Jean Vitalis - His dead father prophesies the time of his death
Type of spiritual experienceHallucination
Flammarion wondered whether it was a self fulfilling prophesy, so I have added this
A description of the experience
Death and its Mystery, At the Moment of Death; Manifestations and Apparitions of the Dying – Camille Flammarion
Jean Vitalis was a robust man – stout, full blooded, married, without children; in perfect health. He must have been thirty nine when he was suddenly attacked by a raging fever and by pains in his joints. I was his physician. The symptoms were those of acute articular rheumatism.
The present day treatment of this disorder, by salicylates, was not yet known. We then used quinine, opium, potassium nitrate, colchicum, diuretic drinks etc.
The disease would drag on for six to seven weeks and in most cases would result in a cure. Sometimes however death would come in consequence of cardiacal or cerebral complications.
I was surprised, the morning of the sixteenth day, to find Jean Vitalis fully dressed, seated on his bed, smiling; he could move his hands and feet quite freely and no longer had the least fever.
I had left him in a sad state the day before. The joints of his shoulders, his elbows, his hands, his knees, his feet were swollen and painful. He had had a high fever and I could not foresee that I was going to find him so active and looking so well.
Very calmly he told me he attributed his sudden cure to a vision which he had had in the night. He assured me that his father, who had been dead for some years, appeared to him.
This is, approximately, what he said to me:
‘My father came to visit me last night. He entered my room by that window which gives onto the garden. First he looked at me fixedly from a distance, then drew near me, touche me pretty much all over to take away my pain and my fever, then told me that I was going to die this evening at exactly nine o’clock. Just as he was leaving he added that he hoped I would prepare myself for death like a good Catholic. I’ve sent for my confessor, who will soon come; I’m going to confess and take communion, then I’ll have myself given extreme unction. I thank you very much for your extreme good care; my death won’t be caused by any omission on your part. It’s my father who wishes it; he needs me, doubtless; he will come and take me at nine o’clock this evening’.
He said all this very calmly, with a smiling countenance and an expression of real contentment and happiness lighting up his features.
‘You’ve had a dream, an hallucination’ I told him ‘and I’m astonished that you put faith in it’
‘No, no’, he answered; ‘I was wide awake; it wasn’t a dream. My father really came; I saw him distinctly and heard him; he seemed absolutely alive’.
‘But the prediction of your death at a fixed time – you don’t believe in it, do you, since you’re cured?’
‘My father can’t have deceived me. I’m certain I am going to die this evening, at the time he told me’.
His pulse was full, calm and regular, his temperature normal. Nothing indicated a patient seriously ill.
Nevertheless I warned the family that at times death came in cases of cerebral rheumatism and Dr R an old and excellent practising physician, was called into consultation. He came and made, in the presence of the patient, all sorts of jokes on the subject of his hallucination and of his fancied early death; but out of his hearing, before a family gathering, he said that the brain was affected and that on this account the outlook was gloomy.
‘The invalid’s calmness’ he added ‘is strange and unusual. His belief in the objectivity of his vision ad in his immanent death is surprising. Ordinarily, people fear death, but he doesn’t appear to worry about it; on the contrary, he seems happy and content to die. Still I can assure you that he doesn’t seem like a man who is going to die this evening; as for fixing beforehand the moment of his death, that’s farcical’.
I went back about noon to see my patient, who interested me keenly. I found him up, pacing up and down with a firm step, without the least sign of weakness or of pain.
‘Ah’, he said to me ‘I was waiting for you. Now that I have confessed and taken communion, may I eat something? I’m atrociously hungry, but I didn’t want to take anything without your consent’.
As he had not the least fever and as he gave every evidence of being a man in perfect health, I allowed him to eat a beef steak with apples!
I went back about eight o’clock in the evening. I wished to be with the patient, to see what he would do when nine o’clock came.
He was still gay; he entered into the conversation sanely and in high spirits. All the members of his family were gathered in his room, laughing and talking. His confessor, who was there, told me that he had been obliged to yield to the patient’s repeated pleadings and that he had just given him extreme unction
‘I didn’t wish to oppose him’ he added, ‘he insisted so! Besides it’s a scramant that can be administered several times’.
There was a clock in the room and Jean, whom I never lost sight of, cast an anxious look in its direction from time to time. When it stood at one minute to nine and while they were still laughing and talking, he got up from the sofa on which he was sitting and said quietly;
‘The time has come’.
He kissed his wife, his brothers, his sisters, then he sprang upon his bed with great agility. He sat down on it, arranged the pillows, then like an actor bowing to the public, he bent his head several times saying ‘Good-bye, good-bye’.
He stretched himself out with no haste and did not stir again.
I went up to him slowly, convinced he was feigning death.
To my great surprise he had died, with no death agony or death rattle, without a sigh; he had died a death such as I had never seen.
We hoped t first that it was only a prolonged swoon, a case of catalepsy. The burial was long deferred, but we had to yield to the evidence – the corpse like rigidity and the signs of decomposition which set in.
The source of the experience
Concepts and Symbols used in the text or image
Observation contributed by: John Bryant