Might We Find Meaning at the End of Life?


Since January, 2017, The Meaning of Forever Project has been following the work of Dr. Christopher Kerr and his team of researchers at Hospice Buffalo, where they have been carefully observing patients in order to answer this question: Are the dreams and visions of people who are dying actually meaningful?

In a new book, Death is but a Dream: Finding Hope and Meaning at Life’s End, Dr. Kerr reports his findings—and, as Joan Olinger tells us in this review, the short answer to the question is, “Yes.”

By Joan Olinger

Through a decade of research and caring for patients, Hospice Physician Dr. Christopher Kerr has found that end-of-life dreams and visions (ELDV’s) serve an important function for the dying by promoting spiritual and psychological healing and growth, thus providing positive resolution at the end of life.

Dr. Kerr writes on page 216 of his new book:

It is at the hour of death that people are able to free themselves from old fears and find their way back to a renewed sense of self. This is the whole self with which we lose touch over the years of accumulated stressors, expectations, mishaps, and negative emotions, but it is also the self that resurfaces in full force at end of life. During the profound resolution that is enabled by the dying process, patients reconnect with those they have loved and lost, mourned but not forgotten.

What Dr. Kerr describes here is the connection patients make with loved ones who have predeceased them. It is these loved ones who now come in dreams or visions to welcome the dying person into what lies beyond death of the physical body.

He describes how, in dreams and visions, long-lost loved ones come to love, comfort, and welcome the dying individual to what lies beyond death.

Dr. Kerr’s new book contains one beautiful love story after another. With love and compassion, he describes each unique person; their characteristics, history, and the events that occur in their dreams or visions at the end of their life. He describes how, in dreams and visions, long-lost loved ones come to love, comfort, and welcome the dying individual to what lies beyond death. These may be a predeceased spouse, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, or friends, he says. Or the greeter may be another who has been a further source of unconditional love during the dying person’s life.  

For dying children who have not yet lost a relative or friend to death, a much beloved pet may be the one to shower them with love in their dreams or visions, says Kerr. As with adults, children feel comforted, loved, and know they won’t be alone as they transition from this world to what lies ahead.  They, too, feel an acceptance of their death and be at peace, he says.  

According to Dr. Kerr’s research, most people at the bedside of the dying patient will also feel comforted by the positive dreams and visions their loved ones are experiencing. He says they find it a relief to know their loved one will not be alone after they die, but instead will be in the company of others who love them dearly.   

But not all end-of-life dreams and visions are initially positive, notes Dr. Kerr. Some patients, who have had especially difficult lives, go through a period of disturbing and challenging dreams before coming to wholeness, forgiveness (of self or others), and receptivity to giving and receiving unconditional love. But, concludes Dr. Kerr, they do get there in their own unique ways.

But not all end-of-life dreams and visions are initially positive, notes Dr. Kerr.

Historically, we, as a society have not valued the end of life experiences of our loved ones. All the same, these dreams and visions have been described by patients as being vivid, different from other dreams they have had, and “more real than real.” As such, they have often been misunderstood as hallucinations, the adverse effects of drugs used in treatment, or the effects of an underlying medical condition, such as a dying brain. Thus, dying patients have been afraid to tell of their end of life experiences because they have thought that, either they were losing their minds, or that other people might think they were.

In the past, when doctors were told about these end of life experiences, they tried to medicate them away. That is why Dr. Kerr’s new book and his research published in medical journals are so important.   Validating and valuing these end of life experiences opens the door for a dying person to reach a new wholeness, comfort, peace and acceptance of death. Their fear of death is, then, gone.

An upcoming documentary, called Death is But a Dream, is to be released by Dr. Kerr later in 2020. It will allow you to see for yourself the positive effects of these end of life experiences on the dying patient and their families. It may very well change the way you look at death.

The Meaning of Forever Project continues to accept stories of comforting experiences with loved ones who have passed on, and of near-death experiences that have helped to show the continuation of life beyond the physical body. You can email your story to us at themeaningofforever@gmail.com and you can find more about our project on our Facebook page, and our Meaning of Forever Website. Further resources, including Dr. Kerr’s book, are listed on our “Resources” page https://meaningofforever.wordpress.com/resources/further-reading/

2 thoughts on “Might We Find Meaning at the End of Life?

  1. When my late mother-in-law was hospitalized, and before she was finally diagnosed with an incurable cancer, she told me her only sister was reaching out to her. Her sister had died a few years earlier of brain cancer. I do know that Madeleine was at peace in her final weeks. In her last days, she woke up once and told the palliative doctor to “just let me go.” Those were her last words and she spoke them with strength and confidence.


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