An Interview with CARLA WILLS-BRANDON
by: Brent Raynes
Carla Wills-Brandon, MA, PA, LMFT, is the author of thirteen books, including a Publishers Weekly bestseller. She has also been investigating the phenomenon known as the deathbed or departing vision for close to thirty years. Physically dying individuals, family, friends and the healthcare workers attending them report encountering the departing vision. A few scientifically based researchers have also studied this phenomenon, but sadly the experience is rarely discussed openly in public circles. Three of her titles address departing or deathbed visions. Not only is Carla a departing vision experiencer herself, but as a successful Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist she regularly uses the phenomena to assist those clients of hers who have suffered loss or trauma. Based on her continued work she believes the departing vision strongly suggests consciousness continues after physical death. In this article she gives us a brief glimpse into her investigations. Here most recent book, Heavenly Hugs: Comfort, Support, and Hope from the Afterlife, is her third title to discuss Departing Visions.
Brent Raynes: To begin with, please tell us a little about yourself and how you came to study Deathbed Visions and wrote a book on the subject entitled “One Last Hug Before I Go.” Please tell us also a little about your book.
Carla Wills-Brandon: I’ve written three books on the Departing Vision, “One Last Hug Before I Go: The Mystery and Meaning of Deathbed Visions”(2000), “A Glimpse of Heaven: The Remarkable World of Spiritually Transforming Experiences” (2012) and my most recent book, “Heavenly Hugs: Comfort, Support and Hope from the Afterlife" (2013). My first ten books addressed addiction and trauma, but in 2000 it was time for me to gather up the courage to write about these visions.
Not only have I had a few of these experiences myself, but my youngest son, who was just three years old at the time, also had a departing vision.
From “One Last Hug Before I Go: The Mystery and Meaning of Deathbed Visions” (2000), I wrote the following:
“While navigating the steering wheel with one hand, I reached back and patted Josh on one of his plump little legs. I knew he was becoming very tired because he was rubbing his eyes. ‘Honey, Momma can't nurse you right now.’ ‘I can't go to sleep without it, Momma. You come back here so I can have some,’ he cried.
Knowing I was in for a battle, I decided to try logic. ‘Well, honey, if I come to the backseat with you, who will drive the car?’
My young son looked at me as if I were just dumber than dirt. ‘Let Damus drive! He can drive!’ Checking my rearview mirror to make sure I didn't have another passenger with me, I asked, ‘Josh, who is Damus?’
With exasperation and a yawn, Josh replied, ‘Damus is right here, Momma. Now let him drive the car!’
No longer in a mood to argue, I said, ‘Damus can't drive.’ There! I thought. That should settle this! It didn't.
Looking stunned, Josh replied, ‘How do you know?’
The next day, Josh and I were again on the go. While I was driving—enjoying the scenery and the breeze that had come up—I suddenly remembered Damus. I decided to ask Joshua a few questions about his friend. Josh was busy looking at a new dinosaur toy with huge teeth, some vicious-looking creature his father had recently bought him. I asked, ‘Honey, who is Damus?’
With a growl he replied, ‘Oh, he's just some kid from the sky. A kid with red hair.’
A kid from the sky!? With red hair? I silently moaned. Then I thought, Where have I gone wrong!? I'm a qualified mental-health provider! Why does my child need an imaginary friend? The stress of his grandfather's illness had been overwhelming, but I try to give Josh lots of hugs, attention and love. He goes to the office with me and is not neglected. And he's three years old, and I'm still breast-feeding. This is just too much! I was beside myself with another one of my ‘rotten mother’ panic attacks. Once I calmed down, I decided I needed to know more about this Damus character.
‘Sweetie, how long has Damus been around?’ I asked, keeping one eye on the rearview mirror and another on the beachfront street.
‘Oh, Damus just got here a few days ago,’ answered my son as he attacked the backseat with his fanged creature.
‘Damus just got here?’ I asked. "Is he a friend of yours?" Still growling away, Josh said, ‘No, Mom! He just got here! He came here for Da!’ ‘Da’ was what the boys called their very ill grandfather, who was in the hospital looking very gray around the gills.
The hair on the back of my neck stood up, and I suddenly felt very chilled and overwhelmed. I pulled the car on to the beach, turned off the engine, faced my son and asked, ‘Joshie, is Damus here right now?’
His green eyes were already taking in the beach. ‘Momma, can I go play in the water? Hey! Let's build a sand castle! Maybe we will see those jelly things on the beach!’
Once again, I asked, ‘Honey, is Damus here?’
‘No, Mom. He isn't here right now. He only comes when he wants to!’ my little boy replied with much irritation. He then started to crawl out of his supposedly childproof car seat. Obviously, Damus wasn't as important to him as was seeing if any jellyfish had floated to the shore.
