Much has been written about NDE’s since the late 1970’s, following Dr. Raymond Moody’s ground-breaking book on the subject, ‘Life After Life’.
Many have wondered if the reports describing tunnels and lights are genuine experiences, or if they spring from an over-active imagination coloured by previously recorded accounts. This is one of the reasons I set out to research and write my own book, Heaven Knows, which features many pre-Moody accounts.
During this research, I came across an old (pre-Moody) book called ‘Psychic Odyssey’ by Percy W. Cole, in which the author describes his own NDE in 1935. His account includes a feeling of intense exhilaration and joy, the presence of a guide and other souls, a bright light, a desire to remain on the other side, and of particular interest to me, a two-way tunnel!
Mr. Cole was an Englishman residing in Australia. He had made arrangements to have all his teeth extracted. However, a few nights before his appointment, a lady called Dorothea (who was no longer “of this world”) visited him in a dream and warned him that the anaesthetic he was to have for the operation presented a major risk.
While he doesn’t say so, it would seem that Cole dismissed this as nothing more than a strange dream.
When the day for surgery arrived, the dentist and doctor gathered at Cole’s home to perform the operation. (Remember, this was 1935, and in those days it was not unusual for such an operation to be performed in the patient’s own home.)
A mask, sprinkled with ether, was held over Mr. Cole’s mouth and nostrils in preparation for the operation.
While I have included excerpts of this NDE in Heaven Knows, what follows is the full account in Percy Cole’s own words …
Suddenly a doubt came into my mind. Had I done the right thing in having a general anaesthetic instead of having local injections? After all, I had been warned about it. I tried to tell the doctor, but found I could not make him hear. So I closed my eyes and let myself go.
The next time I woke up, I found myself completely out of my body. There were others in the room now, besides the doctor and the dental surgeon. One of these was the lady of my dream, Dorothea.
Realising that I was out of my body completely, I had a feeling that for many years I had not experienced. It was a sensation of intense exhilaration and joy. I can best describe it perhaps, in terms of youth and buoyancy; it was like the early morning on my far-away school holidays, when as a schoolboy waking up prepared to go to school but with reluctance, the faint murmur of breaking waves on a distance beach would steal into my sleepy ears, and I would suddenly remember that I was on holiday. Then the whole morning would take upon itself a new and radiant aspect and it was a pleasure to get up and dress before racing down to the beach.
That was the feeling, that “holidays” were just beginning.
Looking round the room, I stood between the two men, the doctor and the dentist. I could hear their spoken conversation as well as knowing what they were going to say before the spoken word was uttered. It was as if I knew by some process of telepathy.
They were discussing the price that a man, known to the three of us, would get for his house, which he had put up for sale. A certain sum was mentioned, and I took the opportunity to interject with “he won’t get it.” Neither man appeared to hear me.
Dorothea turned towards me and said, “We warned you about this.” Then she went on to say that now that I was on the “other side” she was not at all sure that I would be able to get back again.
I had a look into my own open mouth, as I walked round the table, and saw that the dentists had taken out all the teeth that I wanted removed. Looking at my pallid features, the doctor said that I looked as though I had had about as much as I could stand. Glancing at my corpse-like face, I felt that had there been much more to come, it would certainly have been too much.
At some time when the operation was getting near to its end, I stopped breathing. I could see the concern of the doctor. More than that, I could see what he thought, for all at once it appeared to him that I might slip through his fingers. He said nothing to the dentist but shouted “Breathe, breathe, Mr. Cole”.
I was not in my body but standing at its head, yet somehow I managed to make it breathe.
A great bright light shone on my left, for although the summer sun was shining in at the window from a cloudless sky, it was not nearly as bright as that other light. Near to the door, two people were standing. I could not see them clearly or else it is that I cannot recollect them, but I had the impression they were my deceased parents.
Turning to me, Dorothea told me that it was time I got back. She wasn’t sure, she said again, that I should be able to go back, but added with a smile “You can stay here with us, if you like.”
For a moment only I hesitated. The world and its work seemed so very far away. It would have been lovely to have stayed, but – just at this critical moment – our dog Patch barked as she ran across the lawn below the open window. The sound of that bark from close at hand brought me back to a sense of my responsibilities. I thought of all the trouble I should bring upon my wife and son, if I did not come back.
“No, I mustn’t stay,” I replied, and turned to go.
“You’ll have to put up a fight for it, if you are going to get back,” Dorothea said.
