What if death isn’t the moment the heart stops? What if the dying person is still undergoing a vital transformation and needs more time, before being carted off to the morgue or crematorium? According to Dutch cardiologist Pim Van Lommel and British neurologist Peter Fenwick, who both spoke at the New York Open Center’s Art of Dying conference, it can take anywhere up to 3 days after ‘clinical death’ for the body cells to die off and release our consciousness (or spirit). Dr Van Lommel explained: ‘You can culture neurons from a body up until 8 days after someone’s heart stops.’Meaning the body is still alive in some form.
For this reason, both doctors are against organ donation. ‘It has consequences for your consciousness if you transplant an organ. It is still related to the parent body,’ said Dr Fenwick (which may explain why some people, after receiving an organ transplant, report new personality traits). These two doctors believe the correct amount of time to wait after someone is pronounced officially dead and before you bury or cremate their body is 3 days to allow the consciousness to fully leave the cells (‘older cultures waited that long, or longer’ says Dr Van Lommel).
Intuitively I felt that something important was still going on after Laura was pronounced dead (see the post ‘Laura’s Passing’). I watched transfixed for five hours as eddies of energy coursed around her supposedly ‘dead’ body and as her face transformed from a pained grimace to something akin to a peaceful marble sculpture. Dr Fenwick says: ‘If you watch you can see the body emptying of consciousness.’ I also felt the next couple of days were very precious. Laura felt very close by up until her cremation. Twice I could smell her scent, once I saw a column of light standing by the living room window (where Laura used to stand) and our computers spontaneously played our favorite songs.
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Though I have been stunned and touched by all your stories about Laura’s passing, I never wrote any comments on the experience of dying, simply, because I had never witnessed someone else dying. Now, last week, I visited for the first time in my life a palliative care unit in a hospital. When I entered her room she was sitting on her bedside and looked so differently from when I last saw her half a year ago, that I hardly recognized her: she looked more relaxed, younger and more beautiful – and totally peaceful. I couldn’t believe it. How can someone in palliative care who knows that dying is near look so much in peace? Immediately, I remembered what you told about Laura’s last hours. I must say that the friend I visited wasn’t a very close friend, rather an acquaintance, whom I met in rehab last year and with whom I kept in touch once in a while, until I didn’t hear from her anymore a couple of months ago. Therefore, I am in a rather objective and emotionally unattached position, more a witnessing observer than filled with consternation or grief. Frances (this friend) looked at me, smiled and as I approached her, she kissed my hand and forehead without saying a word. I remembered her from last year as a chatty person and got upset here and there about things, the nurses, other patients, etc; now, all this was gone; her personality has totally changed. All she emanated was peace and surrender and lovingkindness. Her mind was glass-clear. She then told me that she was going later that day for art class, one of the activities the hospital offers for the people in palliative care. I do not know the reason why she is in palliative care, she never told me nor anybody else has told me and I didn’t ask; it didn’t really matter when I visited her.
I am so glad you got the chance to be with your friend/acquaintance Frances. The dying teach and help us as much as we help them.