These are usually the first to assail the returnee. Even if their revived bodies are undamaged and healthy, they feel confined and boxed in; it may take a while before they feel comfortable again. ‘My body is something I put up with. It’s the baggage I carry on my trip through life.’ Again: ‘I felt terrible: heavy, sore, chilled, and extremely sad. I felt as if I was trapped in a large piece of bad meat. I could see out of my eye sockets as if I was wearing a mask and I felt physically burdened by, and separate from, my body. I was well aware of being a separate entity from the body that I was inhabiting.’
For the few who return to a body that has been healed or partially restored in some way, the trauma is not as great. Lillian Oaktree 10 had used two high dose inhalers, one of them steroids, for 20 years to control her asthma. But after her NDE she no longer needed to rely on these drugs. She comments: ‘My GP is delighted by my progress, though I haven’t told him the change has come about due to healing in Heaven.’
Dean Braxton’s 1 return was accompanied with a miracle of healing. Dean had been dead for approaching two hours and even Dr Manuel Iregui 1, who oversaw his care in St Francis’ Hospital in Washington, stated that, ‘It’s a miracle that he’s alive. There’s no question about it. It is a miracle that he is talking with no brain damage. But this is very exceptional, because he was really, really dead for a long time.’
Dean today is a picture of health, as one can see in video footage of him on the Internet.
We may ask, why don’t all returnees find perfectly healed bodies waiting for them back on Earth? Though we don’t know, we realise that conditions on Earth are different from those in the afterlife. For example, the hundreds of dead friends and relatives met in Paradise all had spirit bodies which were healed, hale and hearty – the blind could see and amputees had their limbs restored – but we must remember that Paradise is a region entirely under the influence and blessing of God, unlike our fallen Earth or different Prison sections in Hades, where Satan and other spirit entities have a degree of influence.
Emotional and Psychological Challenges
Crystal McVea 3 has pondered her preference to stay with God in Paradise rather than return to her family – a decision that seemingly flies in the face of her love for her family. Her decision has caused both her and her children some psychological issues.
Believe me, before this happened I could not understand how it was possible to love anyone or anything more than your own children. But that was before I found myself in the presence of God. Like I said, that changed everything. I understood instantly that the love of God is greater and more powerful than any other kind of love. And I didn’t only understand it; I felt it and heard it and saw it and tasted it with every fibre of my being. When I was in my spirit form, there was simply no other conceivable option for me but to be with God. I know it sounds funny to say, but not even my babies made me want to return to my human form. I’ve discussed this with my children, and, honestly, I think it hurts their feelings a bit. Once in a while they like to tease me about it, sort of how they tease me about being late to pick them up at school. ‘Gee, thanks a lot, Mom,’ they’ll say. ‘Thanks for choosing us.’…
Gradually, Crystal began to feel grateful to be with her family again. They all rushed to be with her and spoilt her. ‘I still missed God, but being around my loved ones made me realise again that life is a wonderful gift to be cherished and treasured. It wasn’t like a switch being flipped where suddenly I was thrilled to be back. It happened over time.’
Many others do not initially find their return to be emotionally positive. This applies even where they have good, meaningful relationships on Earth. Dr Mary Neal 16 comments on the first few weeks of her return.
We [the family] spent glorious hours lying together in my hospital bed watching movies and cuddling. Although I adored them and loved the time we spent together, part of me still longed to be with God. This realisation made me feel torn and depressed.
In Mary’s case, she had a very hard road ahead physically and emotionally. ‘It took me more than a year to finally accept that not only had I been sent back to Earth, but that I had work left to do. I was part of a family that I dearly loved, and I finally accepted that I had better get on with my life and make the most of it.’
Might we simply dismiss these psychological problems as arising from weakness of mind? Gabbard and Twemlow 17 have investigated this possibility using a PAL test i.e. ‘Profiles of Adaptation to Life.’ They found that as a group, the NDE subjects were significantly healthier in their minds than psychiatric inpatients and/or outpatients, and somewhat healthier than college students. Overall, the NDE group represented a very close approximation to the ‘average healthy American’.
If these and other studies confirm that NDErs return mentally healthy, from where do their psychological problems derive? One answer is their difficulty re-integrating. This often begins with attitudes expressed towards them of medical professionals in the first hours of return. IANDS has produced a video and teaching kit to help the medical fraternity to recognise and help NDErs, and different articles and books proffer advice. According to The Handbook of Near-Death Experiences 19, the top two of 24 most recommended approaches for medical personnel are:
What awaits the NDEr on leaving hospital? Don Piper 19, the Baptist minister, is typical when he writes that his biggest struggle following the experience was adjusting to the difficulties of earthly life, which is imperfect while Heaven (Paradise) is perfect. Many others remain frustrated over the years. Ray 10 writes, ‘I have had a very difficult time integrating my NDE experiences into day-to-day life. I was filled with an immense sense of purpose and importance but I cannot seem to reconcile my NDE with living here. I sometimes feel as if I would just want to leave here and go home to be with God – yet I know that suicide is not the answer. I would never burden my loved ones with such a selfish act. I guess that God has some explaining to do when I finally get to go home!’
Atwater 20 summarises these problems: ‘Experiencers were not returning with just a renewed zest for life and a more spiritual outlook. They were evidencing specific psychological and physiological differences on a scale never before faced by them. And this was true with child experiencers, as well as with teenagers and adults.’
Writing about child returnees, Cherie Sutherland 4 emphasises that they can find themselves estranged from their peer group and even their family. Academic and sporting performance may nosedive.
Many children describe feeling estranged from their peer group because they no longer share the same interests. They tend to be indifferent to materialistic and competitive success and status. They have often had an experience of being ‘all-knowing’ or ‘at-one-with-everything’ and return with an overwhelming thirst for knowledge and meaning that can set them apart. As one mother said, ‘It’s like sending out a six-year-old and getting back a 36-year-old’.
Can returnees be helped professionally with their emotional and psychological issues? Dr Lyn D’Alton 21 observes similarities with people who have been immersed in other cultures, having worked herself with missionaries returning to Australia from overseas service. She observes, ‘Many of the difficulties experienced by NDE returnees are the same as others experiencing reverse culture shock/re-entry stress- e.g. soldiers and war veterans, exchange students, business people, religious/aid workers. This is experienced when returning to a place that one expects to be home, but does not feel like it any longer, as they have changed. The shock of seeing ‘home’ with new eyes is worsened as it is usually unexpected and unanticipated. Naturally, some NDE returnees will have unique “twists” because of involvement with God, angels, deceased family members etc.’
There are approaches found helpful for reverse culture shock that might also be helpful for NDErs — which are perhaps worth trying and monitoring for effectiveness. Other counselling approaches have been proposed for more extreme cases. Some returnees are particularly disoriented and confused, almost in a state of trauma arising from the intensity of their experience. These changes have led some psychologists to propose counselling similar to that given to sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder.
We await reports on the effectiveness or otherwise of professional counselling with NDErs.
The Love Challenge
It is important to have a quick look at what love is not – because many returnees attempt to practice the wrong kind of love and end up in confusion. Ankerberg 15 comments on an incorrect but popular concept of a soft, unconditional and universal love, that is quite unlike the divine love that was shown to NDErs in Hades. Unfortunately some returnees, often with disturbing results, adopt this inaccurate perception of love. There is nothing like personal experience talking, which PMH Atwater 15 has, besides having interviewed hundreds of other NDErs:
This kind of love can be more a nightmare than a blessing. It can drive a wedge between people. Let us be very practical about what unconditional love really means.… It means you cannot divide or separate people, that you have no expectations, no needs, no wants, no conditions of any sort in loving.
Unsuccessful returnees may also be characterised by a self-absorbed fascination with feelings, ‘self-development’, a self-indulgent sentimental interpretation of love very different from God’s ‘tough love’, a fascination with what they may perceive to be their new psychic abilities and a focus on whatever else their experience meant for them personally. They consequently have significant difficulties because their understanding and attempts at practising love have been too far from God’s demonstration of what love truly is. Weldon and Ankerberg 15 describe a revealing example of this delusion stated by a returnee.
‘I love my wife and children more than I ever thought I could. I love everyone. My experience taught me real love, unconditional love!’
This sounds good, but his wife and children did not feel the kind of love he described… He seemed somehow unreachable to them, as if he were ‘floating’ around somewhere in a world of his own, out of touch with the reality of what was really going on and what their personal needs were.’
‘Floating around somewhere in a world of his own’, rather than engaging in the lives of those around, is often a short-term problem while finding one’s feet again after experiencing transcendent love during an NDE. But don’t be deceived; love that is not energetically serving the lives of others on Earth is not an expression of true, divinely inspired love and does not result in a successful, meaningful outcome.
Most NDErs return with a fresh outlook on life, seeing themselves now as an immortal spirit and soul who is currently residing in an earthly body, with a commission to love others. Dr Kenneth Ring 22 reports that these attitudes transform into positive changes in most returnees’ lives in the long term. Nonetheless, in the short term, it can be a rocky road to success. Although the family, friends and work colleagues have remained the same, the returnee has not. Where relationship damage occurs, its fundamental cause is most often a consequence of changes within the NDEr.