After playing in the ocean and running our errands, we were off again. Once in the car, I asked Josh if Damus was back. He looked to the seat beside him, smiled and said, ‘Yes.’” Pg 1-6
I asked a Rabbi friend if he had ever heard the word Damus. After spelling it out in Hebrew he then translated the word into Aramaic which meant, angel of death. My friend then wanted to know where my three year old could have heard such an antiquated Aramaic word. On a Friday the 13th, my dear father-in-law passed and Damus was no longer with us.
As physical death draws near, not only can the dying encounter visions of deceased relatives, loved ones, heaven or angels, but those who love and care for them can also have similar experiences. I began to hear accounts such as this from my clients in my clinical practice. Eventually, I like Barrett began to make a study of them in depth.
Professional peers said publishing on this topic wasn't such a good idea, that I'd lose credibility. I went ahead and did so anyway. After my son’s encounter I could no longer remain silent. Plus, I discovered that when I had a departing vision with my own mother’s passing, four other friends and relatives had the identical experience.
From my third book on departing visions, "Heavenly Hugs: Comfort, Support and Hope from the Afterlife" (2013) comes the following; ‘Waking up from a deep sleep knowing someone has died was nothing new for me. I had just turned 16 when my own mother, Carol, passed. At 5 in the morning I awoke and knew her spirit had finally escaped her cancer-ridden body. I was not the only one who felt my mother leave. My cousin Virginia Pilegard, also a well-published author, had this to share:
‘Your Aunt Helen and I were both awakened on the morning of Carol’s death. In a dream, I saw a figure in white I recognized to be Jesus standing by Carol’s hospital bed and heard the words, ‘Everything is going to be alright.’ My mother called and said, ‘Something’s happened with Carol.’ Carol was so ill by this time, I had little faith anything would ever be alright again. I had no understanding of what I had dreamed. ‘She died,’ my mom explained. Later someone called and confirmed your mother’s death. I don’t remember who.
Virginia told me she now believes her departing vision was telling her my mother was no longer in pain, but in a healing place. My mother’s two best friends were also awakened early that morning, and Richard Asadoorian told me both he and a nurse friend of the family felt my mother’s spirit leave just as dawn broke. All five of us, living in separate locations, received one last hug from her as she left her earthly body and joined her parents and brother on the other side. For years I didn’t know my aunt, my cousin, or my mother’s two friends had also been touched by her departure. No one in my family knew how to grieve or talk about life after death, so I tucked my otherworldly experience away and didn’t share it with anyone until I was much older.” pg 44-43
Brent Raynes: Obviously the Deathbed Vision isn't a new phenomenon. There are accounts of it that go back centuries, and these occurrences have been reported worldwide. However, I read where you had stated that it wasn't until the 1920's, when a physics professor named Sir William Barrett of the Royal College of Science in Dublin began studying it and compiling case histories that modern researchers began to truly take serious notice of such stories. Can you tell us a little about this development? Why did Sir Barrett take these events seriously and perceive them to represent more than hallucinatory manifestations?
Carla Wills-Brandon: As I said above Deathbed or Departing Visions come in all shapes and sizes. Some people receive visitations from deceased relatives while others encounter angels, or religious figures. Many of the accounts I have discussed in my books and writings share seeing a wisp of "something" leaving the body of a friend or relative at the moment of passing. Departing Visions differ from After Death Visitations. After Death Visitations involve contact from deceased loved ones after a passing, and are experienced by people who are not near death. Departing Visions occur when someone is very close to death. The physically dying see deceased loved ones who have come to greet them and help them transition from this life to an afterlife. Departing Visions can occur days before a person actually dies. Terminally ill people will also report Departing Visions. These other worldly visitations also occur for family members, friends and even healthcare workers. Such visitations reassure them that their dying loved one will be safe and live on.
Along with this, those who are about to leave this life will often talk about seeing beautiful landscapes on the other side and then state this is where they will be after they pass. In most cases, once one has had such a vision death is no longer something to fear. Departing Visions bring comfort not only to the dying, but to those who love them.
The phenomenon is nothing new. It has been described over and over again, for as long as time can remember. Though previous researchers had noted the departing vision, it was actually Sir William Barrett who first made a study of them.
Again from “Heavenly Hugs: Comfort, Support and Hope from the Afterlife” (2013): “Sir William Barrett (1844–1925) was born in Jamaica, British West Indies, and moved to England as a young person. He taught for 37 years as a professor of physics at the Royal College of Science in Dublin, and was knighted for his contributions to science in 1912. As we see, his groundbreaking book on the departing vision came after a long and illustrious career as a scientist, inventor, educator, and lecturer.
