Empathic or Shared Death Experiences: How Do We Explain Them?

8 Nov

The phenomenon of the shared death experience is becoming increasingly reported. There are many cases described by various authors in the early NDE literature such as Dr Pam Kircher, Dr Yvonne Kason. Recently Dr Raymond Moody published Glimpses of Eternity which is about shared death experiences.

These experiences are reported by people who also share some aspects of the NDE as their loved one is dying or coincides with the time of death of a loved one. I have documented cases where people who were present at the bedside of their dying loved one suddenly found themselves participating in a transcendent experience of a partial journey into death. I have also documented cases where miles away from their dying loved one people have suddenly and inexplicably been overwhelmed with intense emotion – this coincided with the death of a loved one. One of these cases was described to me by a GP who was visiting a dying patient. Despite her 18 years experience of working as a doctor she could not explain what she experienced that day as her patient died. These experiences have a lasting impact on the person and remains so vivid that it actually diminishes the sadness felt at the loss of their loved one. Some of these fascinating cases are in my forthcoming book.

Earlier this year I was contacted by Annie Cap who herself had a shared death experience. It had so deeply affected her that it had set her on her own journey to understand what she had experienced. The result culminated in writing a book about her experience called Beyond Goodbye: An extraordinary true story of a shared death experience’. I won’t say too much about the book as I don’t want to spoil it for readers. I was fascinated by what she experienced and I think her book will help a lot of people who have also experienced something similar.

So how can we explain these? The people at the bedside or those who are miles away from their loved ones in some way ‘connect’ with the dying person but are not themselves close to death or unconscious. How can people whose brains are not compromised physiologically experience such overwhelming transcendent experiences that are so powerful that it diminishes their grief?


27 Responses to “Empathic or Shared Death Experiences: How Do We Explain Them?”

  1. Jake November 8, 2011 at 7:36 pm #

    Probably the best evidence of NDEs yet. Skeptics seem to always ignore this issue…. quite simply because I don’t think they can explain it. Should be a very interesting book, there definitely needs to be more research in this department!

  2. Julie-Anne Mullan EFT December 2, 2011 at 5:20 pm #

    Hi Penny,
    Reading your article reminds me of the day a university classmate of mine died in a road traffic accident. His mum, 100 miles away, was putting out the Saturday dinner when she burst into tears and cried uncontrollably, apparently for no reason . This was later verified to have been the exact time of the accident.

    • Dr Penny Sartori December 3, 2011 at 12:56 pm #

      HI Julie-Anne, thank you for posting this. The more these experiences are talked about the more people are begining to report them. I’d welcome any more examples like this.

  3. Anne G. Liversidge February 19, 2012 at 6:42 am #

    I now realize I had a shared death experience after watching Raymond Moody’s interview. Just before my brother died due to an unexpected medication reaction in 2002 (he was 39, I was 36), I experienced rapid flashbacks of his and my life together, mostly from childhood before his illness began. I would welcome any interpretations of this. Thank you. Anne G. Liversidge, Silver Spring, MD.

    • Dr Penny Sartori February 19, 2012 at 12:38 pm #

      Hi Anne, thank you for sharing this with the blog. Your experience is very interesting to me. It would be helpful if you could email me more details of what you experienced with regards to your flashbacks – were they in chronological order, were they significant or insignificant things that had occurred etc.

      From your brief comment it would appear that you have had some sort of an empathic death experience. I look forward to hearing more about what you experienced.

  4. I had fallen asleep reclining in the car on the way to my mother’s death and experien
    ced a flash of white light that had made me bolt upright and gasp out of my sleep. I noted the time and it was within 5 minutes of her death. I later learned that as a result of taking her off of the respirator she had been lifting off of the bed gasping for air. I’ll never forget that experience.

    • Dr Penny Sartori November 5, 2012 at 12:42 pm #

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience on the blog. It seems that you had aspects of a shared death experience. These are very fascinating experiences that seem to indicate that we are all connected on some level that we do not yet understand.

      • greta April 16, 2013 at 11:48 pm #

        I have been looking for the answers to what i have experienced at the bedside of my dying grandmother. It was one of the most empowering moments of my life. I feel the warmth and goodness entering my body. i saw my grandmother, my parents and my own body from the corner of the room. but it was all black and white like a snap shoot. what an amazing feeling. i was not able to shed a tear after my grandmother’s passinng

      • Dr Penny Sartori April 18, 2013 at 12:51 pm #

        Hi Greta, thank you so much for sharing this with the blog. Wow, what a lovely experience you have described. I’m sure words don’t do it justice. You appear to have experienced an empathic death experience. Although these sorts of experiences are quite rare, they are being increasingly reported. I have quite a few cases in my files that are similar to what you have put in your comment. I discuss these in my forthcoming book The Wisdom of Near-Death Experiences and also Dr Raymond Moody has written a whole book on them called Glimpses of Eternity.

        One man I spoke to described a similar experience when his wife died and he too was unable to cry. He felt such peace and elation that in fact he had a smile on his face and was concerned that the nurse must have thought he was insensitive. These really are very powerful and comforting experiences. What a gift.

  5. Leah June 4, 2013 at 12:53 am #

    I just wanted to add my own possible shared death experience, which happened this past February of 2013. At the time, my 56 year old father passed away from pulmonary complications due to ALS. We had our family gathered around & about 6 hours before he passed, I experienced something that I have no words to describe. It lasted about 2 minutes, but all I can say is that it was like experiencing pure love or ecstasy or something, it even had a physical resonance within me that reminded me of feeling like I was being filled with warm “love-lava” (sorry for the poor analogy). It was NOT something of my own cognitive thought processes (ex: me thinking he’s in heaven so I feel good because of that thought). It was such a significant experience that I could have sworn everyone in the room felt it. However, my mother & sisters (who I told, but not the rest of the family yet) didn’t experience it. I’m not meaning to brag, but my father & I had a very close relationship compared to my other sisters, maybe because I’m the oldest. I will never forget that experience as it was the most “real” that I have ever felt in my short 29 years of existence. I remember feeling very giddy even, it was so beautiful. I’m just now starting to talk about it and want to try to find others who have gone through similar experiences.

    • Dr Penny Sartori June 5, 2013 at 3:37 pm #

      Hi Leah, thank you so much for sharing your experience with the blog. It sounds very much like an empathic experience.

      You’ve obviously thought very much about this and your insights (i.e. it wasn’t due to cognitive processes) are very helpful. I’ve spoken to a few other people who had similar experiences and one man and his daughter had the same experience at the same time but the other family member who was present didn’t experience anything at all. Now that you have posted this on the blog, other people who have had similar experiences may also want to connect with you. I will also try to put you in touch with others I know who have had an empathic experience.

      You may also find Dr Raymond Moody’s book Glimpses of Eternity to be helpful in further understanding your experience.

  6. Mariana July 10, 2013 at 9:26 pm #

    My brother in law was left paralysed after meningitis, after 18 months of therapy he managed to move a bit hs arms and one hand, I live away and since he got ill I was very affected, I was on a flight with my husband and kids ( 12 hours flight ) and around 3 hours before landing suddenly started to feel very ill, nauseus, stomach cramps and a kind headache that never experienced before, wasn’t food poison, no turbulence……. Just so ill and afraid will be a pannic attak, when arrived home started to feel better, one hour later my sister called me to inform that he passed away around 7:00 am, that he just felt stomach pain, nauseous and die hours later, the timing just coincide with my symptoms, haven’t told anyone as they might think I am mad, maybe just a coincidence…….

    • Dr Penny Sartori July 19, 2013 at 9:26 am #

      Hi, thank you so much for sharing this with the blog. What you describe is an empathic experience. There are increasing reports of experiences like this. It fascinates me how people so far apart can have the same symptoms at the same time. I was really interested by your experience and really appreciate you sharing it.

  7. Stuart August 13, 2013 at 8:27 pm #

    Hi Penny,

    Is there much research or books on SDEs yet as so far I can only find Dr Moodys book and your upcoming book. I think I read some about it as well in one of Dr Fenwicks book but not much?



    • Dr Penny Sartori August 15, 2013 at 2:14 pm #

      HI Stuart, there is a lot less about the SDEs. I’v come across a few expamles in various other NDE books but there seem to be far less repots available.

  8. Janelle August 17, 2013 at 4:03 am #

    HI there! I am so relieved to find others like me! Here’s MY SDE…..I had just left my father where he was staying at a nursing home for 2 months. And I was driving to work when all of a sudden I felt a profound & very intense feeling of contentedness…..peace…..& unconditional love that was something that I had never experienced before. Then as I looked out my window I saw exactly what was there in reality (?), but everything was 100 times more beautiful! This beauty only lasted a minute or so. But my intense feeling of peacefulness lasted about 30 minutes…..it very slowly dissipated. I did find out later that my father had passed away fairly close to that time,but I’m not exactly sure since there was no time on his death certificate. I know I am so lucky to have that experience,but it was so profound I can’t stop thinking about it & it’s really keeping me awake at night. If anyone has any insight into my problem,please help. Thanks!