So I turned away from the light, into the darkness of a kind of tunnel. I fought my way against the stream, for a stream of shadows pressed against me as they passed on towards the light.
How long this kept on, I do not know, but at last I saw in the distance a tiny light, just a mere glimmer far away. Struggling against the stream, I pushed my way towards it.
When at last I got there, I found myself in bed, with my wife sitting by my side.
Many years later, Percy Cole returned to England.
While there, he visited a psychic artist.
The resulting portrait of Dorothea was precisely as he remembered her.
(extract from ‘Psychic Odyssey’ by Percy W. Cole, published by Regency Press, England.
No publishing date, but our copy signed and dated by the author on March 14, 1959)
Near-death experiencers often say they met deceased loved ones or saw stunning landscapes while they were flat-lining. If they really do take a peek across the veil, shouldn’t one expect that those dying permanently (if there really is such a thing as ‘dying permanently’) have the same or similar experiences?
One should. And yes, they DO!
There’s one major difference. While NDErs cannot reveal what they saw until they return to life, those who are going through the process of dying often describe what they see as they’re seeing them!
Maggie Callanan and Patricia Kelley each spent more than a decade specializing in the care of the dying, and their excellent book on the subject, Final Gifts, was published in 1992. While countless books have been written about – and numerous research conducted on – near-death experiences, Final Gifts is one of the few devoted solely to deathbed visions, or as they termed it, Nearing Death Awareness.
“A near death experience happens suddenly,” they wrote, “[while] … Nearing Death Awareness develops in people dying slowly… Rather than being in this world one moment, gone from it the next, then jerked back to life, the dying person remains inside the body but at the same time becomes aware of a dimension that lies beyond … [and] apparently drifts between the two.”
During my lengthy research into near death experiences, I came across a few examples of the dying being able to move between two worlds simultaneously. In The Waiting World, (by Archie Matson, 1975) Arline Herrick revealed that her mother said she felt like she was being cradled in love from this world and the next.
“Oh Arline”, she told her daughter, “it’s so strange here, I’m in a ‘never-never’ land. I’m halfway between two worlds.”
Arline reported that her mother lapsed into a coma for three days, but regained consciousness a few hours before she passed and spent those hours talking with her deceased sister, Margaret. Then she turned to Arline and said: “Ma and Pa are here and I can see them, but I can’t see you any more.” She died later that day.
Another woman explained that her husband seemed to be in two worlds at the same time. “He was not only aware of me and talking to me,” she stated, “but he greeted by name some thirty or forty friends and relatives who were waiting for him. The last one was John Moreland, the poet, who had been the best man at our wedding and who had died, unbeknown to him, just two weeks before.”
In the late 1950’s, Dr. Karlis Osis carried out extensive research into the visions of the dying. His study involved 10,000 general practitioners, hospital staff physicians, interns and nurses, and the results were published in his 1961 book, Deathbed Observations of Physicians and Nurses. He discovered that around eight out of every ten dying patients (78.6%) experienced visions during their final days or hours.
The majority of these patients saw deceased loved ones who were waiting to assist them across the divide. In other words, the dying saw dead people!
Of those who were able to communicate the identity of their visitors, almost seven out of every ten (67%) reported being that the visitor was a deceased spouse or a relative – mother, father, child, sibling or other family member. Interestingly — and perhaps not surprisingly — mothers were the most dedicated greeters, outnumbering fathers by five to one. Spouses came in a close second. Two in ten saw religious figures, while the rest welcomed deceased friends, other relatives, or occasionally, strangers.
Shortly before my own grandmother died, she was visited by her long-deceased family doctor who announced that she was dead from her feet to her hips and from her head to her chest. She related this to me in a very matter-of-fact way while sitting in a chair watching a cricket match! She added that he promised to return and collect her when ‘they’ met in the middle.
Presumably, ‘they’ met in the middle a few weeks later when she died peacefully in her sleep. Perhaps some of us still need to make doctor’s appointments in heaven!
Others – both NDEr’s and those who were dying – spoke of seeing heavenly landscapes or ethereal structures!
“The individual may find himself in a meadow or see unusual physical-like structures,” Ring explained following his 1970’s study of near-death experiences. One woman he interviewed tried to describe a building with no walls.
Imagine that, if you can!
During his nde as a result of a heart attack in 1944, world-renowned psychiatrist Carl Jung encountered a temple and observed a Hindu man in a white gown sitting on a stone bench outside the building’s entrance.
