Posted by: jhvn | 03/26/2014

When We Die, What Happens to Us?

Have you, like this geezer, reflected on where you’re going? I find myself thinking about stuff like advance directives, nursing homes, hospice care, and the approach of death. What will that experience of crossing the threshold be like? Nobody has come back to tell us. Part of me can’t wait to find out. You can imagine how the other part of me feels.

Hospice medical director in Houston, TX., Dr. John Lerma‘s book, Into the Light reports on the emotional healing of 16 hospice patients just before they died. They include a murderer, a priest, a child, a former Nazi SS trouper. They including people of various faiths and no faith. All of these patients reviewed their lives in one way or another and resolved lifelong painful issues. They also described para-normal experiences with angels, who assisted them with their life review and transition to the threshold of death.

Only with great difficulty did Dr. Lerma come to accept these fantastic stories. “When possible, I found a rational explanation and most often attributed the patients’ visions to their advancing disease, medications, or a complete shutdown of body systems.” However he found that these stories presented “inspiration and encouragement for the dying …”. He writes this book to offer “the presence of hope, redemption, and unconditional love that exists at the end of our earthly journey” that his patients and their families experienced.

Now this geezer has never encountered angels or heard anyone describe such an experience. I’ve encountered too many folks who use religous language as wishful thinking or to make themselves sound important. But I was intrigued.  The healing of Dr. Lerma’s patients in their dying process did resonate with what I observed when my clients found healing (back when I worked as a psychotherapist), although no angels were involved as far as I know. These experiences also resonated with what I did experience during the process of my wife, Pat’s death 2 years ago this month. So I take them seriously, and I invite you to take them seriously.

What has it been like for you when a loved one has died?

As folks you have known approached death, have they experienced healing? forgiveness? being able to forgive? reconciliation?

What do you make of angels? Have you known folks who have experienced them?

Perhaps we have to get to the final threshold before we take these things seriously. If so, Geezerhood could be the most important time of life. What do you think?

Make this a conversation by adding your comment to this post.

–© John Van Ness


  1. Well, we never got to know where we came from and so I guess to keep things balanced, the end will have to be just as mysterious. But I do know that when I looked into my sons eyes right after he was born, I knew something major had just happened and could not stop crying. (and he did not seem that happy either!!) And so too, after my Dad died, I prayed that he would let me know he was ok and I had a very powerful experience where i “felt” he was letting me know and again, I not only could not stop crying but laughing as well…a unique emotional experience in my lifetime.

    Whoever we are, we know we are far more than this lump of flesh… the force, spirit, soul or whatever you want to call it that holds us into what we call a physical body,which in the final analysis is mostly space.

    I am not totally sure, but I think I am more terrified by the prospect of ending up in a foetal position, abandoned and alone in a nursing home for months or years, than I am of death itself. Loneliness.

    And I guess maybe there is some point to considering whether or not we are just totally random accidents or if there is a higher form of intelligence or whatever that made this all happen. When I looked into my sons eyes, I knew. And so, nobody really knows, but I am now pretty sure there is going to be plenty of beer, coffee and cigarettes.

    As for angels, I was once considering becoming a Catholic except I just could not buy the body and the blood being a cracker and some grape juice, among other things And I was meeting every week with this (as I called him) flaming Catholic who was dying from cancer, who was so patient with my irreverent questioning. And as he neared death, I remember going to him and saying that maybe I could imagine that molecules or subatomic particles of Jesus were floating around and somehow managed to get into the crackers and the juice…and he looked at me and smiled and said “…that was good enough!!!”

    And so I am not so sure about angels as we have sort of conjured them up to be…but I could believe that there is intelligence in the force that holds everything together and gives the flower its fragrance, the beauty of the sky at sunset, etc. etc. etc….Then again it could just be Homeland Security?

  2. body{font-family: Geneva,Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;font-size:9pt;background-color: #ffffff;color: black;}Dear John,This is such a gift to all of us.  I just love how you said all you said, beautifully written, so anyone could “get” it.  I know your are onto something with the help of Dr Lerma and his patients.  This is truly great stuff, and I know a major part of your healing path with Pat and with the video, which will be soooo important! I hope to see you next week with a new tire (on order.)Love,Rupa

  3. “The healing of Dr. Lerma’s patients in their dying process did resonate with what I observed when my clients found healing . . .”

    I was going to ask you to expand upon this thought. But then I read your post “Why do Christians call it Good Friday?” and found the (your) answer there.

    Another thought in your piece that left me pondering was, “I’ve encountered too many folks who use religous language as wishful thinking or to make themselves sound important.” I’m intrigued by this.

    Nice post. I’m glad you’re blogging again.

  4. I think my quest for the next several years will be to write about aging and to address the issues of loneliness and how institutions address those so plagued. In the meantime, should I come across an angel, I would think that will be ineffable.

  5. An encounter with an angel would indeed likely be ineffable – that was the experience of Dr. Lerma’s patients. His patients also encountered angels only in the last days before death. So if you encounter one, let me know asap so I can come to see you before you leave.

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