The Visions of the Dying… Solace for the Living?

“For thousands of years, the dreams and visions of the dying have captivated cultures, which imbued them with sacred import. Anthropologists, theologians and sociologists have studied these so-called deathbed phenomenaIn the modern medical world, such experiences have been noted…But doctors tend to give them a wide berth because ‘we don’t know what the hell they are,’ said Dr. Timothy E. Quill, an expert on palliative care medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center. Some researchers have surmised that patients and doctors avoid reporting these phenomena for fear of ridicule.” J.Huffman  The New York Times

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

Excerpt: A New Vision for Dreams of the Dying by J. Huffman, NYT

“Now a team of clinicians and researchers led by Dr. Kerr at Hospice Buffalo, an internist who has a doctorate in neurobiology, are seeking to demystify these experiences and understand their role and importance in supporting a good death — for the patient and the bereaved. These events are distinct from near-death experiences, such as those recalled by people revived in intensive care units, said C. Grant, the director of the research team. These are people on a journey towards death, not people who just missed it.

Many dying people see visions of dead relatives and friends as death draws near.

Many dying people see visions of dead relatives and friends as death draws near.

Hospice Buffalo, in Cheektowaga, N.Y., cares for 5,000 patients a year, mostly with visits to private homes and nursing facilities. After doctors, nurses, social workers or chaplains ask patients, How have you been sleeping? they often follow up with, Can you recall any dreams?

For their primary study, published in The Journal of Palliative Medicine, the researchers conducted multiple interviews with 59 terminally ill patients admitted to acute care at Hospice Buffalo, a facility furnished in warm woods, with windows that frame views of fountains, gazebos and gardens. Nearly all the patients reported having had dreams or visions. They described the majority of their dreams as comforting. About one in every five was associated with distress, and the remainder felt neutral.

Many dying people see visions of dead relatives and friends as death draws near.

Many dying people claim to see visions of dead relatives and friends as death draws near.

This is certainly research in its infancy. The investigators, counselors and palliative care doctors, are trying to identify and describe the phenomena. The huge challenge of this work is to help patients feel more normal and less alone during this unusual experience of dying,” he said. The more we can articulate that people do have vivid dreams and visions, the more we can be helpful.”

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.

Level: Intermediate – Advanced

Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.

Time: Approximately 2 hours.

Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.

Objective: Students will read and discuss the article
with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activities

Predictions: Analyzing headings and photos

Directions:  Have students  examine the titles of the post and of the actual article. After they examine the photos, ask students to create a list of  words and  ideas  that they think might be related to this article. 

II. While Reading Tasks

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. Even the law reveres a dying person’s final words.
  2. Doctors are seeking to demystify these experiences.
  3. This helps the patient and the bereaved.
  4. These are distinct from near-death experiences.
  5. Many people are revived in intensive care units.
  6. Terminally ill patients are admitted to a hospice.
  7. Palliative care doctors are trying to describe the phenomena.
  8. Some people have mystical dreams.
  9. Troubled dreams erupt with excessive energy.
  10. The researchers suggest that such phenomena might even have prognostic value.
Vocabulary Organizer by Against the Odds

Vocabulary Organizer by Against the Odds


Reading Comprehension

True /False/NA-Statements

Directions: Review the following statements from the reading.  If  a statement is true they mark it T. If the statement is  not applicable, they mark it NA. If the statement is false they  mark  it F and provide the correct answer. 

  1. The author of this article is dying.
  2. A dying person’s final words  can never be used as evidence.
  3. People dying are the same as people with near-death experiences.
  4. People over 70 usually have visions.
  5. Researchers conducted multiple interviews with 59 terminally ill patients.
  6. At Hospice Buffalo the  facility is furnished in marble with views of the city.
  7. The huge challenge of this work is to help patients feel more normal and less alone.
  8. Young people never have death visions.
  9. The motivation and pressure for these dreams is coming from a place of fear and uncertainty.
  10. Many dying patients  always communicate.

 Grammar Focus: Prepositions

Prepositions:  in, for, of, with,  towards, by,  on, at, to, as, into, across, around, over,  through, from, during, up, off, about

Directions: The following sentences are from the news article.  For each sentence choose the correct preposition from the choices listed above. Note that not all prepositions listed are in the article.

These events are distinct___near-death experiences.

These are people___ a journey ___death.

___one ___every five was associated ___distress.

___this time there is the need ___resolution and even forgiveness.

III. Post Reading Tasks

Directions:  Have students use this advanced organizer from Enchanted Learning to assist them with  discussing  or writing about  the main points from the article.Topic organizer. By Enchanted Learning

Discussion/Writing Exercise

Directions: Place students in groups and have them restate the following two statements in their own words.  Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the following discussion topics.

“The dreams and visions loosely sorted into categories: opportunities to engage with the deceased; loved ones “waiting;” unfinished business. Themes of love, given or withheld, coursed through the dreams, as did the need for resolution and even forgiveness… Although many patients said they rarely remembered their dreams, these they could not forget.”

“Other research suggests that dreams seem to express emotions that have been building. Tore Nielsen, a dream neuroscience researcher…surmised that at the end of life, such a need becomes more insistent. Troubled dreams erupt with excessive energy. But positive dreams can serve a similar purpose.”


Directions: Allow students 5 minutes to write down three new ideas they’ve learned about the topic from the reading,  two things they did not understand in the reading, and one thing they would like to know that the article did not mention. Review the responses as a class.


Category: Social Issues