In his research into the deathbed or departing vision, Barrett’s most treasured colleague was his wife, Lady Florence Barrett, a prominent obstetric surgeon. I believe her afterlife encounters with her patients contributed to his interest in those departing visions reported by healthcare workers. Lady Barrett observed and recorded the departing visions she encountered with the women patients she worked with. Similar to most healthcare workers of her time, such experiences before a passing were not seen as unusual. Her patients would report visitations from deceased relatives, visions of the afterlife, and encounters with angels. Family at the bedside also reported seeing otherworldly escorts who had come to help their physically dying loved ones journey to the next life.” pg 74-75 What the Barrett’s saw was the consistency from one experiencer to the next. This intrigued them. As a matter of fact, initially he was quite the skeptic. His wife was more convinced that the dying were really being visited, so Sir William was convinced to explore this with her. Like me, they recognized that unlike hallucinations, which vary from experiencer to experiencer, deathbed or departing visions are consistent from person to person, regardless of religion, culture, age or sex.
Brent Raynes: What sort of insights and revelations have perhaps most impressed and moved you from your own in depth research and investigations into these deathbed visions (DBV)?
Carla Wills-Brandon: I believe we all have an individual path to follow and specific journey in this life to complete. The post signs of our journey may become blurred. It’s not unusual to feel confused about the true purpose of life. What used to make sense and work for us no longer meets our needs. This can be a hard place to be in. But in the end, we all must make peace with physically passing from this life to the next dimension of existence. After experiencing a Departing Vision we will begin to recognize where we are going. At such times the meaning of life becomes clear.
Afterlife encounters experienced before physical passing can force us to reevaluate our course in life. After my first series of encounters I realized I was not happy with where I was living, so I moved closer to the sea. My work hours were too long and I was missing out on family time. Even my religion felt shallow. My priorities were no longer the same, so my lifestyle needed to change. With spiritual growth I realized I was responsible for every aspect of my life. I had to learn how to take care of myself physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. It was also important to respect where my family and friends were spiritually. I needed to work on tolerance and patience while watching out for self-righteousness. Finally, I understood my life had new purpose and meaning. Because of this, I couldn’t let concerns about what other people thought sway me from my path.
For thousands of years there have been tales about the departing vision. History has taught us that life continues. Our inner light can never be destroyed. I had my first departing vision 40 years ago. Since then I’ve been blessed with more afterlife encounters than I can count. These blessed events have assured me that other dimensions of existence are real. When it’s time for me to shed my "earthly attire" I’ll be guided to the next adventure by those who have gone before me. Then together we will travel to the other side.
Brent Raynes: What have been some of your most memorable DBV case histories?
Carla Willa-Brandon: I have many favorite accounts. I'd have to say those involving group experiences are some of my favorite. When several people all report similar Departing Vision experiences with the same loved one who is passing, these accounts are hard to dispute. For example: “I have a story to share that occurred with the passing of my grandmother. According to the doctors, she died around 3 a.m.
That night I dreamed of her passing. I dreamt that I was driving home and passing by her house late at night when I had to stop to allow a funeral procession to pass in front of me. Interestingly my cousin said that she too woke up at 3 a.m. that night and stared at the clock.”
Dream encounters are often dismissed. Visitations during dream time followed by a phone call validating the passing are very common. Here is an example of a dream time Departing Vision.
"I was asleep at home. My mother had been very ill for some time. I had traveled to the home of my youth to be with her, but had eventually needed to leave her side to care for my young children. When I left my mother’s nursing home room, I had known I would never see her again. Flying home, my grief was overwhelming. The night I returned home I was both physically and emotionally exhausted. After dinner with my husband and children, I went to bed. During the middle of the night, I awoke from a very deep sleep. I had dreamed my mother had come to visit me. In this dream, she was with my father who had passed 5 years ago. Both of them looked happy and healthy. My mother blew me a kiss. Then she and my father turned around and walked off, over a hill. When I awoke, tears filled my eyes, but I also felt a sense of peace. My parents had looked so joyful. I looked at the clock and noted it was 3 AM, then lay back down and went to sleep. The next morning my brother called to tell me my mother had left us. When I asked him about the time of her death, he replied she had passed at 3 AM."
I have many accounts from around the world. Be it from Italy, Holland, Ireland, China, Israel, South Africa, Belgium, England, Japan, Iceland or the U.S. Dream time accounts are incredibly common regardless of culture or religion. These visitations reassure the physically dying and those who care for them that death isn’t the end.
