Angels, Music, and Reaching for the Unknown

Angels, Music, and Reaching for the Unknown

Experiences of the dying; sights, sound and touch at the edge of life.

The following experiences are excerpted from Words at the Threshold: What We Say as We’re Nearing Death by Lisa Smartt

Photo: Cole Keister
Angels and Religious Figures

One of the many phrases that compelled my interest in final words was one spoken by my atheist father a short time before he died. As he neared death, he announced, “The angel said ‘Enough…That’s it…enough…enough…no one’s to blame…go now…”

This was from a man who never spoke about angels — if anything, he ridiculed the whole idea and believed strongly that death was final. However, three days later, as the angels told him, it was enough, and my father passed away.

How was it that my skeptical father saw angels? How did he know that he would be dying in three days?

people in the street painting
Photo: Brooklyn

 While visions of the predeceased are the most common visions mentioned in the accounts and transcripts, there were also references to angels and religious figures.

For example, one person reported, “My grandmother, who was a religious woman, told me she saw a yellow bus filled with angels, and they were getting ready to open the door.” Another person said of a dying individual, “She even described Jesus fully, until the point it gave me chills.”

A retired hospice nurse described one of her patients in his last moments:

I was holding him up in his hospital bed so he could get air better. He looked up toward the ceiling and said, “Do you see them?” I said, “No sir. Tell me what you are seeing.” He raised his right arm and pointed up, saying, “There are angels all along the right and over there on the left. I have to go now.” He called out to his wife, who was crying in the kitchen. “Carol, I have to go now. I love you. I’ll see you again.” Then he again raised his right arm toward the ceiling and said, “My Lord, my God.” And he fell back against me. He was gone.

gold and silver pendant lamps
Photo: Anton Darius
Music, Bells, Chimes 

There were also descriptions of beautiful music and sounds in the accounts people shared with me:

My mother said there was music: “It is the most beautiful thing I have ever heard.” I reassured her it must be angels. I had the sad gut feeling this would be our last time together in this lifetime. I could see her face light up, and that it was drawn to this music she heard. I felt compelled to tell her that I was okay and that everyone was going to be okay, giving her permission to go. I looked back as I left that night and saw her sit up in the bed and wave good-bye. She passed away that night. Eighteen years have passed, and I still can’t keep a dry eye with this memory.

My mother was in a palliative care ward. During my visit, she was very talkative and mentally stable. She just stopped speaking, gazed up at the corner of the room, and asked me, “Do you hear that music? It is so beautiful!” I replied, “No, Mom I can’t. What are you talking about?”

I have witnessed three passings: my grandfather, my mother-in-law, and my father. All three spoke of hearing beautiful music that no one else could hear. Grandpa spoke of an angel singing, my mother-in-law heard Native American ceremonial music, and Dad could not speak well. He said the word music, closed his eyes, and moved his head to a melody that I did not hear. All three passed within hours [of hearing the music].

landscape photography of person's hand in front of sun
Photo: Marc-Olivier Jodoin

Death educator Martha Jo Atkins reported to me that, “as people come very close to death, they often speak less and start reaching, as if to something or someone. One hand goes up, and then it moves in a symphony of motion. A change often sweeps across the person’s face — sometimes the person’s upper body brightens.”

I remember that for a moment, in the last days of my father’s life, his hands were pointed toward the ceiling and were fluttering like butterflies. His hands reached up and his fingers stroked the air; it was as if he were reaching to someone I could not see.

The following comment from Rachel was typical among Final Words Project participants:

“When my mom was in her final hour of life, she was asleep, and then suddenly she woke up, looked into the corner of the room, and put her hands out like she was reaching out for somebody.”


Lisa Smartt

Lisa Smartt

Lisa Smartt is the author of the bestselling Words at the Threshold  (2017 New World Library) based on the findings of her Final Words Project (, which she established with Dr. Raymond Moody. She has authored several other books including Diet for a Broken Heart, Lessons in Lullabies, Veil: Love Poems from across the Threshold, and Cante Bardo. Lisa is also a book coach and delights in being a midwife to new ideas and authors. Find out more about her book coaching here: