My last memories were when I had been in hospital, seeing myself in the operating room from a vantage point near the ceiling. I remember feeling lighter and lighter, being drawn down the hallway and swept out of the door of the hospital, and then suddenly I was gone.
—Captain Dale Black 1 (2010), describing entering the afterlife.
Have you ever had a near-death experience? The sort where you actually physically died, and found yourself ‘somewhere else’, no longer inhabiting your dead body?
If you did, you may have had a taste of the afterlife – and may have been fortunate enough to recall this fact! You can probably also still vividly recall details of your experience, and it may well have changed for the better your whole approach to life, people and priorities.
On the other hand, you may have returned from this experience confused, disorientated, and even disbelieved by family and friends. Your life afterwards may have crashed around you.
Either way, it is really important for you to know what happened to you, not just what happened to your body while you were absent from it, but to the real you that left it during your NDE.
As for those of us who have never had such an experience – by listening and analysing the accounts of NDErs, we can benefit from knowing what we might anticipate when we die, which for most people is a one-time experience!
This book is therefore intended to be helpful to both NDErs and anyone simply interested in the phenomenon. NDE books and reports have been shown to change the way in which the population as a whole views dying. In these perilous times, I believe an accurate comprehension of what to expect at death is vital. What a society believes about death decides how it approaches life and living it, and has done so throughout history. An individual’s personal belief about death and the afterlife fires up the destructive actions of suicide bombers, and at the other end of the scale it motivates the compassionate work of people such as Mother Teresa.
Because of my concern for returnees, I will at times speak as if addressing them directly. For example: ‘You may have been given an option to return…’ If you are not a returnee, and of course most of us are not, please simply translate this as something that can happen to NDErs. Hopefully, context will make it clear who is being addressed.
However, if you have had an NDE, be aware that you are part of a very large group. There are millions of others like you! Based on an earlier respected Gallup Poll 2 and other investigations, there are likely to be at least 16 million adult NDErs in America alone, and 350 million worldwide! (These are conservative estimates based on a number of researches – see Statistics section in Appendix).
Only a small proportion (around 18% 3) of those who have revived from death have had NDEs; nevertheless the total number of NDE returnees grows daily at a staggering rate. It is beyond reasonable doubt nowadays (though there are still sceptics!) that NDEs demonstrate that a person’s consciousness and spirit survive after physical death – the evidence of 16 million adult American witnesses is overwhelming. Many of these witnesses are regarded as being of the highest integrity, and include a significant number who are medically or scientifically trained to evaluate evidence objectively. Others have no reason to claim an NDE, such as celebrities who are already rich and famous and who risked being scorned. Elizabeth Taylor, Sharon Stone, Peter Sellers, Burt Reynolds, Chevy Chase, Goldie Hawn, Eric Estrada, Larry Hagman, Jane Seymour, Donald Sutherland, Tony Bennett, Nikki Sixx and others are in this category.
If you are part of the greater proportion of NDErs who enjoyed profoundly pleasant experiences, yours have been sublime, but probably also confusing, which may have made a return to your previous life and lifestyle challenging.
If you are part of the lesser proportion of NDErs who have had unpleasant experiences, these too may be confusing. Be encouraged, most returnees who have had frightening NDEs say they have found positive consequences developing in their lives over time.
Whether your experience was sublime or terrifying, your life will never be the same again.
Even at an early stage of my searching for truth, it struck me that more folk had had this kind of experience than was realised. But in those days people were very hesitant to talk about what had happened to them, and the experience was often kept under wraps. Here is a quote from my cousin about her mother, my aunt:
My mother told me of her own experience – she was under general anaesthetic to sort out cataracts and she found herself floating up by the ceiling looking down. She was desperate to leave and move to the voices that were calling her away – but a much bigger voice interposed and told her it was not her time. She woke up back in her body feeling hugely disappointed and thwarted. I don’t think she ever told Dad – he would have been very hurt that she was so eager to pop off and leave this vale of tears.
Some folk of that era were concerned they might be considered strange, perhaps even mad, were they to tell others, so they tried to deal with their experiences largely alone. In Life after Life, Raymond Moody 4 described NDEs as ‘very widespread, and very well-hidden’. Even today, Dr Mary Neal 5 states that she has had the opportunity of listening to many other people describe their own near-death experiences, and that their stories usually begin with their saying, ‘I never told anyone about it, because I didn’t think anyone would believe me.’ And this hesitation is despite NDEs becoming part of our modern psyche. For example, there are many interviews with returnees on YouTube.
My own experience is that most returnees say little unless asked because of embarrassment, personal confusion or fear of being labelled ‘strange’. However, if prompted, their words flow freely and often with apparent relief. Dr Cherie Sutherland 6, a researcher and an NDEr herself, discovered that ‘when people tried to discuss the NDE, 50% of the relatives and 25% of friends rejected the NDE, and 30% of nursing staff, 85% of doctors and 50% of psychiatrists reacted negatively.’ No wonder returnees prefer not to tell others!
My father was only in his late 40s when he had his heart attack and died. Dad was an intensely practical man who did not attend church and had never spoken to us about spiritual things, and so for him to tell us about life after death as a definite reality carried weight with me.
Later on I discovered that there was a real and indisputable spiritual dimension to life. My training in the sciences at university had not prepared me at all for some rather nasty spiritual events that I had, but ultimately these, along with some positive spiritual experiences, convinced me to become a Christian.
A variety of new and unexpected experiences then invaded my life, including meeting with people of the highest integrity who had had NDEs. These were not dreamers or people who had been on a drug trip or had had hallucinations, but they were utterly reliable witnesses who while dead had visited somewhere else, and whose lives had been changed and enhanced as a consequence. The fruit of their changed lives was a loving and practical contribution made into the lives of others – which I have now come to appreciate to be the most reliable test of a ‘successful’ return to life on Earth.
I’ll recount a few of their experiences, along with other similar ones gathered more recently. But first, I’d like to give readers a reassurance won from considering thousands of NDEs – an NDEr enjoys a freedom from pain and a wonderful feeling of peace at the moment of separation from the physical body. Comments abound such as: ‘No choking or smothering’, ‘A great release into peace’, ‘Just like fainting’, ‘Like a lost breath’, ‘So quick, and painless’ and ‘Quicker and less of an issue than an anaesthetic’.
Chuck, 7 who died during a motorcycle collision with a truck, gives a typical description:
Then all of a sudden I have this warm, very comfortable, wonderful feeling – and it seemed like all the worldly worries just disappeared, and nothing was important anymore. It felt like I slid into this Jacuzzi that was just a perfect temperature and everything felt as wonderful as it could feel to the physical body. And I believe that at that moment I was dead.
He felt so good! His subsequent experiences in the spirit world were so positive, that when he hears nowadays of someone dying, his immediate response is that he is happy for them, because they are now going home to God.
Denis Cooper and his wife Joan ran a Christian Centre ‘on the smell of an oil rag’ on their farm in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in the 1970s. They helped a number of desperate young people, rescuing some who had been on the verge of suicide. Denis’s upright life and good works plus a freedom from addictions stamp him as an impeccable witness. That he provided me with details of his NDE before the term had been popularised makes his recollections ‘untainted’ by modern expectations.
During the Second World War, Denis had the experience of an artillery shell landing nearby and finding himself as a spirit floating high above the devastated trench, thinking to himself as he looked down on the scene, Those men are in a bad way – that is, before making out that one of them was himself, lying in a pool of blood with a chunk blown out of the side of his helmet! An NDEr not recognising his or her corpse lying below is more common than one might suppose. A similar but more recent example happened in the Sunni Triangle, during the Iraqi war that toppled Saddam Hussein. Marcus7 was in a Humvee blown up by a roadside bomb. He too did not at first identify his broken body lying in the road. Floating above the scene and looking at his shattered body below, he thought, ‘I don’t want to go through what that man is going to go through during rehabilitation’. In one sense he was correct, he found his rehab painful and challenging, but he was successful and today is a happy man, enjoying each day of a restored life.
Denis Cooper supplied me with another fascinating example of an NDE. He had recently found their granddaughter, three-year-old Amy, floating face down in the swimming pool, apparently drowned. He and her mother Vicky, a trained nurse, applied mouth-to-mouth and CPR until Amy revived. Later on, the little girl told him, ‘Grandpa, you looked funny jumping into the pool with your watch still on’, which she could not have seen while floating unconscious face down! She also asked him, ‘Where is that doll that was lying in the pool?’ On further questioning, she described what could only have been a view of herself floating there – seen from above. I was impressed. Certainly Amy had no pre-existing concepts of what might have happened to her at death, nor did she, being a child, identify herself as the doll afloat face down below.
Amy’s account impressed me because young children call it as they see it, without bluffing, and I have ever since paid particular attention to what they report, unless it is obvious they are being coaxed or coached in their accounts. Of particular interest to me are the reports of the very young who would not have had time to be enculturated by adult beliefs about NDEs.
Separate studies on children have shown that they describe what they have seen and experienced without embellishment or subterfuge when compared with a similar group of adults recounting experiences. It is therefore fascinating that young children have a startling consistency when relating NDEs, while massive deviations occur when they relate fantasies or dreams. NDEs are not their fantasies nor dreams. In addition, they recount afterlife experiences by describing a similar sequence of events to adult NDEs. Furthermore, most children on return seem to progress with a sense of purpose and direction as they mature, without developing a fear of dying.
Here are a few accounts given by children.
Colton Burpo, as remembered and recorded by his parents Todd 8 and Sonja, gave a description of looking down at his body on an operating table. Colton had been three-years-old at the time of the operation, but had turned four by the time this conversation took place. He moved from looking at his body to watching what his parents were doing:
‘But you were in the operating room, Colton,’ I (Todd) said. ‘How could you know what we were doing?’
‘Cause I could see you,’ Colton said matter-of-factly. ‘I went up out of my body and I was looking down and I could see the doctor working on my body. And I saw you and Mommy. You were in a little room by yourself, praying, and Mommy was in a different room, and she was praying and talking on the phone.’
Todd and Sonja Burpo were astounded. How could Todd have possibly known these details, unless he had been looking from above as he claimed?
It is amazing that the youngest of children, even babies, can have an NDE. PMH Atwater 9 is a brilliant and bold researcher of NDEs: consequently, I quote her work often, despite her not sharing my Christian worldview. She describes the case of Robin Michelle Halberdier of Texas City, whose near-death episode took place in a hospital when she was between one and two months of age. Born prematurely, and with Hyaline Membrane disease, Robin was not expected to live. Her recollections years later are given below, but with her adult perspectives and language.
My first visual memory was looking forward and seeing a brilliant bright light, almost like looking directly at the sun. The strange thing was that I could see my feet in front of me, as if I were floating upward in a vertical position. I do not remember passing through a tunnel or anything like that, just floating in the beautiful light. A tremendous amount of warmth and love came from the light.
There was a standing figure in the light, shaped like a normal human being, but with no distinct facial features. It had a masculine presence. The light I have described seemed like it emanated from that figure. Light rays shone all around him. I felt very protected and safe and loved.
The figure in the light told me through what I now know to be mental telepathy that I must go back, that it was not time for me to come here. I wanted to stay because I felt so full of joy and so peaceful. The voice repeated that it wasn’t my time; I had a purpose to fulfil and I could come back after I completed it.
The first time I told my parents about my experience was right after I began to talk. At the time, I believed that what happened to me was something everyone experienced. I told my mom and dad about the big glass case I was in after I was born, and the figure in the light and what he said to me. They took my reference to the glass case to mean the incubator. My father was a medical student at the time, and he had read a book about near-death experiences. From comparing the information in the book with what I told them, they decided that’s what I was describing. My mom told me all of this some years later when I brought the subject up again.
I began attending church at the age of five, and I would look at the picture of Jesus in the Bible and tell my mom ‘that’s who it was in the light’.
I still have many physical difficulties with my health because of being premature. But there is a strong need inside me that I should help others with what death is, and talk to terminally ill patients. I was in the other world and I know there is nothing to be afraid of after death.
Such coherent memories when Robin’s brain was not yet sufficiently formed to record them in this detail are a conundrum for researchers. Some NDEs experienced by babies still in the womb, and only recounted by the returnee years later, pose an even greater puzzle, because the brain should have been far too immature to form memories in such graphic detail. Nonetheless, where medical and other details have been investigated, they have checked out precisely. Personally, I believe that a myriad of NDEs illustrate that consciousness survives death – that the spirit and soul separate from the body and brain at death and receive information directly in the spirit world. Thus this particular difficulty disappears.
Consciousness is therefore the ultimate survivor – beyond atoms and molecules that are left behind at death – beyond our energy cycles – beyond our time and space – in new afterlife venues with their own time, space and elegant physical laws.
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