“What happens after death is so unspeakably glorious that our imagination and feelings do not suffice to form even an approximate conception of it.” —Carl Jung
The term near-death experience was popularized in the best-selling book Life After Life by Raymond Moody, Ph.D., M.D. This book was a favorite of mine and of my late husband Bill. I have always had a strong interest in NDEs because I heard so many stories about them when I was working as a Trauma Stress Specialist. People who had experienced an NDE always did so during incredibly stressful moments, moments when they were clinically dead, and yet they spoke of the wondrous things that had happened during the experience and the lasting beneficial effects the incident had on them in spite of the physical pain and suffering that often provoked the experience. One of the reasons Bill had a strong interest in the subject was that he had his own near death experience in 1961.
Bill’s experience began when the vehicle he was riding in hit a light pole. He was thrown through the windshield and landed on his head on the pavement. Bill suffered serious burns to his back from lying on the scorching hot pavement (It happened in Fresno, CA, on a day when the temperature was 110 degrees) and a portion of his skull was crushed. When Bill’s skull hit the pavement, he suffered a traumatic brain injury. He also ceased breathing for a period of time, his heart stopped beating, and he had to be resuscitated. The near-death experience happened while he was being taken to the hospital. Although he was successfully resuscitated within 10 minutes, the injury to his brain caused him to remain in a coma for several weeks.
When Bill first regained consciousness, he did not recognize his family; he found it hard to speak and couldn’t read (words on his get-well cards appeared to be just lines and shapes with no meaning to him). He required nearly a year to recover to the point where he was able to function well enough to resume his regular activities. He had a miraculous recovery in most ways but he was left with a few issues including the following deficits that are common to people with traumatic brain injury (TBI): impulsive behavior; dis-inhibition; occasional poor judgment; and difficulty understanding the effect his statements or behavior had on others. The oddest thing, however, is that he did not have many of the other traits common in people with a TBI including verbal outbursts; physical outbursts, negativity, intolerance, apathy, depression, anxiety, or lack of empathy. In fact, quite the contrary was true. When Bill came out of the coma, he felt blissful and completely at peace with the world.
In spite of the daunting task that his recovery represented, Bill felt better than he had ever felt before in his life. He was excited about working hard to recover; he felt tremendous love for everyone who was helping him, and for his family; he felt an interest in spiritual matters that he had never had before; and he felt a sense of purpose in life that was totally new to him. Most importantly, he had lost all fear of death, a fact that remained true right up to and through his death in March of 2017.
I asked Bill once if it was worth the trauma of the accident and its lasting effects to have experienced the NDE. He insisted it was totally worth it. His glimpse of the Other Side during the NDE had a far more profound effect on his life than did the deficits caused by the injury. The changes that resulted from the NDE had one more effect as far as I am concerned. The traits that Bill manifested after the NDE: his wonderfully friendly nature; his love of the spiritual side of life; and his tremendous ability to love were exactly the traits that attracted me to him and are a big part of the reason I chose to spend my life with him. Those qualities were far more important than the difficulties caused by the remaining deficits.
Without exception, the people I worked with in my trauma counseling days that had experienced NDEs agreed with Bill. Every one of them considered the event that led to the NDE as well as any lasting physical disabilities that resulted to be well worth the experience. This was true even when the original incident or illness led to permanent physical injuries including a man who had lost an arm, a person with partial paralysis, and a person with almost total loss of visual acuity. Because of the stories these survivors of near-death experiences told me, I was thrilled when I read Dr. Moody’s first book on the subject of NDEs. I would have loved to experience what these case histories in the book as well as my own clients had described to me but, unlike the characters in the film, Flatliners, which told the fictional story of medical students who induced near-death states in each other so they could have the experience of an NDE, I wouldn’t have been ready to take such a risk.
Recently I discovered one of Dr. Moody’s more recent books called Glimpses of Eternity. The book describes first-hand accounts by family and friends of dying people about what happened when they were sitting at the bedside of their loved ones as their death occurred. The events described often occur in a hospice setting when family members are sitting with the person during his or her process of dying through the ultimate death. The book contains case histories of how the observers were swept into the first moments of their loved one’s journey from this life to the next. The experience of being swept along approximates many of the same features as a near-death experience without the need to return to a damaged body that was on the brink of death. Dr. Moody calls these “shared death experiences. While being present for the death of a loved one can be both wonderful and a bit frightening and filled with a sense of loss at the same time, it is a far more confortable way to get a glimpse of eternity than having a near-death experience of your own. The opportunity to participate in a loved one’s final hours is a rare event for most of us however.
The jacket of the book describes the contents as follows: Glimpses of Eternity is the first book to talk about this beautiful aspect of our spiritual connections with one another. Entire families gathered for a loved one’s passing all see a bright light from an unknown source. Some witness a gentle mist rising from an unknown source. Others tell of accompanying a family member halfway to heaven. A woman recounts experiencing a film-like review of her spouse’s life and learning things she could never have known otherwise. The stories in Glimpses of Eternity are at once surprising and soothing. They offer comfort and hope, and shed new light on the mysterious journey we take at life’s end.
I wish that I had read the book sooner and been able to discuss it with Bill before his death. Maybe he could have taken me along for part of the ride. I do know that Bill’s own NDE left him with no fear when it was his turn to go. That alone was priceless. Because he was relaxed and unafraid, he was able to experience great excitement about the journey ahead as his death approached. Because he was unafraid, the family members who were present for the death were able to share his excitement and pleasure in the amazing transition he knew he was about to make without our own fear of the unknown intruding on a wonderful moment.
I know that there are a few people who find my interest in this subject morbid (at least one of those people is a close relative who has no problem telling me how morbid it is.). But for those of us who are in, or who are willing to confront that they will someday be in the final fifteen percent of our lives here on Earth, the subject can be one of strong interest. Death will happen to all of us someday, whether we are prepared or not, and I prefer to be prepared. After all, it is far easier to make the final fifteen percent of our lives more fulfilling when we aren’t faced with the specter of a frightening event in our future. I hope that the day will come when death is as exciting and as welcome an event as birth. Both are wonderful transitions into a new state of life and both can be treated with a joyful attitude in most cases. And I do recognize there are some cases when death is much harder to visualize as joyful. When someone dies at a very young age, it is good to feel certain that our loved one is going to a wonderful place, but that is unlikely to outweigh our sense of loss at the shortness of our time together here on Earth.
I’ve started reading a new book now called Induced After Death Communication: A Miraculous Therapy for Grief and Loss by Allan Botkin, Psy.D. As a Trauma Stress Specialist who has spent thousands of hours doing trauma counseling and who likes to stay current on new books in my field of interest, this book is quite an experience to read. The author, a clinical psychologist who has worked with veterans and others who have experienced severe traumas, describes the techniques in the book as follows: Induced After Death Communication (IADC) is a therapy for grief and trauma that has helped thousands of people come to terms with their loss by allowing them the experience of private communication with their departed loved ones.
The most exciting part of the book is that it encourages us to realize that death does not have to end our connection to our deceased loved one: it shows that we need to change the nature of that connection but that we can maintain it to a degree here on Earth and then have it fully restored when we rejoin the person on the Other Side. I have heard some exciting things about the results my fellow trauma specialists are having with this technique and I’m anxious to experience it myself. I’ll let you know in a future post how my experience unfolds.