Numerous returnees yearn for the love and idyllic life they have seen in Paradise and try to introduce a similar open, innocent approach into the less-than-perfect situations and relationships of Earth. Scripture warns us, for example in Matthew 10:16, Romans 12:2, John 17:6, to be wise regarding the fallen condition of life on Earth and to behave accordingly, yet to be untainted within ourselves of the evil and sin that characterises life here. Universal loving, trusting, warmth and welcoming openness are good, but must be tempered by the divine discernment that Jesus exhorts us to practise on Earth. Atwater 15 observed:
I am amazed at how many times survivors fall prey to repeated rapes, thefts, lies, cheating, losses of all kinds, fires, floods, financial setbacks, accidents, and to commitment to psychiatric treatment when none is really required. I myself was almost killed a number of times. We walk innocently into dangerous situations because we honestly do not recognise them as dangerous… We trust everyone because we know of no reason not to.
Her observations as a returnee herself, and one who has spoken with hundreds of others, carries significant weight.
Most returnees desire to be a conduit of universal love to others. This can morph into an inability to comprehend boundaries, rules or limits. Sadly, marriages may flounder. Dr Cherie Sutherland’s 4 research confirms this. She noted a ‘major increase in the number of divorced people following the NDE… almost all ascribed their divorce primarily to the after-effects of their NDE.’ Atwater in 2008, discussing her results in her article Near Death States: The Pattern of After-effects, confirms these startling observations regarding NDEs and divorce:
With the adult experiencers in my study, the divorce rate was between 75% to 78%. Most of these divorces happened within seven to ten years of the episode. The most common complaints from spouses were: ‘I don’t know this person any more’, or ‘This unconditional love nonsense is just an excuse to insult me by flirting with others’.
A common attitude of the experiencer was, ‘Since I no longer fit in, I’ll move on’.
The general mindset was that significant others were convinced that the experiencer was out of touch with reality, while the experiencer became convinced that the significant others were slow to move forward and were not interested in making changes.
It was as if the two groups started speaking different languages and could no longer communicate effectively.
How might such a sublime experience as a positive NDE result in such wretched relationship breakdown? Returnees often perceive themselves as equally and fully loving of each and all, openly generous, excited about the potential and wonder of each person they see. Their ‘unconditional’ way of expressing joy and affection may be viewed as flirtatious disloyalty, and can attract extra-marital attention. This ‘openness’ can proceed to serial intimate relationships. ‘Relationships seem more intense, but only last a short time,’ complained one broken returnee.
A typical quote is: ‘The love my husband and I shared flew out the window after I found universal love.’
In terms of communication, returnees may find that others are not as accepting and enthusiastic about their experience and its significance as they might suppose, leading to tension – within the family, at work, or socially. A response to this rejection may be to use abstract and grandiose terms to express themselves, or to criticise the attitudes of others. ‘I have no problems communicating but have found others cannot accept things as they are. I feel that everyone lives in a fantasy world, and I am the realist outcast,’ said one NDEr. While returnees may feel as though they are outcasts, their friends and family in turn can feel excluded by them and even looked down upon.
Another annoying shift can be that they refer to their episode as if it were a type of ‘divider’, separating their ‘former’ life from the present one. This can result in listeners feel patronised or ‘outside the new me’ presented by the NDEr.
Atwater 23 notes, ‘Oftentimes survivors become impatient and critical of others, feeling in some way better, and losing in that smugness the ability to understand the weakness and the fear people around them still deal with.’ For example, many people still feel uncomfortable talking and thinking about death, even with an NDEr, who conversely no longer fears death and at times wants to talk about it with enthusiasm.
Further difficulties can derive from the importance of living in the moment that distinguishes most returnees. Many become unreliable. They tend to ‘flow’ with circumstances and become absorbed in situations that interest them, losing a sense of what time it is. Families and workplaces run on routine and schedules. Returnees often are not as concerned as previously with planning ahead or being on time. For example, having been in dimensions where time is different, they may be less regimented about the children doing chores than before the NDE, or neglect household duties because of being easily distracted by other things.
Making social arrangements can seem irrelevant to them when preoccupied with things that have caught their attention. Friends may perceive this behaviour as disinterest in their friendship.
A further problem intrudes. The materialistic goals of many workplaces lose importance and cause returnees’ level of motivation to fall off. They can become less competitive, less driven. Careers can be upended and jobs lost. In some cases new and successful careers may be embarked upon, but in others financial hardship is the consequence.