Osis reported that a six-year-old boy who was dying of polio spoke of seeing flowers and hearing birds singing. How intriguing that in Dr. Ring’s NDE study, 5 experiencers also reported beautiful flowers, and 4 others recalled lovely music.
Twenty-eight NDE survivors saw a landscape of scenic beauty, but few could find words to describe it. If the following quotes are any indication, the dying have the same difficulty.
As a poet, one might expect Elizabeth Barrett Browning to have an extensive vocabulary, but as she lay on her deathbed in 1861, words apparently failed her. All she could say was: “It is beautiful!”
Carrie Carmen’s dying moments were recorded in an article by her pastor: “…she gazed upward and also exclaimed: Beautiful! Beautiful! Beautiful!”
The wife of the great scientist, Thomas Edison, revealed that her husband whispered from his deathbed, “It is very beautiful over there.”
Moments before the Governor of Massachusetts, John Brooks, passed in 1825, he gradually extended his arm. When asked, “what are you reaching for?” he whispered, “a kingdom!”
Perhaps the final words belong to Apple founder, Steve Jobs. Shortly before he slipped away, Jobs opened his eyes, stared straight ahead, and – according to his sister who was at his deathbed – excitedly uttered:
“Oh wow. Oh Wow! OH WOW!!”
Have you ever been with a dying loved who revealed – either with words or through gestures and facial expressions – that they were seeing or experiencing something? I’d love to hear about it, as my next book will be about deathbed visions and other deathbed-related phenomena. You can leave a comment on this blog, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Next month, I have a few more movies to bring to your attention. I still have lots more to recommend, so I’ll probably need to include a few with each blog over the coming months … or perhaps even throughout the next decade
In the meantime, my book is available for your kindle (or as paperback) at Amazon
Happy New Year! I hope 2017 brings you health, happiness and success in all your endeavours.
I thought I would do something a little different this time. Someone recently asked on facebook about movies that dealt with near-death experiences. Yes, there are many, but listing them on facebook means they’re “here today, gone tomorrow”, so, I decided to list those in my own collection. That way, I can always refer people to this page.
It’s interesting to note how many more movies are being made on this subject recently!
MIRACLES FROM HEAVEN (2016)
Based on the incredible true story. When Christy (Jennifer Garner) discovers her 10-year-old daughter Anna has a rare, incurable disease, she becomes a ferocious advocate for her daughter’s healing as she searches for a solution. After Anna’s freak accident (falling INTO a tree, no less!), an extraordinary miracle unfolds in the wake of her dramatic rescue that leaves medical specialists mystified and the community inspired.
90 MINUTES IN HEAVEN (2015)
This one is also based on a true story from the book written by Don Piper. Following a car crash in 1989, Piper was declared dead and was without a pulse for an hour and a half. When a pastor arrived and began to pray for him, Piper was miraculously returned to life. Yet, following his amazing journey to heaven, he is distraught that he was sent back to a life of incredible pain. As he fights against his recovery, he wonders if there is really any purpose to life and to his return.
HEAVEN IS FOR REAL (2014)
Another one based on the best-selling non-fiction book (and no, this is NOT the book that was declared a fraud! Many confuse it with the book called ‘The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven’). Four-year-old Colton Burpo claims to have visited Heaven during a near death experience. When he recounts the details of his amazing journey and speaks matter-of-factly about things that happened before his birth, things he couldn’t possibly know, his father – a local pastor – is challenged to examine the meaning of this remarkable event.
Love this one! French journalist Marie has a near-death experience during the 2004 Tsunami (and wow, this movie is worth a viewing even if only for the amazing action scenes at the start!). The experience really shakes Marie’s reality. Meanwhile, George (played by Matt Damon) is a blue-collar American with a special connection to the afterlife, and Marcus is a London schoolboy who loses the person closest to him and desperately needs answers. Each one of them is on a path in search of the truth. Their lives will intersect and as a result, be forever changed.
What a beautiful movie! It stars Kevin Costner as a skeptical doctor whose pediatrician wife dies tragically on a mission of mercy in the jungles of South America. Soon, not only do mysterious events make him believe his wife may be trying to contact him from beyond, a few of his wife’s young patients who survived near death experiences return with cryptic messages for him. While he tries to decipher these messages, down-to-earth neighbour Kathy Bates tries to keep his feet on the ground by dismissing them all as nonsense.
