Terminal Lucidity: The Researchers Attempting to Prove Your Mind Lives On Even After You Die
One of the strangest stories of death you’ll ever hear is the tale of Anna Katharina Ehmer, a wildly deranged, developmentally delayed German woman who was raised in a mental institution. Anna was locked in a permanent mute state, her brain ravaged by meningitis. Yet at the moment of her passing, this presumably deaf-mute woman somehow transformed into a songbird. She serenaded Death. Before that moment, Anna had never once spoken in her entire life.
The doctors and hospital staff who witnessed Anna’s concertina for Death were rendered speechless themselves; some sobbed in bewilderment; others felt they’d witnessed a miracle of the soul. In particular, here’s how one of her doctors, Friedrich Happich, recalled the moment :
One day I was called by one of our physicians, who is respected both as a scientist and a psychiatrist. He said: “Come immediately to Käthe, she is dying!” When we entered the room together, we did not believe our eyes and ears. Käthe, who had never spoken a single word, being entirely mentally disabled from birth on, sang dying songs to herself. Specifically, she sang over and over again, “Where does the soul find its home, its peace? Peace, peace, heavenly peace!” For half an hour she sang. Her face, up to then so stultified, was transfigured and spiritualized. Then, she quietly passed away. Like myself and the nurse who had cared for her, the physician had tears in his eyes.We witnessed the dying of this girl with deepest emotions. Her death posed many questions to us. Obviously, Käthe had only superficially participated in all that happened in her surroundings. In reality, she had apparently internalized much of it. Because, where did she know the text and the melody of this song from, if not from her surroundings? Moreover, she had comprehended the contents of this song and used it appropriately in the most critical hour of her life. This appeared like a miracle to us.
It wasn’t until 2008 — some 75 years later — that modern science finally invented a term for what happened to Anna Katharina Ehmer: “terminal lucidity.” German biologist Michael Nahm coined the term. Thanks to a recent appointment at the Institute for Frontier Areas of Psychology and Mental Health , in Freiburg, Germany, he studies the phenomenon of these startling, spontaneous exhibitions of impossible physical and mental feats at the hour of one’s death.
• A short example of Michael Nahm's work with Terminal Lucidity.