Since the 1800s, people have described experiencing the deaths of others.
Since the 1800s, people have reported experiencing loved ones’ deaths almost psychically, feeling that they, too, were moving into the beyond.
This phenomenon, which has gained anecdotal support from people around the world regardless of background or religious belief, is often referred to as a “shared-death experience” or “empathic death experience.”
Empathic death experiences don’t always look or feel the same, though similarities between individuals’ accounts help sketch a vague outline of events. The light at the end of the tunnel, for example ― now a hackneyed image associated with the sensation of dying ― originated from the testimonies of people who had undergone near-death or shared-death experiences.
Brooklyn-based artist Caledonia Curry, better known as Swoon, was not familiar with reports of shared-death experiences. That is, until she lived one.
In an interview with The Huffington Post, the artist described an almost paranormal experience. Her mother, she said, had been sick for months, and Swoon had spent a great deal of time at her bedside caring for her. One evening in 2013, Swoon claims she heard her mother’s voice, felt her very presence, even though they weren’t in the same state.
“I was having really intense dreams about her the whole morning,” Swoon explained. “I kept waking up and falling back asleep. At one point, I thought I was awake and looked out the window. I saw a bunch of snow falling and I thought, ‘Wow, snow in June. That can’t be good.’”
From there, the experience only grew more surreal. “I opened the window, and the snow started to come through my body, transforming into points of light that bloomed into these intricate snow blossoms. I heard my mom’s voice talking to me, and I was filled with a very profound sense of wellbeing and love. I woke up weeping, my face covered in tears. I thought, I think that was my mom dying. My sister called a few hours later.”
Even after the evening of her mother’s passing, the sensation lingered. “I had this feeling of a little buoy inside me. I felt held. I couldn’t grieve as much as I expected because I had all this love and light inside me. It makes you question your sanity.”
The intensity of that feeling ― almost as if she were possessed ― compelled Swoon to do some research. “You don’t want to feel crazy,” she said. It wasn’t long before she discovered that her abnormal experience wasn’t actually all that abnormal. “It’s not a common phenomenon, but it does happen,” she added. “Sometimes, when someone very close to you dies ― a family member or friend ― you will share part of their dying experience.”
In 2012, psychiatrist Raymond Moody compiled some of the most common impressions of those who claimed to have felt a loved one’s passing. Their stories involve rooms changing shape, dying people communicating telepathically, bystanders leaving their bodies and witnessing another dimension, becoming engulfed by a bright light that feels like love, and visions of accompanying a dying person through a tunnel towards a great light where they often pass by deceased loved ones.
“The core elements of my experience were described by others,” Swoon said. “As a visual artist, to have people telling these stories, describing this stuff that is so beautiful ― the light and tunnels and meadows and magical places ― I couldn’t resist.”