Shared-Death Experiences (SDE)
Shared-death experiences (SDE) have been documented by the Society for Psychical Research in London since the late 1800s. Peter Fenwick, MD, and Elizabeth Fenwick, RN, who research end-of-life phenomena, have collected hundreds of shared-death experiences in the United Kingdom and in Northern Europe. Dr. Raymond Moody formally coined the term “shared-death experience” in his 2009 book, Glimpses of Eternity. Previously, the phenomena now identified as the shared-death experience was associated with death-bed visions (William Barrett), death-bed coincidences (Fenwick), and other extraordinary end-of-life phenomena.
The core elements of the shared-death experience are remarkably similar to those of the near-death experience (NDE). Although no single SDE has included all of the elements listed below, and although no two SDE’s are exactly the same, a person who experiences even one or two of these elements receives profound benefits from their SDE. The following elements may characterize shared-death experiences:
• Mist at death
• Hearing beautiful music
• Change in the geometry of the room
• Strong Upward Pull on the Body
• Shared Out-of-Body Experience
• Seeing a Mystical Light
• Empathically Co-living the Life Review of the Dying Person
• Greeted by Beings of Light
• Encountering Heavenly Realms
• Boundary in the Heavenly Realm
Preliminary research from Shared Crossing Research Initiative and Dr. Raymond Moody’s research has shown that the shared death experience offers many benefits, including:
• Dramatic grief reduction, knowing that the one who has died is actually alive and well in the afterlife
• Greatly reduced fear and apprehension of death
• Increased belief in an afterlife
• A deeper understanding and refocusing on one’s purpose in this life
“Another source for shared-death experiences was the deathbed research of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) in England, from which I was able to gather nineteenth-century shared-death experiences. One of the books compiled by the pioneering researchers Edmund Gurney, Frederic Myers, and Frank Podmore, Phantasms of the Living, contains more than seven hundred cases of paranormal phenomena, many of them deathbed visions and shared-death experiences. Another book, Death-Bed Visions: The Psychical Experiences of the Dying by Sir William Barrett, a physics professor at the Royal College of Science in Dublin, is nothing less than the first scientific study of the minds of the dying. He concludes, by the way, that dying patients are often clear-thinking and rational and that the events around them are often spiritual and supernatural.”
— Raymond Moody, Paranormal: My Life In Pursuit Of The Afterlife, Chapter 23
Raymond Moody: Four Differences Between NDEs and Shared Death Experiences
I studied shared-death experiences just as I had done with near-death experiences nearly four decades earlier, dissecting them into their elements. The shared-death experiences contained most of the traditional elements of the near-death experience, including tunnel experiences, seeing a bright mystical light, out-of-body experiences, even the transformational quality found in near-death experiencers. But there were four differences that I found to be extraordinary and new.
Mystical Music: Those who have shared-death experiences very often hear music emanating from the surroundings. It is common for the music to be heard by several people, even those coming and going, and it can frequently last for long periods of time. The people I surveyed described this music in various ways. To some it was “the most beautiful and intricate music I have ever heard,” while to others it was “the soft, wild notes of an Aeolian harp.”
Geometric Changes in the Environment: Even though my family experienced this change in geometry when my mother died, it is still difficult for me to describe it, and the people I spoke to who had had the same experience were no better able to find words for it. A woman I interviewed said simply that the square room “shifted.” A man who’d had a shared-death experience at the bedside of his mother offered a confusing description of a room that “collapsed and expanded at the same time. It was as though I was witnessing an alternative geometry.” Others said that the room opened into an “alternative reality” where “time is not a factor.” And still another person likened this change in geometry to Disneyland, in that “it made me realize that most of the stuff that happens in the world happens behind the scenes and that all we see is the surface, where the functioning part is.”
I don’t know what this change in geometry really means. From my personal experience and the descriptions of others, it seems as though people who are dying, and sometimes those around them, are led to a different dimension.
A Shared Mystical Light: The most profoundly transformative part of a near-death experience is the encounter with a mystical light. Those who see the light never forget it. Sometimes these individuals feel the light, as though it is palpable. Many NDEers declare that the light emits purity, love, and peace.
