The path to the threshold

Matthias Girke

Last update: 17.09.2015

In the period before death, several experiences can be distinguished which differentiate themselves from Kübler-Ross’ “stages of dying.” Some of these may apply to a long time period, beginning with the realization of the seriousness of the illness; others occur during the time immediately before death.

While the physicality of impending death due to severe illness is usually clearly defined and can be experienced as a deterioration, important inner experiences can still take place. Many people will tell stories from their life; sometimes they have a great gratitude for their life, which is often expressed at this time. Treasured memories and long-forgotten experiences light up in their consciousness and form a “memory picture” of life.

A second quality, which has to do with inner, moral experiences, differentiates itself from this life overview. A patient once described it with the words: “I have entered the sphere of debt.” Problems and difficulties in the patient’s biography emerge and seek reconciliation, perhaps by meeting a person with whom the patient had a difficult time—where something unsolved remains and where perhaps a last meeting in earthly life can have a redemptive effect. Such experiences, especially, can greatly ease the dying. Patients often speak of the tracks they left behind in life, which were inscribed on the world through their deeds and are now reflected upon and evaluated. Occasionally, the feeling of “being judged” arises in this context. In the face of the imminent threshold crossing, distractions from the essential fall away one by one. The patient experiences himself as standing before the gaze of the spiritual world, with all that he is. His attention may rest on the many things he did not overcome in life or failed to do. Feelings such as “I did everything wrong” may arise, which announce these inner conflicts. But other experiences that have to do with the soul characteristics of this human being also gain importance. Moments of inner calm and peace can alternate with others in which despair and darkness predominate. Then, there appears to be no relationship to an intensively felt connection to the spiritual world in earlier life. Moments of warmth can alternate with feelings of isolation and loneliness—moments of cold. In these times, the human being meets much of what has not yet been transformed in his inner being and that belongs to the qualities connected with his “shadow” or “double” (doppelganger). This can be the cause of “personality changes”, in that an otherwise friendly person, for example, develops aggressive behaviour. In accompanying patients, one can see how these doppelgangers leave the dying person shortly before death and something peaceful and loving takes their place.

A third experience can be described in the words of a cancer patient, who spoke of the experiences and possibilities of her biography as “becoming a seed.” As in a seed, something like an essence of the various experiences of earthly life is created, which now, in an autumnal dying of the physical hull, points to a wide future of new growth and flowering.

In meeting the world, the human being has such a variety of experiences, which become imprinted on her memory and in this way become somehow permanent. A next step of this “becoming permanent,” which Rudolf Steiner also mentions, consists of the capacities that develop out of these various experiences. Single memories disappear and new possibilities and individual capacities come into being. These do not belong any longer to the physical being, which makes sense impressions possible through the sensory organs, and neither does it belong to the inner world of the soul, in which memory images appear. These are new qualities of the spiritual human being that have sometimes developed all unnoticed, and now belong to the seed which forms in this period of dying. Sometimes, just before death, like a gift to those accompanying the dying, the whole spiritual presence of the dying can light up and be experienced one last time. The significant improvement in clinical symptoms in these moments can occasionally lead to assessments such as, “She’s going to make it after all.” As surprisingly as these moments appear, they can disappear just as quickly and lead the patient to the threshold. If one observes the countenance of a person who has just died, the language of its lines can point to her true spiritual being.

These three phases on the way to the moment of death—life overview, moral evaluation of life, and the formation of capacities or seeds—correspond to those through which the human being passes after death. The “life panorama” described in near-death experiences, which mirrors the memory imagery before death, follows the moment of death. Here, the characteristic metamorphosis of memory in the elderly, in which it reaches farther and farther back to early life events and appears to be dominated by long-term memory, seems to be a forerunner of this comprehensive, post-death life overview caused by the loosening of the etheric body from the physical body. Similarly, the moral evaluation of the past life in Kamaloca, also described by people after near-death experiences, is foreshadowed by the inner struggles of an individual before death. Finally, the human spirit, after death, develops fruits and capacities from the past life and carries these into the following life. Some near-death experiences have been documented, in which the life panorama includes not only this one past life, but also another, further in the past. The experiences connected to forming a seed seem to be related to this development of capacities.

The essential stages of development of the human being, which occur after death, are mirrored in the period before death.

In this context, questions regarding the duration of the dying process gain in importance. Sometimes, nurses and physicians caring for a dying person wonder what it is that is still holding the person to earthly life. “He can’t let go yet”, we might say. Whether or not such reasons exist, it is important to consider broader perspectives. One dying patient spoke of this important time “in which there is still so much to do. The continual question of why I am not letting go makes me think of a husband impatiently asking his wife why the child hasn’t come yet.” The period of dying is actually a preparation period for the birth that happens at the moment of death. From this perspective, sudden death (for example, sudden cardiac arrest), may not be so merciful as we like to describe it, from the outside. It could mean a sudden change from previous experience to a completely different realm, without any preparation.

“Sleep is the little brother of death.” This is a much-used analogy for the process of loosening from the sensory world that the dying go through. However, the comparison seems to be problematic in that death doesn’t come with a loss of consciousness like we experience in sleep. On the contrary, all descriptions of near-death experiences point to death coming with a maximal increase in consciousness. In sleep, the “I” and the astral body separate from the etheric and physical bodies. In death, the “I”, the astral and the etheric bodies leave the physical behind.

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Mistletoe therapy in addition to standard immunotherapy in patients with non-small-cell lung cancer indicates improved survival rates 
Immunotherapy with PD-1/PD-L1 inhibitors has significantly improved the survival rates of patients with metastatic non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Results of a real-world data study (RWD) investigating the addition of Viscum album L. (VA) to chemotherapy have shown an association with improved survival in patients with NSCLC - regardless of age, degree of metastasis, performance status, lifestyle or oncological treatment. The mechanisms may include synergistic modulations of the immune response by PD-1/PD-L1 inhibitors and VA. However, the results should be taken with caution due to the observational and non-randomised study design. The study has been published open access in Cancers

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