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  • Writer's pictureBernard Beitman, MD

Knowing Someone Has Died

Information about someone’s distress may come to you in unusual ways.


Key Points

  • In uncanny ways, some people may experience and know that a loved one is dying or has died.

  • More generally, some people experience the pain or distress of a person with who is not in the same place.

  • Accumulating anecdotes and research data suggest this phenomenon is real and deserves further exploration and an explanatory model.


In ways yet to be explained by science, some people know when someone has died without being directly told. The information may come through unexpected and nontraditional ways. Anecdotes

Writing to the Los Angeles Times in response to an article about the book Meaningful Coincidences (Beitman, 2022), psychologist Kevin Flynn reported that he knew when his older brother had died:

I am a PhD psychologist in Los Feliz and from Dublin, Ireland. Age 15 I arrived in LA. I am 76 with many years of Jungian Analysis beginning in 1981. I set up Skid Row mental health for the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health. Feel free to google Kevin M Flynn PhD. In March 2021, I had a dream at 7:06 am regarding the release of a butterfly from a wine bottle. I woke up, noted the time and wrote in my journal that my only brother had died age 79. Five minutes later my sister-in-law called to tell me that my brother Matt Flynn had passed away. Thank you for your article. Irish mysticism is alive and well. Cheers.

Rawlette (2019) provided this dream example: A woman had terrifying dreams about a man she loved 20 years previously. She saw him in a velvet-lined casket, dressed in a blue suit. The next day, a mutual friend told her that the man had died and was placed in a velvet-lined casket wearing a blue suit. Carl Jung (1963) reported that he was suddenly awoken by a dull headache “as though something had struck my forehead and then the back of my skull.” The next day he received a telegram saying that his patient had shot himself in the head. The bullet had come to rest on the back wall of his skull.

In the 1930s, Rose Rudkin woke up knowing her mother, living in London, had died. She did not know how she knew. A cablegram soon arrived confirming this impression (Stevenson, 1970). The simultaneous experience by one person of the distress of another at a distance is not uncommon. The most common triggers for these experiences are death or dying and major illnesses or injuries (Yusim, 2017).

Data-Based Research

Twins serve as a prototype for these kinds of experiences. The largest number of reports of this kind come from twins (Playfair, 2012; Mann and Jaye, 2007). There are similar stories about mothers and their children as well as other closely bonded pairs (Stevenson, 1970). article continues after advertisement The more than 2,500 respondents to the Weird Coincidence Survey (Coleman, Beitman, Celebi, 2009) reported that they “occasionally” experienced the pain of a loved one at a distance. In Stevenson’s review of 160 published cases on this subject, one-third involved a parent and child. Friends and acquaintances were involved in about 28 percent. Husband-and-wife pairs were involved in about 14 percent and siblings in about 15 percent. The similar percentages of parent–child and friend–acquaintance simultaneous distress suggest that emotional bonds, rather than genetic similarities, facilitate these interactions. Stevenson’s reports are well-documented by follow-up interviews with both the coincider and the people who witnessed the event (Stevenson, 1970). I named this coincidence pattern "simulpathity," from the Latin word simul, which means “simultaneous,” and the Greek root pathy, which means both “suffering” and “feeling,” as in the words sympathy and empathy. With sympathy (“suffering together”), the sympathetic person is aware of the suffering of the other. With simulpathity, the person involved is usually not consciously aware of the suffering of the other except for those pairs with whom this shared pain is a regular occurrence. Only later is the simultaneity of the distress recognized.

I coined the word simulpathity to describe a personal experience. Late in the evening of February 26, 1973, when I was 31 years old, I found myself bent over the kitchen sink in an old Victorian house in San Francisco, choking on something that was caught in my throat. But there was nothing to cough up as I hadn’t eaten anything. I choked for a very long time before I could swallow and breathe normally again. The next day, my birthday, my brother called to tell me that our father, 3,000 miles and three time zones away, had passed away in Wilmington, Delaware, just as I was choking in California. My father had bled into his throat and choked on his own blood. The timing led me to think that it couldn’t possibly have been random. Through reading and research, I could confirm that my experience with my father was no anomaly.


“The data are friendly” according to a perennial scientific research motto. Sometimes data accumulate before the phenomenon can be explained, and that is as it should be. We need the accumulation of data to gather the required resources to formally develop a potential explanatory model.

Several different sources, both anecdotal and data-based, suggest that human beings do occasionally experience the distress of a loved one at a distance. This phenomenon takes many forms including dream symbols (the butterfly being released from a wine bottle) or realistic dream images (the man in a blue suit), direct analog (Jung’s head pain and my choking), and direct knowing, as reported by Rose Rudkin.

These phenomena fit under the general term “parapsychology,” for which much data are accumulating to suggest the reality of many of these (Cardeña, 2018). Future research may confirm the wide range of ways in which people experience simulpathity and perhaps lead to models for how it happens.



  • Beitman, BD (2022). Meaningful Coincidences: How and Why Synchronicity and Serendipity Happen. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions.

  • Rawlette, S (2019) The Source and Significance of Coincidences. Self-published. P. 275).

  • Jung CJ. Memories, Dreams and Reflections. .New York: Vintage, 1963, 137-8.

  • Stevenson, I (1970) Telepathic Impressions (New York: American Society for Psychical Research, 31.

  • Yusim, A (2017) Fulfillment How the science of spirituality can help you live a happier and more meaningful life. New York: Grand Central Lifestyle, 203-4.

  • Playfair, G (2012) Twin Telepathy, 3rd ed. UK: White Crow Books, 37–38.

  • Brett, B, Jaye, C (2007) “‘Are We One Body?’ Body Boundaries in Telesomatic Experiences,” Anthropology & Medicine 14, no. 2: 183–95.

  • Coleman SL, Beitman BD, Celebi E (2009) Weird Coincidences Commonly Occur. Psychiatric Annals 39:265–270.

  • Cardeña, E. (2018). The experimental evidence for parapsychological phenomena: A review. American Psychologist, 73(5), 663–677.


Photo by Shane on Unsplash

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