SAVED BY THE LIGHT (1995)
Most of us who are interested in this subject know Dannion Brinkley’s story, and here it is in a movie starring Eric Roberts. Brinkley was a mean, loud-mouthed town bully. While talking on the phone one night during a lightning storm, a bolt of lightning struck a telephone pole, traveled down the phone wires and electrocuted him. After being dead for 28 minutes, Brinkley awoke in the morgue and had an amazing story to tell. This is a moving account of what happened to him during his near-death experience, and how it changed his life forever.
Now here’s an obscure little movie you may not have heard about. This one focuses on the intriguing transformations that occur to people following NDE’s. It stars Ellen Burstyn as a woman who experiences the afterlife for a brief time following a car accident. As she begins the long process of physical healing, she discovers she has returned with an ability to heal physical infirmities. While most people simply accept her gift, one man (played by Sam Shepard) becomes aggressive because she refuses to place the healings within a religious context.
I have many more that are not specifically about near-death experiences but the afterlife, and I’ll detail them in a later blog. But there’s one more I want to include in this selection … is it a movie about the afterlife, or is it about a near-death experience?
THE FIVE PEOPLE YOU MEET IN HEAVEN (2004)
Written by Mitch Albom (author of Tuesdays With Morrie) this delightful movie stars Jon Voight and Ellen Burstyn. On his 83rd birthday, Eddie (Voight) — a war vet and a maintenance worker at the Ruby Pier amusement park — dies while trying to save a girl who is sitting under a ride that’s about to fall. When he awakens in the afterlife, he encounters five people who help him understand the meaning of his life.
That’s it for my collection of near-death experience movies. Maybe one day (in my dreams!) they’ll make a movie about my book, Heaven Knows.
Do you know of any other movies that include nde’s? I’d be delighted – as I’m sure others would – to hear about them. (You can enter your comment at the very bottom of this page under ‘Leave a reply’.)
In my next blog, I’ll list my collection of afterlife movies (there’s lots!), and perhaps (eventually) those on reincarnation as well.
Early in 2013, I wrote the first paragraph of a book about the afterlife, near-death experiences, about people who had died and been resuscitated prior to Dr. Moody’s ground-breaking 1975 book, Life After Life and the research that has been going on in this field for decades.
It was a book that had been conversing with me inside my head for almost a year. Fortunately, no-one knew this, otherwise I might have been invited to become a resident of the Sunny Valley Home for the Chronically Bewildered, and the book would never have been written. (Although it’s possible I’d have remained considerably saner if that had occurred!)
The truth is, I almost discarded the whole project after two psychics gave me the bad news!
Months before I wrote the first line, I had removed 30 or 40 dusty old books from my bookshelf, re-read each one carefully and scrawled copious notes. By the time I’d finished, every book was fringed with yellow post-it tabs and my scribbled notes filled three lined notepads.
At last, I was ready to start writing.
The words came tumbling out and my fingers could barely keep up. Sometimes. At other times, I spent hours searching through notes to find ‘just the right quote’ or details of a specific incident.
Day after day, month after month, I kept going, and it was almost finished when an old friend, Rhonda, phoned. Now, those of you who have read my book will already be well-acquainted with my amazing psychic friend, Rhonda.
“The book’s not ready!” she told me in the middle of a conversation about something altogether different. “It’s not finished.” Rhonda never ceased to amaze me – she didn’t even know I was writing a book!
“Er…no, it’s not yet, but… um, almost.” I stuttered.
“Nowhere near!” she insisted. “Lots more to do.”
“But Rhonda, I…..”
“Two years!” She interrupted. “It won’t be ready for two years.”
Two years? I’d spent almost a year on this book and it was already way longer than I’d planned. I couldn’t possibly add more!
“You can research, you can collate, but there’s a lot more to add. And don’t ask me what. You know I only repeat what ‘they’ tell me.”
“Hmmm, ok.” I said with a sigh, determined to complete it in the next few weeks, regardless of her grim counsel.
For the next few days, my mind kept replaying those words. “It won’t be ready for two years.” Rhonda had always been eerily accurate with her predictions.
The step at the back door had always been my ‘thinking-place’, so I positioned myself there that evening and begged the universe to provide confirmation—or hopefully, otherwise— of Rhonda’s warning.
The following day, an acquaintance welcomed a new facebook friend to her timeline. Shirley described herself as a psychic. “Hmmm,” I thought. “I wonder.” Apart from Rhonda, I had never been very trusting of psychics. I made the decision to dismiss her presence on my computer screen as mere coincidence if she lived more than a few miles away.
She lived less than a few miles away! I made an appointment.
At the end of my amazing reading with Shirley, the book had not even been mentioned. Well, that was hardly surprising. Apart from Rhonda – who only knew because ‘they’ had told her— very few people were aware I was writing it. This time I was desperate enough to ask outright while also taking care not to give too much away.
“And … the book?” I almost whispered.
Shirley sat in silence for a few minutes. Then she said: “Not yet.”
I find it amusing, daunting and amazing to listen to the recording of this reading today. Her ‘not yet’ is followed by a long period of silence and I can still feel the emotions pulsing through me at hearing those words, still recall how my mind was spinning as I tried to decide whether to pursue the matter.
Eventually, I asked “How long?” More silence followed before Shirley said “They’re telling me two years.”
The loud thump of my fist slamming down on the table can be easily heard on the CD. Thanks, universe!
I spent the following week staring at a blank computer screen, wondering what else I was meant to write. Whatever it was, it would apparently take a further two years! What I had written so far— what I thought was a complete book— had taken less than a year! I decided this book must be destined to become the biggest book in the history of publishing!
As a distraction, I started cleaning out my study. Let’s face it, almost anything is better than staring at a blank computer screen. In the process I found my old journals! I hadn’t seen my journals since I’d packed them away before moving house sixteen years earlier.
Not only am I a regular journaler, I’m also an incurable hoarder. This meant I had years and years (and even more years) of journals stacked in a box. And – as almost anything also beats cleaning up a room instead of looking at a blank computer screen – I took time-out to sit down with a coffee and flick through them.
When I came to the journal labelled 1987, I almost skipped it. 1987 had been a distressing year. It was not one I wanted to dwell on, but something compelled me to open it. As I began to read bits and pieces, I realized that finding these journals was no accident.
I spent the next few weeks reading everything I had written over a ten year period. When I’d finished, I knew how the book needed to be changed. I returned to my computer, removed 21,000 words, put them aside for book 2, and started all over again, including many of my journal entries about my own doubts and fears.
Shirley’s reading took place on May 15, 2014, Rhonda’s a few days earlier.
In August, 2016, I finished my book. Either I was three months late, or Rhonda and Shirley were both three months out in their predictions.
On November 5, 2016, Heaven Knows, sub-titled A Personal Journey in Search of Evidence, was loaded to Amazon.
Tomorrow I start on book 2.
Hey, I’m not getting any younger, and there are at least three more books on the subject rattling around inside my head. (It’s a busy place in there!)
And they say writing a book is easy! Ha!
“I don’t believe it!”
That was all cardiologist Dr. Michael Sabom could say in 1976 about the recently-published book, Life After Life when psychiatric social worker Sarah Kreutziger brought it to his attention.
Dr. Sabom was an enigma. A scientist to the core of his being, he was also a regular church-goer who accepted the church’s doctrines of an afterlife because he believed they helped guide proper behaviour. At the same time, he recognized that faith was totally subjective and unscientific, and insisted there were “no such things as inexplicable phenomena, but merely scientific facts waiting to be discovered.”
When colleague Sarah Kreutziger accepted an invitation to do a presentation of Moody’s book at their local church, she asked Dr. Sabom to participate. He was reluctant, but eventually agreed to be available at the presentation to deal with any medical questions the audience might have.
Kreutziger loaned him her copy of the book. He read it, but remained unconvinced. He later wrote in Recollections of Death: “My indoctrinated scientific mind just couldn’t relate seriously to these ‘far-out’ descriptions of afterlife spirits and such.”
Kreutziger appears to have been very persuasive. She suggested that in preparation for the talk, it might be helpful if they both conducted surveys of hospitalized patients who had survived a medical crisis. He was convinced no-one would report such an experience, but at least he would be able to tell the audience with a sense of satisfaction that: “We asked!”
The third patient Dr. Sabom interviewed turned his world upside down!
“To my utter amazement,” he wrote, “the details matched the descriptions in Life After Life. I was even more impressed by [the patient’s] sincerity and the deep personal significance her experience had had for her.”
Of course, before revealing her secret, this woman initially needed to be convinced that this curious doctor was not “an underground psychiatrist posing as a cardiologist.” In those days, people who experienced an NDE rarely, if ever, told their stories to anyone for fear of being dismissed as crazy. Until Dr. Moody’s book became a world-wide success, most presumed their experience had been unique to them.
Life After Life gave them permission to say “Yes! That’s what happened to me, I’m not the only one!”
Sabom thought often about that first NDE he heard, and of the woman whose life had been changed by it. Little did he realize that his own life was also about to change dramatically.
