“Trauma After A Near Death Experience.”
One problem I have with the plethora of NDE books on the market is that they generally describe only one person’s experience, often in glowing terms. I decided a book analysing what NDEs were really all about was long overdue, and consequently wrote “Living Beyond: Making Sense of Near Death Experiences”.
The unpopular truth is that research reveals thousands who record unpleasant afterlife experiences. More alarming to me are the millions of returnees who are traumatised and find it tough trying to adjust again to life on earth, especially when family, friends and tragically their churches who should know better reject them as perhaps becoming mentally unstable! I spoke with a minister just yesterday who has been doing just that, and hopefully as we looked at scriptures together he left me with for the first time a biblical understanding of what REALLY happens after death. He had weird unscriptural concepts previously. I suppose this is unsurprising when we consider that a professor in an American seminary emailed me that he felt unable to share his NDE with colleagues because of the ridicule that would evoke. Have we learnt nothing yet in churches about the dangers of sweeping truth under the carpet?
Despite the unbalanced "everything is wonderful in the afterlife" impression given in the print media, it is possible to learn a lot from froth-and-bubble books, providing we apply first some checks:
I check this up as carefully as I can before reading too much of what they have written. There may be many motives, some personal, some financial, for making wild claims. You may not find some prominent NDE accounts analysed in my writings because I have asked myself “would this person be credited as a good witness in a court of law?” What they are saying may well be true, but much of what we learn depends on the reliability of what we are told such that the conditions for a good witness need to be met with before including their account in our search for what is happening in an NDE. Fortunately, there are thousands of reliable accounts “out there”, including on the web, from which we can gather reliable commonalities. This brings me to my second point.
While NDEs share certain common characteristics, they are nevertheless tailored by God for one particular individual and are not necessarily applicable in certain personal details across the board. We are created individuals because God likes us that way and are always treated as such by him in the afterlife, and he certainly knows everything about us, even our ancestry and the all the details of our lives, even our “secret” thoughts.
For example, a party of ancestors commonly meets and greets an NDEr but never includes an incorrect ancestor, and there are multiple examples of the returning NDEr identifying an unknown ancestor met previously only in the afterlife, for example, when looking at old black-and-white family photos or painted portraits.
And the visual Life Review presentation is never for the wrong person, such that when the NDEr begins to ask questions once back on Earth, they find the details of what they had observed during it but had not known about previously always check out exactly.
A genuine NDE is a learning experience from which God is guiding positive changes to occur on return, almost invariably in the direction of being more loving to others in a practical way. This is because as 1John 4:8 reveals, “God IS love”.
For us to find a more balanced understanding of NDEs, we must realise that not all NDEs are positive experiences in themselves, but some are frightening, even horrifying. Careful research and consideration of these by Nancy Bush (who had a negative one), Dr Barbara Rommer and others revealed that providing the returnee learnt the intended life corrections and applied them on return, their overall experience was still very constructive to their lives.
The big question, then, is how do NDErs handle their return to earthly lives? Naturally, the positive NDEs we read about can give the impression that there were few problems and that an even more productive and happy life resumed quickly. This can be true for the minority, but NOT for the majority, who often return confused and traumatised, at least for a while but often stretching out over the years, which was a further misconception prompting me to write “Living Beyond”, the motive being to help facilitate a successful return for NDErs to an earthly life.
Even someone as intelligent and accomplished as the orthopaedic specialist Mary Neal, who was absolutely supported by her loving husband and family and who had had a very positive NDE, nevertheless took a long time to recover. The researcher PMH Atwater, who herself had three NDEs, states that on average full recovery takes around 7 years. While some returnees readjust much quicker than this, my interactions with them suggests some have not yet recovered and may never do so.
Why are some returns more traumatic than others? Reasons vary. The few psychiatrists or other medical specialists who are studying returnees identify a basketful of problems and symptoms—some being similar to Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. This might be expected from an experience so impacting and profound that when you question NDErs even many years later, they generally remember what happened in exquisite detail and may still tear up.
Fundamentally, returnees are not the same people they were before the NDE. Amongst other changes, they can find themselves longing to return to the afterlife again, and are reported by those close to them to have become “otherworldly” to a degree. And more childlike. They may stop what they are doing to admire for an extended length of time some aspect of nature even while at work, and find it hard to be driven as they had been previously by the money motive. This can have serious professional repercussions, as can their tendency not to keep to tight schedules anymore. Families express frustrations with this as well: “Mom forgets to have our lunches ready for school on time/Dad is now often late to pick us up from school”. They can also be much more open and loving towards others than previously, which can be interpreted as flirting. Indeed, sometimes their attempts to “love everyone” can be inappropriate. Overall, these and other changes can generate family tensions and the divorce rate amongst returnees is higher in America than the national average.
Their social lives can also be diminished. Many want to tell others about the wonderful experiences they have had, but families discourage this on the whole because they don’t want the returnee to be branded as “strange” which might reflect negatively on themselves, or even “gone a bit crazy after the accident” etc. And then when returnees do tell others, they may be discouraged by an apparent disinterest, which can arise more from a defensive not knowing how to handle this “new” person rather than true disinterest.
