Nearing Death Awareness
By Dr Tim Ong

What is Nearing Death Awareness?

Nearing death awareness is a term coined by authors Maggie Callanan and Patricia Kelley in their book, Final Gifts. It refers to a heightened sense of awareness in a dying patient, especially when death is imminent.

With this heightened sense of awareness, a dying person may be able to know instinctively the time of his death, or be able to "see" visions or images of someone he loved who had passed away, or experience a sense of calmness or serenity prior to his death.

If we are not aware of such a phenomenon, we may, and often do, consider a dying person's behaviour to be very strange or abnormal. We may miss the wonderful opportunity of a glimpse into the spiritual realm through the eyes of the dying person. The door to the spiritual realm may be opened, albeit partially, to one whose death is imminent.


This nearing death awareness happens regardless of the spirituality or religions of the dying person, and may be found even in an atheist. Every dying person seems to have some important messages for the livings. Even though these messages may not often be communicated clearly, it is important to the dying person that the livings somehow are able to understand the messages he is trying to convey to them.

According to the authors of Final Gifts, there are two main categories of messages.

The first described what the dying person is experiencing, such as being in the presence of someone not alive, the need to prepare for a travel or a change, mention of someplace only he could see or his knowledge of when death would occur.

The second is a need to reconcile relationships or to remove a barrier so that death could be peaceful. This may be the need to make peace with an estranged spouse or child, or the need to be reassured that his loved ones will be able to take care of themselves when he is gone.

Finding Peace

In spite of the body breakdown, dying people who develop nearing death awareness can find peace, comfort, and healing of emotional and spiritual pain. By anticipating, seeing and learning from nearing death awareness, families can be more aware of the part of the person they loved that is much more than the physical body. If a family can understand and respond to a dying person appropriately, all involved can share the resulting comfort and peace.

At the core of each message is the news that dying people know they are dying - perhaps before anyone else. Instead of anxiety, that knowledge may be accompanied by a need for information about the process of dying or concern for those they love.

Simple, brief and concise information helps to allay those fears. The family's reassurances - that they'll be alright and they know what's going on - often bring the peace a dying person needs. If possible, such comfort should come directly from the family; if impossible, a third party can and should attempt to reassure and comfort the dying person.



  1. Home
  2. Introduction
  3. How It All Started
  4. What is Caregiving?
  5. What is Hospice Care?
  6. Caring as Spiritual Practice
  7. Planning A Caregiving Room
  8. Basic Caregiving Skills
  9. Symptoms Management
  10. Nearing Death Awareness
  11. Cultivate a Friendship with Death
  12. Some Thoughts on Caring
  13. Caring for the Caregivers
  14. Appendices
  15. Recommended Reading