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Observations placeholder

Letting go - and the power of the Will to decide the time of death



Type of Spiritual Experience


I know this to be true, as my own  father waited nearly two weeks in hospital - 88 with emphysema and a very weak heart - for me to come to see him.  We had been on holiday, we had no idea until we returned that he was in hospital. My brother rang and told us. My husband and I immediately drove down [120 miles] to the hospital he was in.

And there he was waiting for me, he knew I was on my way.  We talked, my husband cried [and this was my father not his].  My Dad could hardly say anything because he was so short of breath, but he so wanted to say things to me.  He gave me a kiss and a very big hug, shook my husband's hand and we left.

Apparently after we had left, he had a cup of hot ovaltine [his favourite evening beverage] and died.  It can't have been more than a couple of hours after we left.

My brother rang and told me when we eventually got back.

His death was due to heart failure.


My mother chose to do the opposite.  She had dementia and was failing, she was admitted into hospital and I pleaded with the nurses to put her in a more quiet restful ward, which they did - it was older than the rest of the wards and more like a church inside with high windows and beds along each side of the ward.  She recognised us as we went in as she always did, but had no idea where she was. 

We were due to go on holiday and it had all been booked and paid for with hotels and flights reserved and a car.  I did not know what to do.  I sat down with a nurse and said I want to stay with her and comfort her, but this means cancelling the holiday, and the nurse said, 'It's up to you, but I think she will last longer than the two weeks you will be away'. 

So we went on holiday and only three days into the holiday, she died.  I do not think the nurse gave us wrong information, I think she was right at the time and I also think my Mum chose her time of death.  She died only 11 months after my father, at 83 years old.

In some ways I am grateful that my Mum did what she did, because I am certain that she willed herself to die at that moment when it would cause me the least distress, because my Mum was like that.  We were in Italy - a beautiful place by a lake with gardens and it somehow softened the blow.  She was a good Mum.

A description of the experience

The Wisdom of Near Death Experiences - Dr Penny Sartori

During the course of my career it has become apparent that patients actually have more control over the time of their death than we realize.

The first time I noticed this was when I reflected on a case that had particularly upset my colleagues and I.

It was a Sunday morning and the cardiac monitor attached to a young female patient began to alarm because her blood pressure had dropped.  ‘Jean’ had been chronically ill for the past ten years and had been cared for at home by her husband. She had been admitted to ITU the previous week and we had got to know her and her family quite well and we were in awe of the way that she was so well cared for at home. Not being used to being away from Jean, her husband found it difficult to adjust to having time alone.

Jean's condition was stable so with a bit of persuasion from friends and family he decided to relax a little and accompany his elderly mother on a day trip that had been planned by her local church.

The morning of the trip he phoned to check on Jean's condition. We reassured him that Jean's condition was stable and that she was doing well and for him to go and enjoy the day with his mother.

An hour later Jean's blood pressure suddenly began to drop and, despite treatment, within 30 minutes Jean had become very unstable. We called her husband to report the sudden deterioration and advised him to return to the hospital. Every half-hour her husband phoned on his journey back to the hospital. Then suddenly Jean's heart rate slowed down and stopped. Thirty minutes later her husband ran into the unit in a terrible state: he was inconsolable and blamed himself for not being there for her. It was awful for us to watch and we all blamed ourselves for encouraging him to go on the day trip. He spent time at her bedside and then left in a very distraught state with the rest of the family.

This situation affected the whole team that day and when the afternoon shift arrived on duty they instinctively knew that something was wrong.

I considered other patients I had looked after who had also died while their family was absent and then looked at the whole situation. The way I rationalized it in my mind was that the family being away from the patient may have made it easier for the patient to make their transition into death. It appears to me that the love of the family is what keeps them alive and the fact the family were not physically present made it much easier for the patient to let go.

Some patients on the other hand appear to wait until an estranged family member arrives at the bedside or for a special event such as a wedding or birthday. There was one case reported where a male patient remained unconscious for days longer than his expected death. He died on the day that an insurance policy became valid, thus ensuring his wife was financially secure.

The source of the experience

Ordinary person

Concepts, symbols and science items




Science Items

Activities and commonsteps