Those who have had shared-death experiences say the same thing. Individuals and groups have said that the room of a dying loved one “filled up” with light. Some describe this as “a light that is like being swept up into a cloud.” I have heard it described as “a light that is vivid and bright, but not in the way that we see with our eyes.” Other descriptors have been “translucent,” “a light filled with love,” “a light that tickled me,” and a “long-lasting light that stays even when it’s gone.”
An experience of light shared by a number of people at a deathbed does a lot to demolish the skeptics’ argument that the light seen by those who have near-death experiences is nothing more than the dying brain shorting out. If a number of people who are not ill or dying share a mystical experience of light, then the light can’t be caused by the dying brain of just one of them.
Mist-ical Experience: Another common event in the shared-death experience is seeing emissions of mist from the dying. This mist is described as “white smoke,” steam, fog, and so on. Often it takes on a human shape.
I have spoken to many doctors, nurses, and hospice workers who have seen this mist. One doctor in Georgia who saw it happen twice within six months said simply, “A mist formed over the chest area and hovered there.” A hospice worker in North Carolina twice saw mist rising from a dying patient and described what she saw as clouds with “a sort of mist that forms around the head or chest. There seems to be some kind of electricity to it, like an electrical disturbance.”
I don’t know how to interpret the mist that some see at the point of death. There are so many who see it that it makes no sense to me to say that death is playing tricks on the eyes or that these are hallucinations. Plus, this is by far the most common element reported by those who have shared-death experiences.
— Raymond Moody, Paranormal: My Life In Pursuit Of The Afterlife, Chapter 23
Raymond Moody’s Shared Death Experience
All of the siblings descended on Macon with the goal of making [my mother’s] final days as comfortable as possible. We cared for her at home, and when she was checked into the hospital we stayed at her bedside. Two weeks from the date of her diagnosis, she died.
It was in the final moments of her death that my next field of research was revealed.
She had been comatose for two days, so we didn’t expect much to happen besides her quiet passing. Shortly before she died, however, she awoke and with great coherency told us that she loved us all very much.
“Please say that again,” said my sister Kay.
With great effort, Mom pushed the oxygen mask from her face and said again, “I love you all very much.”
We were deeply moved by her effort to express her love. We all held hands around the bed — my two sisters, their husbands, and Cheryl and I — and waited for the moment of death.
As we held hands the room seemed to change shape, and four of the six of us felt as though we were being lifted from the ground. I felt a strong pull like a riptide, only the pull was upward.
“Look,” said my sister, pointing to a spot at the end of the bed. “Dad’s here! He’s come back to get her!”
Everyone later reported that the light in the room became soft and fuzzy, like looking into the water of a lighted swimming pool at night. Rather than sadness dominating the room, we all became joyful. As I wrote later, “It was as though the fabric of the universe had torn and for just a moment we felt the energy of that place called heaven.”
My brother-in-law Rick Lanford, a Methodist minister, said that he felt as though he left his physical body and “went into another plane with her.”
It was like nothing that had ever happened to any of us. Over the next several days we all spent hours together in my parents’ home talking about the experience, trying to assemble all of the details into a coherent timeline. What had taken place with my mother was a shared-death experience. Shared-death experiences are like near-death experiences, but they happen, not to people who are dying, but to people who are in the proximity of a loved one who is dying. These spiritual experiences can happen to more than one person and are remarkably like near-death experiences.
— Raymond Moody, Paranormal: My Life In Pursuit Of The Afterlife, Chapter 22
Raymond Moody discusses shared death experiences with Paul Perry.
Raymond Moody discusses his research into shared-death experiences. Presented at the IANDS 2011 Conference, September 2-4, in Durham, North Carolina. For more information about Raymond Moody and shared-death experiences, go here.
Glimpses of Eternity
By Raymond Moody
Raymond Moody, author of the multimillion copy best-seller, Life After Life, reveals new results from his lifelong investigation of what happens when we die. Raymond Moody revolutionized the way we think about death with his first book, Life After Life, which was stories of people who died and then returned to life. Going through a tunnel, encountering an angelic being or having an out-of-body experience are hallmarks of what Moody termed a “near death experience.” Since the publication of his multimillion copy best-seller, hundreds of thousands of people have contacted Moody to share their own experiences. The startling pattern that Moody discovered is that at the time of death, loved ones also have inexplicable experiences. Glimpses of Eternity is the first book to talk about the phenomenon of “shared death experiences.” Readers will discover deathbed moments when entire families see the light or the room changes shape. Others tell of seeing a film like review of a loved one’s life and learning things that they could never have known otherwise. The stories are at once a comfort and a mystery, giving us a new understanding of the journey that we will take at the end of our lives.
BOOK REVIEW: GLIMPSES OF ETERNITY: SHARING A LOVED ONE’S PASSAGE FROM THIS LIFE TO THE NEXT
By Robert Perry
October 15, 2010
I recently finished Raymond Moody’s new book, Glimpses of Eternity: Sharing a Loved One’s Passage from This Life to the Next. I had looked forward to reading this ever since reading and watching some of the advance material. Just as Moody brought near-death experiences (NDEs) to public awareness 35 years ago, he now said he would bring a new and extremely important phenomenon into view, one that puts to rest the skeptical objections to the NDE.
He calls these shared death experiences. They are where a person (sometimes several people) seems to actually share in the crossing over of a loved one. People began sharing their personal stories of these with him even before he published Life After Life. And as time went on, he became even more interested in these shared death experiences than in near-death experiences. Over time he has asked audiences all over the world if they have had such shared death experiences, and he implies he has collected quite a number, although he never tells us how many.
He outlines in Chapter 4 the elements of a shared death experience. He says that no one in his records has had all of the elements, but since the elements and their sequence have a consistency, he assembles a composite experience, which I have condensed here:
A woman is sitting by the bedside of her dying husband, holding his hand. She feels a charge of energy pass through her and realizes her husband has died. She then sees a glowing white mist come up from his head or chest area, rise up, and dissipate. She hears beautiful, otherworldly music, unlike anything she has ever heard.
She then finds that she has actually left her body and is floating above her husband’s hospital bed. Next to her floats her husband, also outside of his body, and smiling with joy. As they hover together, they are suddenly surrounded by countless scenes from their life together. She even sees scenes from his life before they met, including from his other romantic relationships. But she finds nothing embarrassing. Later, she is able to verify people and events that she saw and had no prior knowledge of.
They begin to move toward the corner of the room, which is no longer a right angle. The geometry of the room has changed, in ways hard to describe. A tube opens up near the ceiling, a portal to another realm. Together, they enter this tube and move rapidly up it. They emerge into a heavenly realm with a stunning natural landscape. As they move through this landscape, she reaches a point at which she realizes she cannot go further and must return. She says goodbye, feeling happy for her husband’s new existence. She finds herself back in her body. She thought she would feel sad and depressed at his death but instead, in light of the remarkable experience she has just had, finds herself strangely elated.
This book really stretched my picture of reality, I must say. I expected to read about a variation on NDEs — basically, shared NDEs. But that doesn’t seem to be what these are, for the simple reason that no one is near death. One person dies and doesn’t come back. The other person is perfectly healthy; not near death at all. It seems to be a new phenomenon. It clearly overlaps NDE in that there are many elements in common. But there are also some new elements, like the mist rising from the body and the room changing its geometry.
It so stretched my picture of things that even I found myself wondering if the stories were really true. I knew that this same objection had been raised to NDEs when Moody’s first book came out, and that turned out to be groundless. And these accounts had that same ring of veracity to them; you get the sense that people are just reporting something amazing that happened to them, not making anything up. Yet still my doubts nagged at me. One thing that didn’t help is that of the examples Moody provides that are already in the literature — some from the 19th century — none of them have the more impressive features, like being out of the body together and having the life review together.
I finally wrote Dr. Jeffrey Long, author of Evidence of the Afterlife, and founder of the NDERF website that has collected over 2,000 NDEs. I asked him if he has come across such accounts himself. He said, “We have received a number of shared death experiences over the years, and they can be as detailed as Raymond is reporting. For several decades, Raymond asked audiences that he talked to if they would share their shared death experiences with him. Thus he ended up with many.”
The stories in the book are pure gold. They are utterly amazing. However, I did have many quibbles with the book itself. It felt too lightweight and popularized for me personally. Moody never tells us details that for me are important — for instance, are these accounts written by the people themselves, transcribed from audio recordings, fleshed out from notes he took, or just his recollection of what they said? How many does he have? What percentage of his accounts have what features (for instance, the shared life review)? I get the impression that the early stages — mist rising from body, unearthly music, change in room’s geometry — are fairly common, while the later, really spectacular stages — shared out-of-body experience, shared life review, entering tunnel, etc. — are much more rare. But he didn’t address that question.
Moody even takes what I saw as a number of swipes at the scientific side of researching such experiences. For instance, near the end he says, “Experiences like these unfold over time and reveal what they reveal. There are researchers out there who will attempt to hurry these revelations with scientific studies. I wish them well. I am more patient than that. For me, I will bathe in the astonishment of these experiences for some time before coming to any solid conclusions of my own. They will tell me about themselves in due time” (p. 166). These down-his-nose comments toward the scientific research, especially when I felt his book needed more scientific rigor, seemed unbecoming to me.
One last complaint: While I was reading the book, the print is so large, and the format so story-based that I said to myself, “I feel like I just bought an issue of Guideposts” — the inspirational magazine. A couple of days later I looked at the spine to find it that it was actually published by Guideposts. This contributed to that “lightweight” feeling that did not seem befitting of such a heavyweight phenomenon.
All that being said, I feel Moody has done an invaluable service by bringing these experiences to light. One wonders how on earth they have stayed hidden for so long. And it makes you wonder what other important phenomenon are still hidden.
Why do I feel that shared near death experiences are important? Of course, we don’t really know if the living person is having a shared experience with the deceased love one, as we can’t exactly ask the deceased. This does raise the question of whether they might just be imagination. However, there does seem to be evidential information in some of these, such as when the living person verifies things he or she experienced in the life review and had no prior knowledge of. Or when the dying person on his deathbed says with surprise that a certain person has come to get him from the other side, someone he thought was alive, but whose recent death, it turns out, had been purposefully kept from him. Also, remember that many of these experiences involve more than one living person, sometimes several people, and the experiences of these different people seem to dovetail.
I think the fact that these experiences have common features is also important. If they are just imagination, why would Moody’s set of seven recurring features be there?
I think the main significance for me, though, is found in the close similarity with NDEs. Because of the features they share in common, NDEs and shared death experiences seem to be windows onto the same basic process, only seen from a somewhat different angle. As an analogy, before my wife and I moved into our current house, we looked it up on Google Earth. This allowed us to see it from two views — an aerial view and a street-level view. The two views showed us different features, but it was obvious that we were seeing the same house.
Here at my first encounter with this new phenomenon, that is its gut-level impact on me. It feels like in near-death experiences and shared death experiences we are getting two independent views of the same dying process. Which raises the question, Why would two different experiences just happen to depict the same process? The fact that they do strengthens the feeling that the dying process they depict is the dying process as it actually is.
Near-Death Experiences of Groups of People
People in heavenA more interesting and rare type of NDE is called the “group near-death experience”. This is a phenomenon where a whole group of people have an NDE at the same time and location. They see each other outside of their bodies and have a shared or similar experience. P.M.H. Atwater gives a definition of a “Group NDE”:
“These are rare, but they do occur. With this kind, a whole group of people simultaneously seems to experience the same or similar episode. What makes these so spectacular and challenging is that all or most of the experiencers see each other actually leave their bodies as it happens, then dialogue with each other and share messages and observations while still experiencing the near-death state. Their separate reports afterward either match or nearly so. Reports like these emerge most often from events of a harrowing nature that involve a lot of people.
“Shared and group experiences imply that no matter how sure we are that near-death states mean this or that, and are the result of whatever, no single idea, theory, or pat answer can explain them. Even clues from the powerful patterning that researchers like myself have identified, fail to explain all aspects of the phenomenon.”
The following are excellent examples of group near-death experiences:
1. A Group of Firefighters Near-Death Experience
2. May Eulitt’s and Her Two Companions Group NDE
3. Steven Ridenhour and His Girlfriend’s Group NDE
4. Four Hospital Patients Group Near-Death Experience