Saying “Goodbye” to a loved one who is passing, or who is already deceased, is one of the most emotionally painful experiences we have go through during our lifetimes, but, it doesn’t have to be that way; we can turn it into a personal growth experience.

Seldom easy, never fun, and usually an emotional tipping point for everyone, passing “to the other side” is the most profound experience in life for the person who is dying. Saying final goodbyes can be peaceful and positive for everyone, even when sadness is part of the emotional mix.

What can we learn from research about near-death experiences when one apparently dies and returns to consciousness? A systematic analysis of 2,407 case reports and qualitative research projects by Amirhossein Hashemi et. al. in Frontiers in Psychology on April 20, 2023 yielded 54 scientifically-sound studies, and several consistent findings:

♦ In 28 of the 54 studies that met criteria for scientific validity, the subjects reported positive experiences that included love, peacefulness, and tranquility

♦ In six of the 54 studies, the subjects reported negative experiences, sometimes including torture

♦ In 39 of the studies, the subjects reported out-of-body sensations, and other supernatural experiences that often were described as passing through a tunnel toward a bright light and complete tranquility, sometimes encountering loved ones who have passed, followed by a calling to return to consciousness

♦ The near-death experiences were modified by the culture and the religion of the subjects, such as different names and descriptions for what was “on the other side”

♦ Many subjects reported heightened awareness of what was happening around them, including the capacity to hear, feel, think, and to perceive metaphysical events, such as greeting loved ones and spiritual figures, that varied according the culture of the subjects

♦ Near-death experiences do not have clear medical explanations, although there is partial agreement that altered consciousness may reflect a type of genetically-predisposed brain adaptation that benefits human survival

There is no information from the studies that were in included in the afore-mentioned meta-analysis about how life experiences prior to near-death affected the reports of the persons who met the criteria for full review by the researchers. Not fearing death in the future was common for persons who survived near-death.

For additional understanding, I examined my experiences with family members and patients as they and I said “Goodbye” while they passed; I also visited with physician friends for their comments about how persons who were dying, and their survivors, handled final goodbyes. Moreover, Marilyn and I had a wonderful “Goodbye” with a dear friend before she passed recently.

When death had already occurred unexpectedly, there was an outpouring of grief, and sometimes anger, by the survivors, as well as a range of other emotions. Common experiences were emotional shock, sometimes followed by a lengthy period of time to process what had happened, and gradual acceptance of the loss for as long as several years, and occasionally never.

When the final goodbye, although unexpected, as in a car crash, allowed for the dying, but-still- cognitively-aware person and survivors to exchange goodbyes, the recovery of the survivors was shorter and the death was accepted easier unless the memories were dredged up again, such as in court proceedings.

The most constructive final goodbyes happened when passing was expected, the dying person was lucid, and everyone had time to prepare for the actual event. For example, when a person with a debilitating disease approached death, and the dying person and living survivors agreed that acceptable options for maintaining life have been exhausted, the final goodbye can be a positive learning experience for everyone.

I’ve participated in powerfully positive experiences while explaining to the person passing that loved ones will be okay afterwards and the dying person can be of more benefit to family and friends by assisting the survivors from “the other side.” The dying person passed placidly and quickly. This type of goodbye may still bring tears to the survivors, but the opportunity to say “Goodbye” prepares everyone to learn and to benefit from the experience.

Saying “Goodbye,” however it happens, is an intense learning experience that can teach us much. It’s an underlying reason for calling funerals and memorial services “celebrations of life.”

People who have good relationships with the person who passes make better adjustments, whether the passing was expected or unexpected. A lesson for all of us is to build, or restore, positive relationships while we are alive.

We will all pass at some point. Passing is easier for the dying person and the survivors when all have healthy relationships prior to facing death.

Resolving long-term and short-term disagreements, forgiving persons who have offended us, and being able to thank one another, make passing, and saying “Goodbye,” easier and mutually heartening. Although near-death experiences aren’t final, death is final.

Having faith in a hereafter is also positive. It makes death not final, but rather, “a new beginning.”