Brent Raynes: Do you find the evidence in these Departing Vision cases that you've researched sufficient to validate the belief that these are indeed genuine glimpses into the afterlife?
Carla Wills-Brandon: These visions and experiences are actually common to many dying people. Recent studies on the Departing Vision experience have provided some interesting numbers. Although only about 10% of people are conscious shortly before their death, of this particular group, 50% to 67% have Departing Visions.
Departing Visions can be found throughout historical literature and lore, but as mentioned earlier they were rarely mentioned in the scientific literature until the late 1920’s. At this point in time they were studied by Sir William Barrett, a physics professor at the Royal College of Science in Dublin.
In the 1960s, and 70s a huge longitudinal study was done by psychologists Erlendur Haraldsson and Karlis Osis. The researchers compared the Departing Visions of dying Americans with those of people in India. Thousands of nurses and doctors were interviewed and asked what they had witnessed as death drew near. Departing Visions were often reported. Except for a few religious differences, the Departing Visions of both cultures were incredibly similar. The consistency of the experiences between those dying in America and those in India has guided me to believe there is more to the Departing Vision experience than wishful thinking. Conditions the skeptics had thought were responsible for the Departing Vision were also disproven.
For instance many of the individuals who have reported these visions were not on medications and were, up to the moment of death, very coherent. Those who are on medications have also shared visions similar to those who are not on medications. Finally, well, alert, sober family members and friends of the dying have had Departing Visions. Along with this, Hospice workers and healthcare providers have also reported these experiences.
Today studies have taken place in England, Ireland, and Holland and even with a branch of the Veterans Administration in California. Sadly, Departing Visions continue to be a neglected source of peace and comfort to all those involved. This must change. I strongly believe the Departing Vision experience must not continue to be ignored.
Brent Raynes: What do you hope to see this line of research accomplish in the future? Do you foresee a possible change in humankind's perception of death as this research progresses and possibly provides many with a renewed hope with regard to the life after death issue?
Carla Wills-Brandon: For those who are dying, Departing Vision information offers them comfort, validates any visions they might have had or may have in the future, and lessens the fear of death. With individuals seeking answers to questions about death, Departing Vision information often propels them into resolving their own issues around dying.
Researchers and healthcare professionals who learn to accept and explore afterlife experiences then begin chipping away at the death phobia permeating our society. Addressing this taboo will not only aid the dying and their families, but will also begin to address another societal fear: the fear of aging. The fear of aging has its iron-fisted grip on many of us today. I believe our obsession with excessive plastic surgery, so-called fountain of youth health supplements, and fear of ageism is tied directly to the boogieman we have turned the dying process into. Instead of looking at physical death as a natural transition and aging as a sign of a life well lived, we see each wrinkle as another nail in the coffin. Because of this, spirituality suffers.
Continued research into the departing vision will eventually relieve us of these time-consuming phobias. When this happens, our lives will no longer be ruled by fear. Instead, we will live each day to the fullest, filling every moment with what’s really important.
Brent Raynes: How has your DBV research affected you personally?
Carla Wills-Brandon: Departing Visions have played a very important role in both my personal and professional life. In my personal life, they have assisted me in processing my own grief. Because of my encounters with these visions, I know for certain that life of some sort goes on after physical death. The comfort that comes from understanding my departed loved ones are safe-alive and well on the other side-is boundless. My son experienced a Departing Vision when his grandfather died. I too have had and witnessed numerous Departing Visions with the first being when I was just 15 years old. Over the last 30 plus years I have heard numerous accounts of Departing Visions not only from the dying, but also from those who love them. Sadly, I have often been the first person experiencers ever discuss these blessed events with. Fear of societal judgment keeps many of us silent and a lack of validation often creates confusions. My job as a healthcare provider has been to validate Departing Visions for those clients of mine who report them, and to then use them for processing grief and developing a sense of spiritual wellness.
My basic reason for investigating the Departing Vision experience began with my desire to enlighten society about the dying process. I wanted to show the public at large that these incredible visitations have been with us for centuries and that they can ease physical death, not only for the dying, but the living. I now believe it is time for us to do as our ancestors did in generations gone by. We need to once again, pay attention to the words of those who are leaving this world.
Books by Carla about Departing Visions
Wills-Brandon, C. One Last Hug Before I Go: The Mystery and Meaning of Deathbed Visions. HCI: Deerfield Beach, FL, 2000.
Wills-Brandon, C. A Glimpse of Heaven: The Remarkable World of Spiritually Transformative Experiences. White Crow: Guildford Surrey, UK 2012.
Wills-Brandon, C. Heavenly Hugs: Comfort, Support, and Hope from the Afterlife. New Page: Pompton Plains, NJ 2013.