Peak in Darien Experiences

14th May 2022. Reading Time: 14 minutes General, Paranormal Theories. 2587 page views. 2 comments.

Many healthcare workers report knowing when a patient is near the end of their life as they will start reporting that they are seeing family members who are deceased. It becomes even more interesting when the experiencer has a vision of someone who they believe is still alive when they have in fact been dead for quite some time.  It is referred to as a Peak in Darien Experience.

Many healthcare workers report knowing when a patient is near the end of their life as they will start reporting that they are seeing family members who are deceased.  Many believe that when you pass away your family members are waiting to guide you onto whatever the next stage is in your consciousness journey.  There are countless reports and research into this area and what we can say without a doubt is that people have these experiences and they genuinely feel they are in the presence of their deceased loved ones.  Whether or not this is something paranormal is up for much debate.  It is certainly a possibility and a lot of different accounts and even witness statements allude to this.  Psychologists feel among other things, it could be a form of expectation.

Oskar Pfister (1930) offered one of the earliest psychodynamic interpre-tations of NDEs, describing them as a defense against the threat of death.Building on Pfister’s theory, many other observers of NDEs have proposeda general model of expectancy, which suggests that NDEs are products ofthe imagination, constructed from one’s personal and cultural expecta-tions, to protect oneself when facing the threat of death. Prior beliefsapparently do have some influence on the kind of experience a person willreport. The life review and tunnel sensation, for example, are common insome cultures but rare in others (Kellehear 1993; also see Chapter 7, thisvolume). Such cultural differences lend support to the view that the spe-cific content of NDEs can be colored by the sociocultural context in whichthey occur (Ehrenwald 1974; Noyes et al. 1977; Noyes and Kletti 1976;Pasricha 1993; Pasricha and Stevenson 1986).

Explanatory models for near-death experiences
January 2009 Bruce Greyson, Edward Kelly

While this offers an explanation, it is important to point out is that that this theory does not support some of the reports, especially those from different religious backgrounds or who don't know about this phenomenon.  There is a lot open to interpretation.  Deathbed visions by family and friends will be something I am covering in another article as there is a lot to unpack and arguments from both sides. 

Deathbed visions become even more interesting when the experiencer has a vision of something who they believe is still alive, when they have in fact been dead for quite some time.  It is referred to as a Peak in Darien Experience and that is what we will be looking at today.

Peak in Darien Experiences

A Peak in Darien experience is otherwise known as a deathbed vision.  It is thought to be a category of near-death experiences but with a slight difference.  The family members that the dying person who we will refer to as the experiencer, reports seeing a person who is not known by them to be deceased at the time.  It is often distant family members but sometimes they are people that are unknown to them.  After they verbalize their experience, after some investigation it seems the person they have had an encounter with is deceased.  In many cases, they have been deceased for many years, but this was not known to the experiencer.  So let's look into this phenomenon a little closer.

In 1882, the term was coined after a book called "Peak in Darien" published in 1882 by Frances Power Cobbe.  Inspired by a poem by John Keats.

Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-brow’d Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet never did I breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific—and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise –
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
—John Keats, On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer, 1817

The Irish writer and women’s rights advocate Frances Power Cobbe (1822–1904) published an essay called “The Peak in Darien: The Riddle of Death.”  It was around this time that spiritualism was rife with frauds who were peddling spirit photography and slate-writing.  She wrote about paying less attention to these fraudulent activities and focusing more on the dying to try and understand the afterlife further.  

IT is somewhat singular that the natural longing to penetrate the great secret of mortality should not have suggested to some of the inquirers into so-called " Spiritual " manifestations that, before attempting to obtain communication with the dead through such poor methods as raps and alphabets, they might more properly, and with better hope of gaining a glimpse through the " gates ajar, " watch closely the dying, and study the psychological phenomena which accompany the act of dissolution.

Frances Power Cobbe, The Peak in Darien: An Octave of Essays (Boston: Geo. H. Ellis, 1882)

Image Source: Public Domain

In her book, Cobbe talks about the common form of deathbed visions as well as what we now refer to as Peak In Darien experiences.

Another incident of a very striking character was described as having occurred in a family united very closely by affection. A dying lady, exhibiting the aspect of joyful surprise to which we have so often referred, spoke of seeing, one after another, three of her brothers who had long been dead, and then, apparently, recognized last of all a fourth brother, who was believed by the bystanders to be still living in India. The coupling of his name with that of his dead brothers excited such awe and horror in the mind of one of the persons present that she rushed from the room. In due course of time, letters were received announcing the death of the brother in India, which had occurred some time before his dying sister seemed to recognize him.

Frances Power Cobbe, The Peak in Darien: An Octave of Essays (Boston: Geo. H. Ellis, 1882)

Researcher Bruce Greyson's work in this area has expanded on these initial accounts where he has narrowed down Peak in Darien Experiences into their own area of phenomena separate from general Deathbed visitations and put them into 3 categories.