Many NDErs seem otherworldly for a season. This can make them appear ‘odd’ to family and friends. In fact, criticism and lack of understanding has made some returnees question their own sanity. For most, however, earthly realities impose themselves in a painful process to which they adapt successfully, though a degree of otherworldliness may continue lifelong. Most adapt more quickly than that, but the process nevertheless takes time. Atwater 24 states:
My research shows that, on the average, it took adults a minimum of seven years to successfully adjust to their near-death experience.
This timing alters with child experiencers. Children usually compensate for, rather than integrate, unusual or impacting experiences until they are much older.
For parents battling to understand worrying changes in their child following an NDE, Atwater’s 24 research results and discussion may prove both informative and helpful.
Spiritual and Religious Challenges
Some studies show that all returnees who have met with a Being of Light believe they have had a transformational spiritual or religious experience. However, it appears that fewer NDErs proceed far enough to meet this Being than was originally supposed by the early researchers. Nevertheless, regardless of how extensive their afterlife experiences, most adult returnees indicate that they want to develop spiritually.
Many children on the other hand do not divide their experiences as readily into the religious and non-religious, but simply accept experiences that come along without trying to compartmentalise them. In a study of around 350 NDErs by Dr Peter and Elizabeth Fenwick 25, only 50% of those who had NDEs when they were between 3 and 9 years old reported becoming more religious after the experience, in their childhood perception of the word ‘religious’. By 16 or older, this rose significantly to 90%.
Where can this fresh enthusiasm for spiritual understanding and growth be catered for? Returnees search avidly in different directions. Unfortunately, the teaching and preaching in churches can seem trivial, irrelevant or inaccurate after a personal meeting with God. Atwater 26 refers to an NDEr who is the wife of a conservative Christian pastor.
Since her experience, it has become increasingly difficult for her to attend her husband’s church services. ‘He’s wrong. I know now deep in my heart he’s wrong. What he’s preaching, that’s not the way it is. I feel like he’s telling everyone a lie and I don’t know what to do about it. I love my husband and I love our children. I don’t want to upset him or anyone else. I don’t want a divorce or anything like that. But I can’t listen anymore. I try to pretend I’m too busy to come.’
Raymond Moody’s 27 research led him to conclude that NDErs returned more interested in religion and spiritual matters, but not in the plethora of conflicting groups and denominations. ‘They come to realise that religion is not a matter of one “right” group versus several “wrong” groups’, which is a common fruit of denominationalism. Rather, they wish to major on the God of Love whom they have met and towards whom all religions should be leading their flocks.’
For example, Dr Cherie Sutherland 7 found that 50% of her NDErs studied were affiliated with Catholic or Protestant churches before the NDE, but only 14% continued in these churches afterwards. Her research concluded that there was a shift ‘away from organised religion and church attendance and toward private nonformula prayer, meditation and a general quest for spiritual values.’ The research does not give a clear or consistent picture on this point, however. Pim van Lommel noted that the perceived movement amongst Dutch NDErs away from church attendance in Holland could have reflected a prevailing movement away from church affiliation in general. Sabom researched this possibility in America and concluded that in general returnees became more committed to local congregations rather than less so. He found further that a belief in reincarnation and in Eastern, universalist religion is not a direct after-effect of the near-death experience. Penny Sartori discovered something similar for English returnees.
No doubt, each research reflects local realities and perhaps the subjects they have selected. Nevertheless, most reports I have read suggest that the majority of returnees will go wherever they feel their experiences are accepted and can be explained to them.
An important factor appears to be that most returnees are less materialistic than previously. Consequently, the materialistic goals of many churches and New Age groups of the ‘God wants you rich and in perfect health’ or ‘This is our upcoming programme that requires financial support’ seem selfish and unimportant after actually meeting with God. Their level of interest and attendance drops off and many search elsewhere for answers.
Not finding the answers or support they need in any one group or religion, scores of returnees become eclectic and incorporate a variety of approaches into what becomes their own personal mix. At heart, although the majority are insecure in this approach, they cannot see a working alternative.
Not realising that a Paradise experience is pre-Judgement, some returnees reassess their previously held beliefs and now feel that God winks at all kinds of misbehaviours, regardless of how damaging they are to others or to themselves, and lays on a happy eternal existence for most of humanity. They may even feel this despite their having seen, during their own Life Review, the harm some behaviours cause on Earth. Consequently, they may adopt a Pollyanna view of harmful and sinful behaviours in their second chance ‘to do better’ on Earth, and end up in a spiritual and relational morass.