Uncomfortable with the unscientific manner in which Moody’s data had been collected and analyzed, he contacted Sarah again and together they designed a scientific study with rigorous guidelines. This study commenced only a few months after the initial publication of Life After Life and continued for five years.
It took many more interviews before Sabom was convinced. For years, he insisted that NDEs were “near” death experiences, not “after” death experiences, and therefore doubted they had anything to do with the afterlife.
In The Light Beyond (Moody and Perry, 1988) Sabom wrote: “I can’t tell you at what point I believed that this was really occurring. It took a lot of people with NDEs. But when they all started telling basically the same story… the first thing that went through my mind with these people was: ‘You have read Raymond Moody’s book, haven’t you?’”
Then he added: “And the patients hadn’t!”
While Sabom and Krutziger were conducting their studies in Florida, 2,000 kilometers north, in Connecticut, a young psychologist was going through a period of soul-searching.
Kenneth Ring was feeling spiritually adrift. While volunteering his services in a convalescent home in the hope of absorbing the wisdom of some older, wiser person, he chanced to read Life After Life.
Ring’s interest in altered states of consciousness had already brought the work of Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross to his attention, who had provided him with an awareness of NDEs before Moody’s book was even written. He therefore had no argument with the contents of Life After Life. In fact, he was inspired by it.
But, like his colleague in Florida, he was also aware that a more scientifically structured study would strengthen these findings. He designed a series of questions that Dr. Moody had not addressed.
Not surprisingly, these questions were almost identical to those Dr. Sabom was asking in Florida.
- How common were these NDE’s? Did everyone who came close to death go through this process, or only a few?
- Were NDE’s the same for those who died as a result of an accident, suffered serious illness, or attempted suicide?
- Did NDE’s only happen to those who believed in an afterlife, and did faith contribute to the imagery in these experiences?
- What were their social, educational and professional backgrounds?
Ring secured the names of 102 patients aged between eighteen and eighty-four who had survived a close call with death or had been resuscitated from clinical death.
During the thirteen months he spent interviewing these survivors, he heard NDE reports from 49 of them, which was almost half this sample. The remaining 53 survivors did not recall experiencing an NDE, but were still interviewed to serve as a ‘control’ group.
Meanwhile, back in Florida, Sabom and Kreutziger interviewed 116 people, and after dismissing those who had voluntarily come forward to report their nde’s, 78 participants remained. Of these, 34 (about 44%) reported a near death experience.
In 1977, Drs. Moody, Ring and Sabom met at the University of Virginia, along with medical sociologist John Audette, Bruce Greyson (Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioural Sciences of the University of Virginia) and other interested health professionals.
When the group convened, it was clear that both health care professionals and experiencers alike could benefit greatly from an organization dedicated to the research and education of NDEs. Such an organization could offer informational and networking support.
This core group formed the Association for the Scientific Study of Near-Death Phenomena, which changed its name to the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS) in 1981.
“Call the mobile vet! NOW!!” I shouted.
Nikki, our Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, had been a cherished family member for just six years, but the cancerous lump on her side had grown rapidly in recent weeks.
She never complained, but on this particular afternoon she staggered into the kitchen, collapsed on the floor and yelped loudly. I fell to my knees and stroked her head, assuring her that everything would be ok. I knew her time had come.
The vet arrived thirty minutes later. While he prepared the injection, I grabbed her bag of canine chocolate drops. I had always restricted her to just a few at a time, but for this greedy little princess, a few had never been enough.
I knelt beside her and held the treat close to her nose. She raised her head slowly and gobbled it up, her enormous brown eyes shining with excitement. At any other time she would have leapt to her feet and wagged her tail. Now, lifting her head was the best she could do.
The vet joined us on the floor at Nikki’s tail-end. I turned my back on him, focusing on her beautiful face, placing chocolate drops in her mouth one at a time and watching her gobble them up with delight. Her eyes never left my face, nor mine hers.
For a brief moment, it occurred to me that I had already given her far too many! Then I remembered what was happening behind me and kept popping them into her mouth, talking softly to her as I did.
As she stretched her sweet head forward to reach for the tenth treat, she slowly closed her eyes. I cradled her head and gently lowered it to the floor.
Then I cried for a long time.
Barry buried her in the back yard, and I agonized over whether I had made the right decision. I knew she could not have recovered, but was it the right time? I had learnt that people had “a time”, but did these same rules apply to dogs? I didn’t know. I only knew she had been in pain and I couldn’t let her suffer.
