Transpersonal experiences during catastrophic events

Most of the research on near-death and other transpersonal experiences surrounding death are descriptions of these events from hospitalized patients or patients who are in hospice care and their grieving families and friends. To date, except for an article by the author of this course (Lawrence, 2016), little research has been published about near-death and other transpersonal experiences surrounding death that occur during catastrophic events. A catastrophic event is defined as an incident, natural or manmade, that gives rise to mass causalities.

Nurses are in a key position to help survivors of catastrophic events and to give them accurate and supportive information about transpersonal experiences that might have occurred. It is particularly important first responders and healthcare providers know what to say to the injured and grieving from catastrophic events when these transpersonal experiences occur. Victims are often away from family, friends and their communities creating a less than ideal support system for them. If they have a near-death experience or see someone in their hospital room who has just died, they often reluctant to speak of these experiences for fear of being seen as mentally ill. They may fear something detrimental is happening to them because of the physical and psychological trauma from their injuries. It is important to normalize these transpersonal occurrences to relieve their concerns.

Transpersonal events have reported to occur during combat. Corcoran (2015) estimates more than 15% of soldiers have had NDEs. These men fear being called crazy leading to them processing these experiences on their own. Here are some examples of reports of transpersonal occurrences by Lawrence (2016) during those and other catastrophic situations:

Near-Death Experience During a War

Corporal William Vandenbush was injured when a bomb fell during his time on patrol in Vietnam. As he laid down, thinking he was dying, a feeling of peace and tranquility spread throughout his body. He went out of his body approaching a bright, pure, white light feeling no pain and at peace. He met up with his grandfather and another being of light who told him he had to go back. He had difficulty finding someone who would listen to his description of what happened to him.

Out-of-Body Experiences Experienced by Bob Woodruff in Iraq

Bob Woodruff, a former ABC news anchor, experienced a skull injury from a roadside bomb while covering a story in Iraq. He floated above his body, completely without pain (Woodruff, 2007).

Near-Death Visit in Auschwitz

AuschwitzA 25-year-old, pregnant Jewish woman who was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau had the experience of seeing her deceased mother. During that time in Auschwitz, pregnant woman were often killed and even tortured. Doctors, who were prisoners themselves, would offer to terminate pregnancies to save the women’s lives. This young woman had been able to hide her pregnancy but as she grew larger, debated about having an abortion. Her deceased mother came to her in the night in a dream, telling her to not have the abortion. She told her to believe in God and maybe a miracle will happen. She had the baby girl who was small and too weak to cry but able to nurse. About five weeks after the baby was born, the Soviet troops liberated the camp. The mother and child lived for many years after their liberation (Heinrich, 2015).

After-Death Communications from a Holocaust Victim

A current day nurse visited Auschwitz with her parents at the age of 14. Her mother and her brother were born in Poland. The brother was arrested because of his activities with the resistance movement. He died in Auschwitz. During this visit to Auschwitz, the brother appeared this nurse twice. She saw he wore suspenders which she did not know about. He told her, he was happy and that no one should continue to worry and wonder about him (Lawrence, 2015).

Tsunami after death communications

In 2011 The Tohoku tsunami resulted in 16,000 lives lost. Yuka Kudo, a student at Tohoku Gakuin University, interviewed over 100 taxi drivers in northeast Japan as part of her school requirements. Seven of the taxi drivers reported after death communication (Guggenheim & Guggenheim, 1995) with people who had died during the tsunami. One driver reported a woman in his cab who gave him instructions on where she wanted to go. When the driver told her the area was desolate, she asked if she was dead and then disappeared (Ryall, 2016).

As described in this course, no one knows for sure how and why these near-death and other transpersonal experiences occur or what they mean. However, we know they occur to millions of mentally healthy individuals who are mystified by their occurrences. Generally, these experiences reduce anxiety, reduce the fear of death and in the case of after death communication end painful grieving. Information about these occurrences should be included in training for disaster relief workers as well as health professionals to avoid classifying them as signs of mental illness or PTSD (Fenwick et al, 2010).

According to Lawrence (2016), “Catastrophic events bring with them fear, anxiety, pain, psychological damage, and loss. Research on transpersonal experiences occurring during catastrophic events and more support and education about these occurrences for survivors and those who provide emergency assistance and care can add elements of hope, comfort, and understanding of these human experiences.”


Guggenheim, B. & Guggenheim, J. (1995). Hello from Heaven. New York,
NY: Bantam Books.

Heinrich J. Born in Auschwitz: a woman’s miraculous birth in the death camp of Auschwitz. Holocaust Studies; 2015. Web site. Accessed December 1, 2015

Cocoran, D. (2015). The near-death experience. Moon Magazine. http://
AQ14 2013-11-02/. Accessed December 1, 2015.

Fenwick P, Brayne S. (2010). End-of-life experiences: reaching out for
compassion, communication, and connection-meaning of
deathbed visions and coincidences. Am J Hosp Palliat Care.
28(1), 7-15.

Lawrence, M. Phenomenological interview; 2015.

Lawrence, M. (2016). Near-death and other transpersonal experiences occurring during catastrophic events. American Journal of Hospice & Palliative Medicine, 1-7.

Lawrence, M. (2015). The Death View Revolution: A Guide to Transpersonal
Experiences Surrounding Death. Guilford, UK: White
Crow Books; 2015.

Ryall, J. (2016). Taxi drivers in tsunami disaster zone report 'ghost passengers' The telegraph,

Woodruff L. In an Instant: A Family’s JOURNEY of Love and Healing. New York, NY: Random House; 2007.

Vandenbush B. If Morning Never Comes. Eagan, MN: The Old Hundred and One Press; 2003.