Visualizations and Terminal Illness – Crossing the Barrier

There is a great deal of fear that goes along with terminal illness and the questions come to the surface. “What happens after we die?” I worked for many years as a medical social worker with dying patients. They were usually the first to accept the truth. Often, the person with the illness, knows that their end is near. What I observed in many of them was an extreme fear of the actual process of “crossing over”. Depending on religious beliefs and personal experience, that means different things to different people. I do know, however, that any visualizations that I did with the terminally ill, seemed to bring comfort and reassurance. The visualizations can be seen as a form of crossing over. When we close our eyes and “travel” somewhere inwardly, we can imagine that this is what it is like after we die. For many, the reality was peaceful and serene. I usually used a variation of the following visualization. The results were always different with each person. What a person sees is unique to their experience.

After doing a few relaxation techniques, such as breathing and muscle tension/release, I would have the client imagine that they were traveling upward and eventually they reach a “healing temple”. This is not a place to cure their illness, it is a place “to heal”. Healing and curing are two vastly different terms with different goals. In the healing temple we walk through a beautiful, serene garden and imagine the sounds and smells of being there. We then enter a healing temple. It’s important not to describe this temple because people will create their own. There is no speaking or exchange during the exercise. After it is over I would discuss the details of their experience. When this exercise was done on a weekly basis, I would add more items to the visualization. If there were a group of “healing masters”, one week, I would bring them back the following week and the patient would quickly return to the previous scenario. Then I would add a new twist to the story depending on what would come to me at the time and what was going on in the person’s life. I have always allowed myself to be led wherever my intuition leads me in the moment. The client usually tells me afterward that I was right on point and that the symbols or metaphors had some special meaning to them.

What is the point of doing these weekly exercises with someone who only has a few weeks to live? They will often let go of and release some particular issue that they have not previously be able to let go of. They will come to terms more quickly with the issues that need to be dealt with immediately. They will make peace with the events in life that they are going to miss, like future graduations, weddings, etc.

The “healing temples” in the visualizations and the “healing masters” that come to participate during these guided imageries, are extremely reassuring at a time when the individual is face to face with the unknown. The process of death should not be one of terror and loneliness but instead it can be a time when families come together and people tie up loose ends and release old resentments.