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Shared Death Experiences (SDE)


Onlookers at the bedside of the dying often have profound spiritual experiences. The onlookers interpret their experiences as an empathic co-living of the passing away of a person who actually died. In terms of their core elements, shared-death experiences are indistinguishable from classic near-death experiences.

Therefore, shared-death experiences seem to call into question materialist neurophysiological explanations of near-death experiences. For the onlookers are not ill or injured, yet they report the identical phenomena reported by survivors of cardiac arrest or severe life-threatening illness. This analysis discusses shared-death experiences in terms of their (1) phenomenology (i.e., common characteristics) and (2) implications for rational study of the question of life after death.


The author Raymond Moody has studied shared-death experiences beginning in 1973, but more intensively since about 1980. At present, he has interviewed hundreds of people who had extraordinary experiences or alterations of consciousness—while attending the death of even someone else. The following elements characterize reports of shared death experiences.

1. Seeing the dying person's spirit leave the body

Bystanders say they see a roundish entity, often described as a golden-grayish mist, rise from the upper part of the body. In some cases the bystanders describe this as a transparent replica of the person who has died.

2. Accompanying the dying person part-way toward a light

Bystanders say they seemed to leave their own body and rise above it at the time when someone else died. Usually, they report seeing the "spirit" of the person who died. At some point, the bystanders return to their own body and the person who died seems to enter the light.

3. Experiencing a change in geometry of the room

Bystanders say that when someone else died it seemed that they entered into another realm that did not operate by the rules of three-dimensional geometry. For example, they may say they found themselves out of their bodies and viewing the room from an impossible angle. Sometimes, it seems that the cubical hospital room seems to take on the configuration of a funnel. However, they say that this alternate geometry is impossible to describe in the words of ordinary language.

4. Hearing beautiful music

Bystanders sometimes report that as someone in the room died they heard beautiful music. Again, the music is said to be so beautiful that they find that no words are adequate to describe it.

5. Seeing a brilliant light

Bystanders say that an unearthly light of love and comfort filled the room as someone died. This was not an ordinary physical light they say, but a supernatural light of peace and comfort.

6. Perceiving spirits entering the room

Bystanders say they see apparitions, apparently of the dying person's deceased loved ones, enter the room around the point of death.

7. Empathically co-living the life review of a dying person

Bystanders view images or scenes of the life of the person who is passing away. Sometimes, this takes the form of a holographic panorama that surrounds the bed of the dying.

Implications of Shared-Death Experiences for Afterlife Research

The reported elements of shared death experiences are indistinguishable elements of classic near-death experiences. That is, the components of the narratives of the two types of experience are the same. Furthermore, narratives are all we have to go on in assessing the meaning of such experiences. Hence, there is no clear basis for saying that near-death experiences and shared-death experiences are distinct phenomena. That implies that neurophysiological explanations of near-death experiences are not adequate. Bystanders at the death of someone else are not ill or injured, yet they report the same experience.


Moody, Raymond A. Jr., MD, PhD and Perry, Paul (2010). Glimpses of Eternity. Guideposts.

The book recaps several hundred reports of shared-death experiences collected during thirty years of investigation on the subject.

Prominent Researchers of NDEs and Consciousness

Dr. Raymond A. Moody

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