Deepak Chopra: End-of-Life Experience and How to Die Well

shutterstock_107006774Let me begin by reassuring you that this isn’t going to be a grim post. But it begins in an area people are uncomfortable with. We all must die, yet this is one inevitability that almost nobody feels comfortable talking about. That includes doctors and nurses, as was discovered in a newly published study from King’s College in London. It surveyed the staff that surrounded dying patients in hospices and found that they witness every common end-of-life experience (ELE). These fall into two types, and one of them will seem very strange.

The first type of ELE seeks final meaning. Near the time of death, people often want to be reconciled with family members who have become estranged, and this desire can be so strong that the moment of death is postponed until the estranged person visits. There is often a desire to put one’s affairs in order and to right past wrongs. It is observed that patients who have been semi-conscious will have a moment of sudden lucidity in which they express their dying wishes before lapsing back.

This whole category of ELE is psychologically intimate, and a significant number of doctors and nurses feel uncomfortable being present for it. Two inhibitions stand in the way. Doctors spend most of their energy trying to extend life, so learning about dying isn’t part of their training. Secondly, it is still considered a sign of weakness for a doctor to feel emotional about death, which leads to distancing himself from the actual experience.

The second type of ELE is labeled transpersonal, although the common word for it would be spooky. Dying patients, far more often than is acknowledged, have highly mystical experiences. They get visions of departed ones who have come to take them away. They sense the transmission of light and love from other realities and can visit those realities.  The study found that such ELEs could not be accounted for by the medical state or treatment of the person — the ELE occurred in clear consciousness.

Yet probably the most uncomfortable ELE in this category was observed by the staff, including seeing something leave the body at the time of death, finding that a peculiar synchronicity occurred, such as the clock stopping at the moment of death. It’s more common than you would suppose for relatives who were not present when the dying person passed away to have them appear at the moment of death. Needless to say, modern society is skeptical enough that ridicule and quick dismissal of these transpersonal experiences will arise, even though they have been reported continually in every culture since history has been recorded.

The study makes the point that ELEs, which of course do not occur with every dying person, bring comfort and consolation; they seem to be a natural mechanism that surrounds the climactic event of death. Which brings us to the paradox of how we die. In the 1930s, eighty percent of people still died at home; now more than eighty percent die in the impersonal setting of a hospital. Massive expense is involved in trying to cure the last disease each of us will have, the one we eventually die from.

As medical technology shrouds the dying process, as people become more and more discomfited being around it, nature doesn’t seem to care. Mind and spirit experience death the old-fashioned way. Happily, the paradox resolves itself in favor of death being much less scary than we imagine. There is every indication that we are meant to die at peace, and so we do.

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Originally published May 2011


  1. i agree. yes we do. what you mention, Mr. Dee, about the discomfort of doctors and medical personnel when confronted with the reality of physical death is, i believe, the misplaced devotion to the extension of life in their vocation as opposed to what the true calling is, and that is, of relieving pain. and personally, i don't fear physical death, because i have more than faith, but the immutable conviction and knowledge of the truth and reality of the eternity and infinity of everlasting life. i don't stop being a drop of water. i become The Ocean.

  2. I was with both of my parents at the time of their death. My father passed on 8 years ago and my mother only four months ago. I consider it a blessing to have been with both of them as they took their last breath. Each experience was incredible. I was more at peace when my father died as he was sick for many years and his mind gone as a result of dementia. My mother, on the other hand died after a very short illness which took us all by surprise. I feel like a have a kind of PTSD, as I have flashbacks to terrible things I witnessed when she was so sick and suffering in a hospital bed hooked up to life support. When my father died I felt more at peace, I remember thinking "this is ok". As my mother was dying I felt that I was holding on, I didn't want to let her go. At one point I felt something say to me "I will be with you soon" Now I think what does that mean? Is it my own death? Or is it that she is with me now at all times? I believe that it is my mother, my protector my best friend is always with me, as I am not ready to pass on to the other side. Being with a loved one when they pass on is an incredible experience. There are no words to describe except that it feels like an incredible gift to share. We get a peek to what it's like on the other side. The curtain is drawn. After that as I was in prayer and meditation asking for a sign, she arrived and told me she is with me. Thank you mama

  3. My mom died three years ago. She died from a dissected aorta that went undiagnosed for three days. I mention this, because I have a deep sense that the died three days before her actual death when she first collapsed unconscious on the bathroom floor. We lived 100 miles apart. I was meditating at the time that it happened. Sometimes things come through vividly in meditation for me, as some sort of info I should know. I heard, "I only thought you needed love. I didn't realize you needed help." I wrote it down with the other remarkable things that come through in meditation for me. There's no real way to know where the words came from, but the coincidence is remarkable.

    That said, she lived three more days, and was completely aware until her last hours when she started to leave and imagine being in other places. That upset the nurses in the ICU because she was agitated. They asked me to leave. I spent the next three hours outside until my husband arrived. He went in to see her. She had waited for us to return. The moment my husband arrived and told her that he would go get me she became unconscious and slipped into labored breathing. She died like every other being I've experienced dying. No remarkable metaphysical moments, and I felt sad that I wasn't there when she lost consciousness.

    So, that night I was determined that she'd visit me in meditation, that she wouldn't leave without saying good-bye. I'm pretty good at yoga nidra, sleep yoga, and stayed there through the night until she finally arrived to say good-bye. Was it a dream? I don't know.

    I wasn't going to mention this, but my mother was very superstitious about birds as an omen for death. I forgot about that the day that she died, and I had returned to her room telling her about a mockingbird that was singing non-stop outside of the hospital. She snarled that she didn't care about any bird. She showed her fierce side when she died. Normally, she was selfless and sweet. The morning after she died, and I had spent the night telling her that she'd better not leave without saying good-bye, an owl sang at sunrise outside of her house. That had never happened in the almost 50 years that I lived there. I'm not one who follows shamanism and power animals, but it was hard to ignore that an owl in many traditions signifies death, as I understand it.