Extraordinary end-of-life visions explained: ‘It gives you such great hope’

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CLEVELAND, Ohio -- It’s a phenomenon witnessed around the world, that can be both comforting and sometimes unnerving, called end-of-life visions or visioning.

“Every religious tradition, every wisdom tradition talks about these beings that come to get us when it’s time to die,” said Dr. Kevin Dieter with Hospice of the Western Reserve.

For the first time, several staff members and volunteers with hospice, who’ve witnessed thousands of “visioning” episodes, sat down with FOX 8's Suzanne Stratford and shared their extraordinary, and unexplainable experiences.

And they say you never know who will show up -- from deceased spouses to religious icons and even the family pet.

“It just gives you such great hope,” said Becky Leonello R.N. “You wonder who’s coming for you.”

At hospice, they treat all patients with unconditional care and support, regardless of their religious beliefs, but they also say there is no denying that “visioning” happens and sometimes begins months in advance.

“It usually starts with staring in the corner of the room; we don’t know why they do that, but they do that a lot,” said Dr. Dieter.

Other signs that patients consistently exhibit include:

  • Raising their arms reaching toward the sky;
  • Using what’s called “symbolic language” talking about leaving, traveling, taking a test, feeling unsettled and/or waiting in line;
  • Physical movement like trying to get out of bed;
  • Seeing and talking with people who are already deceased even when the patient doesn’t know they’ve died;
  • After the person passes away, a bird, usually a cardinal, arrives at the window.

“A lot of times I notice a difference in the feeling in the room, from right before they pass away to after they pass away,” said Eric Bentrott, spiritual care coordinator.

Sometimes the accounts are dismissed as hallucinations, or the brain's coping mechanism for death, but Dr. Dieter says visioning patients are entirely lucid.

And he says entering their rooms is entering sacred space.

“It’s almost like somebody pulled the curtain and no matter what their fears or doubts were before that they will describe things that are beautiful and all the sudden it’s just wonderful and it’s okay,” said Dr. Dieter. “You just feel privileged to be there.”

Dr. Dieter understands there are skeptics, but encourages people to keep an open mind.

He says it’s very important not to interrupt, dismiss or criticize the visioning. Rather he suggests listening, asking questions and encouraging the person, which can help comfort the patient and lead to a more peaceful passing.

“It’s just like one of those things you want to say wow, because it’s so amazing,” said David Lockard, hospice volunteer. “When you experience those things you just feel that there’s definitely something more."

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