The following accounts have been extracted from the paper: Seeing Dead People Not Known to Have Died:“Peak in Darien” Experiences by Bruce Greyson, Anthropology and Humanism, Vol. 35, Issue 2, pp 159–171

Cases in which the Deceased Person Seen Was Thought by the Experiencer to Be Alive

In these reported cases, the experiencer witnessed a person whom they were unaware was deceased.  In fact, they had been deceased for quite some time and this information is discovered after the fact.  

In another 19th-century example, psychologist Edmund Gurney and classical scholar F. W. H. Myers reported the case of two brothers, ages three and four, who died of scarlet fever on successive days. Harry, the younger brother,
died on November 2, and David, the older brother, died 14 miles away on November 3. David’s family took care to keep him from knowing about Harry’s death, and they felt sure that he did not know. Nevertheless, about an hour
before he died, David sat up in bed and, pointing, said distinctly, “There is little
Harry calling to me”

(Gurney and Myers 1889:459).

Gurney and Myers also described the case of John Alkin Ogle, who, an hour before he died, saw his brother who had died 16 years earlier, calling him by name. Ogle then called out in surprise, “George Hanley!”—the name of a casual
acquaintance in a village 40 miles away—before expiring. His mother, who was visiting from Hanley’s village, then confirmed that Hanley had died 10 days earlier, a fact that no one else in the room had known

(Gurney and Myers 1889:459–460).

Cases in which the Person Seen Died Immediately before the Vision

In these cases, the person the experiencer has witnessed has only died moments prior to the vision.  

One of the earliest cases of a near-death experiencer seeing a recently deceased person still thought to be alive was published by Pliny the Elder, in Book 7 of his Natural History (1942[A.D. 77]). The account involves two noble
Roman brothers, both named Corfidius. When the elder brother appeared to have died and stopped breathing, his will was opened, naming his younger brother as his heir. The younger brother then engaged an undertaker to arrange
the funeral. The apparently deceased older Corfidius, however, stunned the undertaker by clapping his hands in a typical signal to summon his servants. He then awoke and announced that he had just come from the house of his younger brother. He reported that the younger brother requested that the funeral arrangements he had made for the now-revived older Corfidius be used for him instead, entrusted the care of his daughter to his older brother, and showed his older brother where he had secretly buried some gold underground. As the older Corfidius was relating the account of his NDE, his younger brother’s servants burst in with the news that their master had just unexpectedly died; and the buried gold, of which no one else knew, was found in the place indicated by the revived older brother (Pliny 1942[A.D. 77]:624–625).

Some detailed cases were published in the 19th century in the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research. Eleanor Sidgwick wrote of an English gentlewoman, who was seeking someone to sing with some visiting children. She engaged Julia X, the daughter of a local tradesman, who was training as a public singer, to spend a week with them. When she left, Julia X told her father she had never had as happy a week. Shortly thereafter, Julia X married and moved away. Greyson Seeing Dead People 165 Six or seven years later, the gentlewoman who had engaged Julia X lay dying and was talking over some business matters, appearing “perfectly composed and in thorough possession of her senses.” Suddenly she changed the subject and said, “Do you hear those voices singing?” No one else present heard them, and she concluded: “[The voices are] the angels welcoming me to Heaven; but it is strange, there is one voice amongst them I am sure I know, and cannot remember whose voice it is.” Suddenly she stopped and, pointing up, added: “Why there she is in the corner of the room; it is Julia X.” No one else present saw the vision, and the next day, February 13, 1874, the woman died. On February 14, Julia X’s death was announced in the Times. Her father later reported that “on the day she died she began singing in the morning, and sangand sang until she died”

(Sidgwick 1885:92–93).

Alice Johnson reported a case in which Mrs. Hicks, on her deathbed in England, had a vision of her absent son Eddie, who happened to be dying at the same time in Australia. A few days before Mrs. Hicks died, she looked earnestly
at the door to the room and said to her nurse, husband, and daughters, “There is someone outside, let him in.” Her daughter assured her there was no one there and opened the door wider. After a pause, Mrs. Hicks said: “Poor Eddie;
oh, he is looking very ill; he has had a fall.” Her family assured her that the last news they had heard from him was that he was quite well, but she continued from time to time to say, “Poor Eddie!” Some time after she died, her husband received a letter from Australia announcing their son’s death. He had suddenlybecome feverish the day of his mother’s vision and was found dead, having fallen from his horse at about the time of his mother’s vision

(Johnson 1899:290).

