Podcast 29: What Happens At The End of Life?


When we have a terminal illness and are faced with signs of imminent death, many of us are frightened at the thought of dying.  We shy away from talking about dying.  But knowledge helps us calm our nerves about dying and end of life. On this episode of Modern Aging, Dr. Christopher Kerr, Chief Medical Officer and CEO of The Center for Hospice and Palliative Care in Buffalo, NY shares the spiritual experience of dying. He has interviewed thousands of patients about their experience as they approach the end of life. Regardless of time and age , many patients have very warm and vivid dreams of their loved ones. When we look at an old person, we don’t see their child self, so it’s surprising to see that they find comfort in remembering their earliest relationships. The comfort of the emotional and spiritual experiences of dying patients with people that have passed away a long time ago shows the connectivity across lives living or dead.

“It is incredible to hear an old man talk about being in his mother’s kitchen and smelling her cooking and her perfume.” It is also incredibly reaffirming of life that a loved person could have passed away for years, but he or she will come back to you. Listen in to this episode with Dr. Kerr and it will open your eyes to another dimension of death – not the afterlife or a religious perspective on death, but the spiritual experience that humans have in dying. It is more uplifting than what the physical dimension offers. 

What’s In This Episode

0:00 Better Health

2:36 Dreams of Hospice patients

3:45 Getting closer with dying patients

4:25 Dream patterns among patients

4:52 Content of dreams and comfort level

5:10 Medicalizing patients’ experience

5:45 Understanding the dreams

6:45 Specific dreams that patients had 

7:35 The irrelevance of time with these dreams

8:10 The architecture of dying

8:43 The impact on family and the patient

9:43 The physical and emotional notion of death

10:24 Studies on dying patients

12:36 Dr.Kerr’s study

14:40 The connectivity across lives 

16:20 Who comes back in these dreams

16:50 Seeing pets and children that have died

19:00 Dr. Kerr’s book

21:08 Knowing that loved ones will be ok

22:24 Introspective peace of dying patients

24:14 Institutional phase of death

About Dr. Christoper Kerr

CEO & Chief Medical Officer, The Center for Hospice and Palliative Care, Buffalo, NY

Dr. Kerr joined Hospice Buffalo in 1999 as the Medical Director for Hospice Buffalo’s 22-bed Inpatient Unit and served in that capacity until 2011, when he was appointed CHPC’s Chief Medical Officer.

Dr. Kerr was born and raised in Toronto, Canada and comes from a long line of physicians, of which he is now the fifth generation. He has an undergraduate degree in Psychology, a Doctorate of Medicine, a PhD in Neurobiology and completed his residency in Internal Medicine at the University of Rochester. Dr. Kerr received numerous awards throughout training that recognized his clinical performance, as well as his success as an educator and scientist. 

Dr. Kerr’s background in research has evolved from bench science towards the human experience of illness as witnessed from the bedside, specifically patient’s dreams and visions at the end of life. The results of his studies generated enormous response in the non-medical community, both nationally and internationally, through coverage that has included the New York Times, Huffington Post, The Atlantic, BBC, Scientific American and Psychology Today.

“It is a privilege to lead the dedicated employees and volunteers of this organization who bring such outstanding care and compassionate support to literally hundreds of people in our community each and every day,” Kerr states. “I’m excited to build on the national reputation and outstanding standard of care that Hospice Buffalo is noted for and to explore new opportunities to extend our mission of providing the highest quality hospice and palliative care services to our community.”

Dr. Kerr has overseen the integration and expansion of palliative care into local hospitals and developed one of the nation’s largest home-based palliative care programs, Home Connections, and Essential Care for Children. He has lectured and published on innovative program models that are designed to better align patient/family services to the complexity of needs inherent to advanced illness.


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