'm wrong because they are talking to them," admits Sams. "They know. They feel it. It's an actual conversation." And in those conversations, caregivers say, they also find lessons for us the living from the dying.
"Do something for someone now because you may not have tomorrow," urges Tellier.
"It's never too late to say you're sorry or say you love someone," advises Guerrero. "No matter how many years it's been or how rough it's been. It's never too late."
"What matters is relationships," observes Buckley. "Our relationship with the people we love and our relationship with God, and that's really all we have at the end of our lives."
"The end of life is like walking down to a shore and there's a boat waiting for you, and as you sail away people are crying," describes Tellier. They're waving and they're saying goodbye and as you fade from view to them there's another shore and on that shore there's people waving and crying saying what took you so long? Oh hurry. We're so glad to see you, and I really hope it's that way."
If you have ever witnessed the pre-death visions of a dying friend or loved one and would like to share your story and take part in a national survey on the subject, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to the web site for "The Threshold Project" at: http://www.thethresholdproject.com/survey2.php.