Tragically, those who attend church can feel rejected by their churches for a plethora of reasons, generally stemming from uncertainty or downright ignorance of the afterlife amongst the church leadership—which I perceived years ago as yet another reason to gather accounts from which to write “Living Beyond”.
Let me stress, some returnees experience few or none of these problems. Not all of us react to new experiences the same way. Nevertheless, many others feel isolated in any group that is not providing the understanding, counsel and help that they need.
Naturally, the church universal should love and minister to returnees, rather than trying to ignore their experience because a particular minister does not understand it, or even suspects it may be satanic. At this point Satan may indeed become involved, and the New Age and spiritualists generally welcome returnees who may be told they are “gifted” in some way as a consequence of their experience, in order to capture the returnee’s interest and stroke their ego. Consequently, thousands of NDErs have sadly left unsupportive churches in droves. An exaggeration? Talk to returnees yourself as I have and judge for yourself. What the Christian church international needs to provide is compassion, support and love for returnees, not rejection. I will end this rather critical theme using a recent experience to illustrate it.
An American lady who had read “Living Beyond” emailed me with some comments and questions, and Brenda (my wonderful wife) and I later on enjoyed a skype chat with her. Sadly, this lady’s church had rejected her but she was looking to join another. We continued to exchange the occasional email. Then an email came that troubled me by its wording, and I asked Brenda whether she thought that lady was obliquely saying “goodbye”. Brenda thought that was possible. I quickly bombed off an email asking her how she was. After few weeks of silence we got a response from her; she was now out of hospital having attempted suicide. A similar email since has come to me from an American man who I also fear may also attempt suicide. What to do, stuck as I am in Australia?
I have had troubled emails from traumatised Australians too and have tried to locate professional psychologists or doctors advertising that they counsel NDErs in Australia, but I have not yet found even one. One retired psychologist sent me an interesting email very recently that began an exchange of emails that I will record below. To distinguish who emailed what, I will put mine in italics:
The Australian Psychological Society may help to contact clinical Psychologists. I am a retired Psychologist, and am no longer registered to practice. This may mean nothing to you, but I am a practicing Catholic, and there are a lot of priests who deal with such matters every day, with compassion and prayer, and a full discussion of the afterlife. In our eyes, suicide is a mortal sin, and that is what priests are especially trained to deal with!
Thank you for your advice, Terry. Yesterday after you sent it I spoke with a local doctor friend whose wife is a psychologist, but realised neither are qualified to help in what are very complex issues. Another doctor friend in Melbourne who has in addition trained in psychology is reluctant to even consider taking traumatised patients in this field. When you are talking suicide, you have to have a deep knowledge of the specific issues and how to deal with them.
I have also emailed the AMA (Australian Medical Association) on your advice, in case some professionals have arisen recently who are now helping NDErs. That would be excellent—but frankly unexpected. (**I have not yet had a response from the AMA).
It is a pity the church universal does not train its ministers to know what actually happens in the afterlife because some may become interested in helping returnees by training further, and then becoming the professionals that are needed. Christian compassion for the suffering could then add an extra dimension to the help they could provide.
Terry responded: I know a lot of priests and bishops all over the place who might help. I will certainly pray about it. Offhand, I can't think of any one of them who would not help—whether the supplicants are Catholics or not. I have had great problems in my 80 years—written off for dead once—but my Faith has got me through everything. I will talk it over with a few priests who are very close friends and will advise you later.
This was the first positive suggestion how to help that I have had! I emailed Terry:
I am encouraged by your response. NDErs as a group have not found the church sympathetic nor supportive of their confusion and needs, but what you write suggests to me that effective Christian counselling could be made available through Catholic priests. Is it possible to devise an approach to encourage this? For example, advertise a “sharing experiences” group similar to AA but under the guidance of an interested and informed priest? This would certainly be a first in Australia and many NDErs who at present are leaving the church might remain and even convince others that it can help them with their readjustment problems. Some similar groups do exist set up by-and-large by the American IANDS organisation, but the Brisbane (Australia) one guides recovering NDErs into spiritism and the New Age, and I have heard similar accounts for other groups. Their final scrambled spiritual condition can become “worse than at first”.
That is where Terry and my correspondence is at present; hopefully some of his friends who are priests will take up the challenge.
But I am not going to let you the reader off the hook quite so readily—what about your church? How about advertising and running prayerfully an NDE Recovery Group in your own home? Please give it careful thought and prayer. If nothing else, their sense of isolation would lessen, and the freedom to talk and to listen to others who have had similar experiences would help them.
Finally, the first three emails I received about “Living Beyond” identified a group of people I had not thought would be helped by the book. Can you guess what group of people they might represent?
The emails came from those who had suffered a recent bereavement! They had been comforted by knowing what the afterlife was like for their loved ones.
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