    • Dr Penny Sartori August 18, 2013 at 11:40 am #

      Hi Janelle, thank you so much for sharing your experience on the blog. Wow, this is a lovely example of a shared death experience. These experiences are quite rare so at the moment there is no firm explanation for them. Dr Raymond Moody has written a book called Glimpses of Eternity which is about these kinds of experiences and I also have some examples in my forthcoming book Ths Wisdom of NDEs – these may be of some help to you in trying to understand the experience.

      Many people who have this experience find it very overwhelming because it is so vivid and like no other experience they have had before. It seems to be a wonderful gift that you have experienced. Thank you for sharing it.

  9. Mia September 3, 2013 at 5:17 am #

    I’m so grateful to have found this page, I’ve been so confused about my experience . I live 700 miles from where my mother and most of my family lives in another state ..My mother passed away a week ago .. I was due to fly out to see her and get her settled, as she had just arrived to a nursing home from her assisted living home, she had some health issues and was slowly declining. I went to bed around 12 am and I could not fall asleep my mind was racing and my heart was pounding so fast it felt like my heart was going to explode, then I felt like I couldn’t breathe. This went on for a few hours, i have never felt anything like this before ..I kept pacing the house as I didn’t want to wake my husband , because he had to work early in the morning! I finally fell asleep about the time my husband was getting up for work 5am! My husband left and then the phone rang, it was my sister telling me they had called her from the nursing home and that mom had passed away sometime in the early morning hours. They said when they went to wake her for breakfast. She was gone..
    I would love to hear some insight on my experience.. Thanks

    • Dr Penny Sartori September 3, 2013 at 8:03 am #

      Hi Mia, thank you so much for sharing your experience with the blog. So sorry to hear of the loss of your mother.

      Your experience seems very much like an empathic experience. It is quite remarkable that you felt your heart pounding and felt that you could not breathe and that this lasted for some hours. It is also significant that you eventually fell asleep at about 5 a.m., shortly after your sister called to tell you that your mum had passed away in the early morning hours. The timing of your mum’s passing seems to have coincided with you finally being able to fall asleep. It seems that in some way you were able to ‘pick up’ on what your mum may have been experiencing as her condition deteriorated before she passed.

      When I read your experience it reminded me of a similar experience that a lady called Annie Cap described to me a few years ago. Annie lives in England and her mum lived in Oregon, USA. One day Annie suddenly became breathless, felt like she had some fluid in her chest and began coughing. She didn’t understand what was happening and couldn’t stop the coughing. She felt compelled to phone her mum who was in hospital in Oregon and when she got through to her room, her sister answered to say that her mum was very unwell and about to die. Annie’s symptoms then disappeared but they seemed to be the same symptoms her mum was experiencing before she died. Annie was so overwhelmed by her experience that she was motivated to learn more and went on to write a book about her experience called Beyond Goodbye.

      As yet, we do not fully understand these experiences and why some people have them and some people don’t. However, the more cases that are reported will help us to further our understanding. I hope this helps, thank you for posting your experience as I’m sure it will help others who have undergone similar experiences.

      • Matthew October 17, 2013 at 10:32 pm #

        I had an experience almost identical to Mia’s when my father passed away nearly three years ago.

        I had visited him earlier in the day with my brother and realised that he would probably die within the next few days from cardiac failure. That night I found it very hard to sleep (naturally) but must have fallen asleep at some point as I didn’t hear my brother come home. At around 3AM I was awake and my mind blank when suddenly without warning my heart began to race. Within seconds it was pounding at a ridiculous speed and my breathing was quick and shallow. I could not understand what was happening to me as I had never experienced anything like this before, my heart was racing so quickly I thought I must be having a heart attack or panic attack, although I felt no pain whatsoever and my mind was still absolutely blank.

        I can’t say exactly how long this went on for but it must have been between one and five minutes. My heart then began to slow to a more normal speed and as this was happening the phone rang. As soon as it did I knew that it was to say that my father had died. My mother answered the phone and we raced to the hospital to find out that my father had suffered a fatal cardiac arrest in the minutes before we received the phone call.

        Funnily enough my grandmother apparently had a very similar experience when my grandfather died although my father always believed it was nonsense.