Three days later, I crouched next to her grave and began to weed around it in preparation for a small headstone. Suddenly, a small bird swooped down and collided with my head.
“Strange,” I thought. We regularly fed magpies and butcher birds in our yard, and other birds rarely trespassed. They certainly didn’t dive-bomb us! Even magpies – known for their aggressive behaviour –took food gently from our hands.
I continued weeding when another bird did the same, and I wondered if I was too close to a nest. I looked around. There were no trees nearby where nests might be.
I took the hint and moved away, sitting on a step nearby to watch and wait.
The birds remained on Nikki’s grave for ten or fifteen minutes. They didn’t chirp. They didn’t scratch around looking for worms. They stood, silent and still, staring at me as I stared back at them. I was instinctively aware that something unusual was happening, but at the time I had no idea what it might be
Birds have long been considered “messengers of death”. There are numerous superstitions surrounding this partnership. My Irish grandmother always shivered if she heard a bird sing after dark. “Aaach, someone just died!” she’d announce. Many times she was right, but of course, someone probably died every minute of every day.
My grandmother also accepted, without question, that a bird tapping on the window brought news to the household and often predicted the death of a loved one.
The Irish do love their superstitions!
However, the Irish were not the only ones with supernatural notions about birds. Even the eminent psychiatrist Carl Jung recognized them as encapsulating the archetype of transcendence and rebirth, and Jung was certainly not Irish!
A wide range of cultures throughout history believed birds were symbolically connected with death. In Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Nordic and American Indian mythologies, birds were said to serve as spirit guides, messengers who were able to fly between the worlds of the living and the dead and assist the departed on their journey.
Even today, many cultures view birds as psychopomps – a Greek word meaning a creature that escorts newly-deceased souls from earth to the afterlife. (Psycho=soul, Pompos=escort)
But psychopomps are not restricted to escorting the deceased to the spiritual realms. Historically, birds were also credited with helping to bring newborn souls into this world. The legend of the stork delivering the baby no doubt grew out of this ancient belief.
Psychopomps are also believed to act as messengers between worlds. Renowned American naturalist and explorer Ernest Ingersoll wrote in his 1923 book, Birds in Legend and Folklore: “the belief in the supernatural wisdom and prophetic gift in birds is … based on the almost universal belief that they are often the visible spirits of the dead.”
Is this why the bereaved often notice birds – especially those that have special meaning for the departed – acting in a surprising or unusual way?
This occurred to me shortly after my mother’s passing. She had often voiced regret that the kookaburras we heard laughing merrily in the distance never came close enough to be fed.
One morning, shortly after her passing, our first kookaburra appeared on the railing around our deck and waited patiently to receive a tasty morsel. Since then, his entire family regularly come to take food from our hands. Is that a coincidence?
While birds are universally recognized as psychopomps, they’re not alone. The veil between worlds is thinner for most creatures than it is for us. Wolves, dragonflies, cats and dolphins are among many that have earned reputations as messengers from the spirit world.
Of course, I didn’t know any of this as I sat on the step, waiting for these annoying feathered creatures to move away. I had never heard the word ‘psychopomp’. I just wanted to get on with my weeding.
I was almost ready to give up when the two feathered guards flew away. Somehow, I knew they wouldn’t bother me again. I was right.
Perhaps, three days after the lethal injection, it had finally been Nikki’s “time”, and her escorts had been waiting to take her on her final journey.
At least, I like to think so.
Have you ever encountered a psychopomp? Has one appeared to escort a dying loved one or come to comfort you after their passing? If you have a psychopomp story, I’d love to hear about it.
Hands up those who would rather be alive than dead.
But wait. There are a few in the back row who didn’t raise their hands. Why not?
Ah! That’s because they’ve already been there! Let’s indulge in a little time-travel so we can talk to them.
First, we’ll head back to the 1950’s and bring Dorothy to the stage. Dorothy contracted polio as a child and spent most of her life in an iron lung.
“As I died,” Dorothy begins, “my attention was drawn to a bright light … I found myself in a new world … everything was joyful. I could walk again! My muscles could do what I wanted them to do, and I felt completely happy, no pain, no restrictions, all light and gay. I was so pleased to leave my worn-out shell behind me and be free.”
Then she adds: “A voice – the sweetest I have ever heard – spoke from the light and said: ‘No, Dorothy, I am sorry but it is not time yet. You have more to do.’”
