STORIES OF INDIVIDUAL DEATH EXPERIENCES
Joan, a school principal, was in her forties when an aneurism in her brain ruptured. She was at her school when this happened; she immediately became unconscious. Her brain began to swell and when the paramedics arrived, they noted that she was clinically dead. Joan reported that as the paramedics worked to revive her, she experienced herself moving out of her body and watched them work on her from the top of the room, feeling very peaceful. Then, Joan said, she remembered herself moving toward a light where she saw her mother, who had died some years before. She stated that her mother was dressed in a purple dress and she radiated light and love. Her mother told her “It is not your time. You have two little children. You have to go back”. Joan noted she didn’t want to go back because she was filled with intense feelings of love and peace and joy unlike anything she had ever experienced in the past. All at once, she found herself moving back into her body as the paramedics successfully revived her. Joan reported that this was a life-altering experience. She shared the story with her brother, who found comfort in her story. He asked how old their mother had been and Joan replied that she did not know, but she was beautiful. However, when she shared her experience with her husband, he laughed and did not believe her. Joan, however, said that this experience had profoundly changed her in many positive ways and when her husband continued to ridicule and demean this experience, she left him.
Jake was a truancy officer in a large school system. He developed cancer and endured a number of painful and debilitating treatments which were unsuccessful. As a last ditch effort to help him survive, Jake volunteered to be a subject for an experimental treatment at NIMH. At one point during this treatment, Jake reported that his heart stopped and he was, at that time, according to the staff, clinically dead. Jake remembered leaving his body, watching the doctors as they hovered around him and then, moving toward a light. He also reported experiencing an overwhelming sense of peace, love and joy. When the doctors revived him, Jake indicated he was a different person. Some time later, Jake, who also was a pilot, was flying alone in a single engine plane over the countryside. Suddenly and without warning, the plane’s engine stopped and Jake reported the nose of his plane began to go straight down toward the earth. Jake remembered that before the engine was restarted, he felt no fear at all because his previous experience with death had totally removed all fear of dying. Jake talked about death being such a beautiful and loving experience that he would never again be afraid of dying, and in fact, looked forward to it.
John indicated that he knew that his 70 year old father was dying, so understanding that he had little time left to be with his father, John took leave from his job. For several days, John sat by his father’s bed in the hospital. After several days, John noted his father was getting weaker. One evening, as John continued to sit by the bed, his uncle entered the room. John remembers that his uncle was laughing and obviously happy; walking toward the bed, the uncle reached out his arms to John’s father. In response, his father reached back and when their hands touched, his father died. Just as suddenly, the uncle disappeared. John smiled, adding that his uncle had died many years before this incident, but that he had seen him clearly in this hospital room. “I remember him as old right before he died, but when he came into the room to greet my father, he was younger and looked very healthy.” Although many who die report having those they love come to accompany them to the “other side”, it is unusual for others to see them. John noted that the visit from his uncle helped John to understand that his father was happy and with loved ones, so his experience of loss was much less than it had been in the past when he lost loved ones.
Susan had terminal cancer and had been in the hospital for some time. She had been in a coma for two weeks and her death was near. The day before she died, her husband reported that Susan was acting out having a tea party and was talking to the people she seemed to be serving. The people she spoke to seemed to be friends and loved ones who had died, some many years before. Susan was smiling and seemed very happy, although she did not respond to her husbands’ questions and conversation. She died peacefully the next day.
Tyrone noted that he had been a street alcoholic. No one could stop him from drinking and he was repeatedly picked up for vagrancy and thrown into the D. C. jail. On one occasion, Tyrone said that he vomited in a way that totally closed up his wind pipe and he reported that he died. He, too, reported leaving his body and going toward the light and seeing a religious figure that was radiating such love and acceptance and joy that it changed him. The jail officials noticed that Tyrone had not been breathing and revived him. Tyrone reported that he never drank again. He stated that this experience changed him into a person who cared about others and wanted to do things that would make the world a better place. The experience had happened fifteen years prior to our conversation.