        I want to thank you very much for putting this blog together, this is the first time I have seen any other stories similar to mine. I have only ever told my immediate family and my closest friends because in my own mind it seems mad (I am not in any way a religious or spiritual person) but I cannot deny that it happened and I can’t explain it.

        SImilarly to some of the other posteres here I was very close to my father, closer than my brother or mother, and neither of them experienced anything unusual when he died. The fact that I did experience what I did brought me great comfort in a strange way.

      • Dr Penny Sartori October 19, 2013 at 11:20 am #

        Hi Matthew, thank you so much for taking the time to write up your experience and share it on the blog. Yes, this is a great example of an empathic or shared death experience. Now that these experiences are being recognised and taken seriously more and more people are now begining to share their experiences.

        Many people are left very puzzled about how to explain what had happened so it is great that more people are sharing their experiences because it helps many people to begin to understand that something quite meaningful has happened. Like you, many other people who have had similar experiences are in no way spiritual or religious. The experiences often bring some comfort.

        Thank you once again for sharing this very important experience with the blog.

  10. Stuart November 19, 2013 at 11:53 pm #

    two points of NDEs that i find intriguing are SDEs and the Being of Light. I know there are other beings in NDEs reported but I read somewhere that the Being of light is the most commonest element of a NDE. Is that the case from your research? Also has there ever being a case of two or more of these Beings of Lights. I always find the Being of Light intersting espiceally as it reportly gives the same concepts of altrusim and Knowledge it appears



    • Dr Penny Sartori November 21, 2013 at 2:50 pm #

      Hi Stuart, in my research very few people reported a Being of Light. One patient reported a figure who he said could have been Jesus, one patient saw an angel and six patients described seeing figures they did not recognise. The most common component in my research was meeting dead relatives or friends.

      I can’t think off hand of any cases I’ve read about where two Beings have been reported but there may well have been and I just can’t recall them. Yes, I think it is very interesting how the Being extends altruism and appears almost to comfort people who are undergoing their life review.

  11. Diane July 28, 2014 at 11:27 pm #

    A year ago I was at my husband’s bedside when he took his last breath. About ten minutes later I experienced a feeling that I described (to the friend that was with me at the time) as “overwhelming joy”. The feeling only lasted a minute or so but I was (and still am) confused by it because losing him from my life was painful, not joyful. As I was experiencing the joy, the thought went through my mind that perhaps his spirit had not left his body ten minutes earlier, when he stopped breathing, but was just now leaving. (Until that moment I had no belief in spirits or after-lives.) I wonder if anyone else has ever experienced such a thing.

    • Dr Penny Sartori July 30, 2014 at 11:29 am #

      Hi Diane,

      Thank you for sharing this with the blog. Yes, I have come across some similar experiences as the one you described with your husband. This is called a shared death experience or an empathic death experience. Death is a process and it can take some minutes (and even hours in some cases depending on the conditions) for all the cells in the body to completely stop functioning and die even though the person has stopped breathing.

      Other people have also described feeling such joy at such a sad and devastating time. One man who had a similar experience to you actually said that what should have been the saddest time in his life (because his wife had just died) turned out to be quite ecstatic because of the overwhelming sense of joy that he had. He was worried that the nurses thought he was insensitive as he had a big smile on his face.

      Although there are many people who have had similar experiences they are also quite rare.

      • Diane July 31, 2014 at 10:27 pm #

        Hi Dr. Satori,
        I can’t thank you enough for your reply. Having my experience defined as a shared death experience brings me great comfort. Of course I had heard of NDEs but I had never heard of SDEs.
        I have considered myself to be an Agnostic for most of my life. My husband and I discussed this many times and when we knew he was terminally ill I asked him to find some way to let me know if there is a life beyond our life on earth. He promised to do it if there was a way. Perhaps our SDE was his first notification to me! (I say FIRST notification, because there have been others since that day. I have heard his voice and I saw him one time. But for fear of being thought crazy, I’ll stop there.)
        Thank you for the peace I find in believing that I shared so intimately in his passing from this life to another. And for my new belief that I too will pass that way some day.


      • Dr Penny Sartori August 12, 2014 at 1:56 pm #

        Hi Diane,
        Thank you for getting back to me. There are many people who haven’t heard of a SDE so when it happens they haven’t realised exactly what it was. I was interested to read that heard your husband’s voice and saw him – these are after death communications (ADCs) and happen very commonly too. The communications can take many forms, sometimes these communications can be very subtle, sometimes they can be a series of ‘coincidences’. I’ve got a few examples in my book. I am so pleased that you have been able to gain some comfort from your experiences.

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