Cases in which the Deceased Person Seen was Unknown to
the Experiencer

This is the rarest form of a Peak in Darien experience where the experiencer witnesses a person who is deceased, but they do not know who they are.  These are hard to validate and there could be even more accounts, but because the person is unknown to the experiencer, they are often disregarded or even overlooked as a hallucination.  Perhaps they are more common than we realize.  The circumstances surrounding these accounts are some of the most intriguing to researchers as they allude to a real account of a paranormal visitation.

Cardiologist Maurice Rawlings described the case of a 48-year-old man who had a cardiac arrest. In a NDE he perceived a gorge full of beautiful colors, lush vegetation, and light, where he met both his stepmother and his biological mother, who had died when he was only 15 months old. His father had remarried soon after his biological mother’s death, and the experiencer had never even seen a photo of her. A few weeks after this episode, his aunt, having heard about this vision, visited and brought a picture of his mother posing with a number of other people. The man had no difficulty picking his mother out of the group, to the astonishment of his father

(Rawlings 1978:17–22).

Kübler-Ross wrote of a girl who, after almost dying during heart surgery, said she had met her brother, who seemed familiar to her, even though she thought she never had a brother. Her father, very much moved by her testimony, told her that she did, in fact, have a brother, who had died before she was born

(Kübler-Ross 1983:208).

Pediatrician Melvin Morse described the case of a 7-year-old boy dying of leukemia, who told his mother that he had traveled up a beam of light to heaven, where he visited a “crystal castle” and talked with God. The boy said
that a man there approached him and introduced himself as an old high school boyfriend of the boy’s mother. The man said he had been crippled in an automobile accident, but in the crystal castle he had regained his ability to walk.
The boy’s mother had never mentioned this old boyfriend to her son, but after hearing of this vision, she called some friends and confirmed that her former boyfriend had died the very day of her son’s vision

(Morse and Perry 1990:53).

Cardiologist Pim van Lommel reported the extensive NDE of a Dutch man who, during a cardiac arrest, saw his deceased grandmother and a man who looked at him lovingly, but whom he did not know. More than a decade after his NDE, his mother, on her deathbed, confessed to him that he had been born from an extramarital relationship, and that her husband was not his biological father. His biological father in fact was a Jewish man who had been deported and killed during World War II. She showed her son a photograph of his biological father, whom he immediately recognized as the man he had seen in his NDE a decade earlier

(van Lommel 2004:122).

Are these experiences proof of life after death?  Peak in Darien experiences does offer a larger argument towards the survival of consciousness given the fact that the person on their deathbed is seeing someone they are not aware has passed away.  Experiences however are not proof and a lot of work is needed in this area to validate these experiences.  What is even more interesting, however, is that studies report that on their deathbed patients become more lucid meaning that some of these experiences are less likely to be hallucinations.

Among a large sample of near-death experiencers, 80 percent described their thinking during the NDE as “clearer than usual” (45 percent) or “as clear as usual” (35 percent); 74 percent described their thinking as “faster than usual” (37 percent) or “at the usual speed” (37 percent); 65 percent described their thinking as “more logical than usual” (29 percent) or “as logical as usual” (36 percent); and 55 percent described their control over their thoughts as in “more control than usual” (36 percent) or in “as much control as usual” (36 percent)(Kelly et al. 2007:386)

Bruce Greyson

Other research published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management by Dr Barbato reports that patients experience a brain surge in the final moments of their life.  While the research is ongoing, there is the belief that this could be evidence that the person is having a near-death experience or deathbed vision.  There is a lot of research put into Near-Death Experiences, with a lot of it quite compelling in favour of the argument of survival after death.  Science however can replicate deathbed visions with drug-induced hallucinations.  Many patients on their deathbeds are heavily medicated so this cannot be discounted.  This is again why the Peak in Darien experiences are so intriguing as they don't fit into the typical deathbed vision category and cannot be as easily explained away in some circumstances.

The only way to research this phenomenon further is to start gathering more accounts.  I am collecting experiences related to Peak in Darien deathbed visions.  If you have a story you would like to share for a future article or book, please submit via this form: 

You will remain anonymous.


Seeing Dead People Not Known to Have Died:
“Peak in Darien” Experiences by Bruce Greyson
Anthropology and Humanism, Vol. 35, Issue 2, pp 159–171,

Explanatory models for near-death experiences
January 2009 Bruce Greyson, Edward Kelly

Frances Power Cobbe, The Peak in Darien: An Octave of Essays (Boston: Geo. H. Ellis, 1882)

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  • Michael Nickels-Wisdom 2 years ago

    You may find of interest three talks, the links to which are...
    "Biophysicist discovers new life after death: Joyce Hawkes at TEDxBellevue"

    "More to dying than meets the eye: Martha Atkins at TEDxSanAntonio 2013"

    "I See Dead People: Dreams and Visions of the Dying | Dr. Christopher Kerr | TEDxBuffalo"

    • LLIFS 2 years ago

      Thanks so much will have a look!