A low murmur fills the hall. Everyone questions what a woman confined to an iron lung could possibly do. Alas, Dorothy can’t share this secret with us, because the nurse rushes to her bedside and successfully resuscitates her.
Hoping to find answers, we travel further back in time to hear from geologist Arthur E. Yensen, who died in an automobile accident in 1932. A skeptical mine geologist, Arthur was amazed to find himself back in what felt like was his “real home”.
“I met a group of loving beings on the other side,” he tells us, “and I confessed to them that on earth I felt like a visitor, a misfit and a homesick stranger.”
But then, one of Arthur’s new friends dropped a bombshell: “You have more important work to do on earth, and you must go back and do it.”
“Like a kid having a tantrum, I kicked and screamed and begged.” Yensen confesses. “Oh no, not back to that horrible place! Let me stay, let me stay.”
“One of my new friends explained that earthly life is not supposed to be happy: ‘We call it a miserable preliminary,’ he told me, adding that ‘if you find any joy in it you are just that much ahead.’”
“All my protesting did no good.” Arthur adds sadly. “I would have stayed, but someone bigger than I was running the universe.”
Now, Arthur has also departed and we still don’t know why we’re here. Will we ever understand?
Let’s try Mrs. Conant, who died of an overdose of medication prescribed by a doctor who was “… at the time, unfortunately, under the influence of stimulants”.
Fasten your seatbelts, because we’ll need to travel all the way back to 1873.
“I met my deceased mother!” Mrs. Conant announces with delight, “When she told me I had to return, I wept and begged to be allowed to stay. Mother gently but firmly told me that I had yet a mission to perform.”
A mission? This was starting to sound serious! Sadly – or happily, depending on your point of view – Mrs. Conant was also revived before she could provide an answer.
Since we’re already in the 19th century, why not call on Dr. Wiltse. He died of typhoid fever in 1889. Perhaps he can shed some light on this mystery.
Dr. Wiltse took an unusual route to heaven. He walked along a road!
“Eventually,” he recalls, “I came upon three large rocks blocking my way, and I paused to consider what I should do. Instantly, a large cloud moved into position over my head and I became aware of an awesome presence within it.”
The cloud told him: “If your work was to write the things that have been taught you, waiting for mere chance to publish them, if your work was to talk to private individuals in the privacy of friendship – if this was all, it is done, and you may pass beyond the rocks.”
“I was relieved,” he admits, “and I moved to pass beyond the rocks, but the cloud continued: ‘If however, upon consideration, you conclude that it shall be to publish as well as to write what you are taught, if it shall be to call together the multitudes and teach them, it is not done and you can return into the body.’”
Finally, a clue! Or is it?
Having already died once, Dr. Wiltse reasoned that “if I go back, soon or late, I must die again. If I stay, someone else will do my work and so the end will be as well and as surely accomplished. Again I began to step past the large rock, but … a smaller cloud appeared in front of me and I instantly knew I was going to be stopped. I found myself growing weak and unable to move. Then I lost consciousness.”
Surely we’re not all meant to write books or teach the multitudes!
Dr. Bruce Greyson, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioural Sciences of the University of Virginia, has conducted numerous studies over four decades on the near-death experience.
He states: “The realization that we each have a mission or purpose was a common theme among survivors. While acknowledging that each person’s mission may not be earth-shattering or news-worthy, experiencers understood that it was crucial for each of us to complete our allotted tasks.”
Allotted tasks sounds far less daunting than missions!
Writing a book or teaching the multitudes may be the ‘allotted task’ for a few, but our purpose is likely to be something far more challenging, like learning patience, humility or forgiveness, or offering light to help someone find their way through a dark world.
“On earth I felt like a visitor, a misfit and a homesick stranger.” Arthur E. Yensen reminds us. Many feel that way.
A few months after the publication of Life After Life, Dr. Moody suddenly realized with horror that his book may have been responsible for a spate of suicides. After all, the accounts he quoted had painted the ‘other side’ as a place full of love and understanding, and where those like polio sufferer Dorothy could run and jump without restriction.
He need not have worried. Research has since revealed that most people who experience an NDE following attempted suicide rarely make another attempt. They return with the understanding that we’re here for a specific time and purpose and recognize that if we don’t honor that purpose, we’ll have to do it all over again.
“If I stay,” Dr. Wiltse considered in 1889, “someone else will do my work and so the end will be as well and as surely accomplished.”
He was wrong. As Arthur E. Yensen reminded us after the failure of his own heavenly tantrum: “Someone bigger than I was running the universe.”