Thankfully, the successful return of many NDErs who follow God’s imperative to love others in the active way he showed love to them during their NDE, demonstrates that religion need not be an ongoing stumbling block. Nonetheless, finding a likeminded group of people with whom to share friendship and fellowship can in itself be a discouraging challenge.
The Handbook of Near-Death Experiences 18 has surveyed research and makes an important point:
It is probably fair to say that NDErs are represented in every congregation. As survival of medical and other crises continues, new NDErs will continue to present themselves.
Consequently, all religious leaders should take note and decide how best they can be of service to NDErs. Sympathetic, non-judgemental listening is always a good place to start.
These are reported in 55% of returnees’ lives (IANDS figure). They are generally of less immediate impact than the other changes and do not radically affect lifestyles; consequently they may not be noticed for a while. They are very varied. If not focussed upon, they generally fade away on return.
I believe it to be unwise to be preoccupied by these, as their function is not in my opinion intended for life on Earth. In Hades, the NDEr functioned within certain beyond-normal abilities, such as telepathy, spirit travel, reading the thoughts of others, a new vigour that utilised a novel form of energy, accessing universal knowledge (most of which is forgotten at their return) – and, more rarely, being given ‘secret information’ that may include visions or glimpses of the future. Consequently, it is not a surprise that on return telepathic communication and perceiving what others are thinking are commonly reported. Precognition or knowing in advance that something is going to happen is reported more rarely, as is an ability to heal others of a variety of physical, mental or emotional conditions. Some report a new internal energy that generates surges along the spine, which may explain unusual effects on external electrical and electronic equipment – such as light bulbs bursting or computers malfunctioning.
However, as far as I can tell, none of these effects have been verified by controlled research.
For some returnees, the outcome is anything but minor and temporary – because they develop an interest in the occult, the paranormal and unbiblical prophecies. I have noticed that this involvement can result in psychological and mental meltdowns, depression, and as an entry point for evil forces. Besides personal danger in this life arising from dabbling in the paranormal, it poses serious spiritual dangers for the afterlife too. It is expressly forbidden in scripture and is unacceptable to God. Amongst other Bible references, Deuteronomy 18:10-12 reads:
Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist, or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD.
Furthermore, many NDErs appear to be deluded regarding these new abilities, which may be more hopeful than actual. For example, Dannion Brinkley during his NDE claims he was given knowledge about the future. Brinkley subsequently wrote a disastrous but profitable book Saved by the Light (1994). He gave supposed future dates for the fulfilment of various fanciful prophecies, not one of which occurred on the prophesied dates, which came and went! Had he made these prophecies during biblical times, he would have been stoned to death for being a false prophet.
To date, I know of no NDEr prophecies that have given specific time frames to have been provably accurate. What are we to make of disastrous prophetic failures? Some will have arisen from charlatans leaping into the market to make coinage from a public fascinated by NDEs. Others may have had hallucinations woven into their NDE because of continuing brain activity or brain activity that begins to ‘fire again’ during the NDE. Still others may have been confused by drug flashbacks, or have merely been seeking attention.
Counselling sessions biased towards the paranormal can magnify this particular problem. An NDEr’s genuinely heightened spirituality may be seized upon and exaggerated by an interviewer or counsellor until the NDEr becomes hopeful that paranormal ‘giftings’ might be part of their mission back on Earth.
With regard to prophecies, from a Christian point of view, we do well to contrast the truly amazing and proven accuracy of fulfilled biblical prophecy in history with any inaccurate prophetic predictions given by prophets, NDErs or otherwise, in modern times.
Again we look to Jesus, and find that when his close group of chosen disciples spoke with him before he finally ascended heavenwards, they were desperate to know what the future held and asked him (Acts 1:6-8): ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the Kingdom to Israel?’
He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the Earth.’
In other words, disciples should get on with the work of building the Kingdom of God on the Earth and leave the future in the hands of God the Father. I would hesitate to believe any returnee claiming to have been given more detailed knowledge of mankind’s future than that already mentioned in scripture.
Having said that, God does occasionally prepare an individual for upcoming events that will be traumatic for him or her – as he did with NDEr Mary Neal 16 being given advance knowledge of the future death of her son. A number of other returnees have been given similar personal information to prepare them for difficulties ahead. Indeed, this occurrence, though rare, is not exclusive to the NDErs of the world.
Millions of NDErs have successfully overcome the challenges they have faced on return to Earth, and their lives have been immeasurably enriched by their afterlife experiences as a consequence. How they have achieved this is the subject of the following chapter.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish