Allow me to introduce you to the most famous case of terminal lucidity, the story of Anna (Kathe) Ehmer, known as ‘Kathe’ to the doctors who cared for her until her death at 26 years old.
The year is 1922. In Schwalmstadt, Germany, two men of notoriety are working at an institution for the mentally ill. The first, Friedrich Happich, assumed leadership of the institution and the second, Wilhelm Wittneben, was the chief psychiatrist. Both were respected highly in their fields and their opinions were highly sought and trusted. Both bore witness to the strange and miraculous case of Kathe Ehmer and were so moved by the experience that they spoke of it often for the rest of their lives.
Käthe was born in 1895. When her parents discovered their daughter was severely disabled, six-year old Kathe was brought to the Hephata institution where, within its walls, she would spend the rest of her short life. Dr. Happich, who treated Kathe during her time at the institution, describes her personality and disability:
“Käthe was among the patients with the most severe mental disabilities who have ever lived in our institution. From birth on, she was seriously retarded. She had never learned to speak a single word. She stared for hours on a particular spot, then she fidgeted for hours without a break. She gorged her food, fouled herself day and night, uttered an animal-like sound, and slept. In all the time she lived with us, we have never seen that she had taken notice of her environment even for a second. We had to amputate one of her legs, she wasted away.”
Kathe also suffered repeated episodes of meningitis which damaged her brain considerably, as well as tuberculosis; the cause of the aforementioned amputation and the disease which eventually took her life. Kathe was by all accounts infantile, and yet, as she lay dying, Kathe did something absolutely astounding: she began to sing.
What Kathe sang, in perfect German, was a funeral hymn for her own impending death. I have found the haunting music that Kathe sang, and I encourage you to listen to Kathe’s hymn in the video below as you read the rest of the story as witnessed by Happich and Wittneben. Imagine if you can — the voice of this wretched soul echoing through the halls as she prepared herself for death. Imagine the astonished doctors and nurses who never once saw Kathe as anything but imbecilic, infantile and completely helpless. Kathe never left the confines of the institution, had no control of her faculties, could not speak, and was never considered worthy of education. Yet as she lay dying, Kathe sang this haunting hymn, Wo Findet De Seele or in English, ”The Home of the Soul’.
One day I was called by one of our physicians, who is respected both as a scientist and a psychiatrist.
He said: “Come immediately to Käthe, she is dying!”
When we entered the room together, we did not believe our eyes and ears. Käthe, who had never spoken a single word, being entirely mentally disabled from birth on, sang dying songs to herself.
Specifically, she sang over and over again “Where does the soul find its home, its peace? Peace, peace, heavenly peace!”
For half an hour she sang. Her face, up to then so stultified, was transfigured and spiritualized. Then, she quietly passed away. Like myself and the nurse who had cared for her, the physician had tears in his eyes.
We witnessed the dying of this girl with deepest emotions. Her death posed many questions to us. Obviously, Käthe had only superficially not participated in all that happened in her surroundings. In reality, she had apparently internalized much of it. Because, where did she know the text and the melody of this song from, if not from her surroundings? Moreover, she had comprehended the contents of this song and used it appropriately in the most critical hour of her life. This appeared like a miracle to us.
Even bigger, however, was the miracle that Käthe, up to now entirely mute, could suddenly recite the text of the song clearly and intelligibly. Dr. W. [Wittneben] stated over and over again: “From a medical perspective, I am confronted with a mystery. Käthe has suffered so many severe infections of meningitis, that due to the anatomical changes in the cortical brain tissue, it is not comprehensible how the dying woman could suddenly sing so clearly and intelligibly.”
• Terminal Lucidity Reveals Mysteries About Consciousness
• The Death Of Anna Katharina Ehmer: A Case Study In Terminal Lucidity (pdf)
• Near-Death Experiences Absolutely, Positively NOT Caused By Malfunctioning Brains