“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.”
“That’s the one with the beard,” Katie told her mother.
Katie was only 7 when she drowned in a swimming pool in 1982. No-one knew how long she had been underwater, but she was no longer breathing when she was eventually noticed and rushed to a nearby hospital.
Based on the report by ambulance personnel, she had been clinically dead for at least fifteen minutes. Probably more.
Fifteen minutes! Clinically dead!
A CAT scan revealed massive swelling to Katie’s brain. With no gag reflex and an artificial lung machine to breathe for her, no-one expected her to survive, least of all the young paediatrician who attended her, Dr. Melvin Morse.
Remarkably, Katie made a full recovery within three days. Even more remarkably, she was able to recall a number of events that had occurred throughout the period of her ‘death’.
On meeting Dr. Morse for the first time, she told her mother: “That’s the one with the beard. First there was this tall doctor who didn’t have a beard, and then he came in.”
Morse confirmed this, and agreed that subsequent statements made by Katie were also uncannily accurate.
How is this possible?
We all look at the world through our physical eyes. We take this for granted, but evidential accounts like Katie’s – and there are thousands – suggest that our eyes are merely a camera lens, a tool we use to view this dimension.
Neuroscience tells us that our brain interprets what we see with our eyes. But if the brain dies with the body – and we know it does – how do those who have NDEs interpret what they see through eyes they no longer have, by a brain that is physically dead?
Who or what is looking out through our eyes?
The strange experiences of New York radio broadcasting president, Robert Monroe, may provide some clues.
In 1958, Monroe developed a strange malady. Whenever he tried to sleep, his body began to shake and vibrate for about five minutes. He subjected himself to a series of medical tests, all of which proved he was perfectly healthy.
Confused but relieved, he took his doctor’s advice to “stop trying to resist it and see what happens.”
These vibrations continued intermittently for several months until one night, while waiting for them to pass, he tried to distract himself by thinking about his hobby. An avid glider, Monroe was looking forward to an upcoming gliding trip and imagined himself soaring through the skies.
Lost in these thoughts, he felt something pressing against his shoulder. He reached behind and felt a smooth surface. Had he fallen out of bed? Looking around, he noticed there was no furniture surrounding him.
It wasn’t the floor!
Monroe looked down (which he initially thought was up!) and saw his bed. He was bouncing gently against the ceiling! To his horror, he noticed another man in bed with his wife! He willed himself to zoom in and take a closer look.
The ‘other man’ was himself!
Monroe insisted on a second series of tests, but again these revealed nothing abnormal. He sought the advice of a psychologist friend, Dr. Bradshaw, who suggested he repeat the experiment if possible.
Shocked, Monroe declared that he wasn’t ready to die.
“Oh, I don’t think you’ll do that,” Bradshaw stated calmly. “Some of the fellows who practice yoga and those Eastern religions claim they can do it whenever they want to.”
Monroe wondered why anyone would voluntarily choose to have such terrifying experiences. He asked his friend what “it” was.
“Get out of the physical body for a while.” Bradshaw explained. “They claim they can go all over the place. You ought to try it.”
Still concerned he may have a mental illness, Monroe searched libraries and bookshops for information. The only books he could find on the subject were religious. These advised him to “pray, meditate, fast, go to church, and absolve sins.”
This merely added to his confusion. Did he qualify for sainthood, or was this the work of the devil?
The next time it happened, Monroe later wrote: “I smoothly floated up over the bed, and when I willed myself to stop, I did, floating in mid-air. After a few seconds I thought myself downward, and a moment later found myself in bed again.”
Finding he had some control, Monroe began experimenting, and took notes after each experience. His book (see below) became a multi-reprinted best-seller and is now considered a classic. It contains numerous verified examples of his travels, along with his efforts – usually successful – to validate each experience.
Monroe (and many more like him) did not have to die to experience this phenomenon, but Burris Jenkins did. Following an explosion on his cruiser in 1957, Jenkins was rushed to hospital. He promptly left his body, looked back at the person occupying his bed, and was most indignant that “the patient tried to identify himself as me!”
“I shuddered away from the thought and ignored it.” He later stated.
This is a common reaction by NDErs when viewing the body from beyond it. An accident victim told Dr. Moody: “I could see my own body all tangled up in the car … I knew it was my body but I had no feelings for it.” (Life After Life)
When Dr. Wiltse died of typhoid fever in 1889, his doctor declared him to have been clinically dead for half an hour and was “as fully as I ever supposed anyone to be dead.”
Remarkably, Wiltse recovered and later recalled that during his ‘time-out’: “the body and I no longer had any interests in common.”
As a medical doctor himself, Wiltse paid close attention to the process of leaving his body, and I’ll be including many of his insights in my upcoming book, Heaven Knows.
The experiences of Dr. Wiltse and others again prompts the question: if we are not our bodies, then who are we?
In an effort to find answers, Robert Monroe collaborated with consciousness researchers including Stanislov Grof, Edgar Mitchell (the 6th man to walk on the moon) and Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, and in the early 1970’s employed professionally qualified scientific and engineering people to help him conduct research acceptable to other scientists.
As a result, the Monroe Institute was established as a non-profit education and research organization. During its first thirty years, over 20,000 people attended its residential program. These included a group that one might not immediately equate with consciousness research – the US military!
The former director of the Intelligence and Security Command of the US Army confirmed in the Wall Street Journal in 1994 that they had sent officers to the Monroe Institute in 1978 and 1983 for out-of-body experience training
The purpose of this would later become known as Remote Viewing – a form of distant surveillance.
Today, the Monroe Institute comprises several buildings in Virginia (US) where it continues to research non-physical realities, out-of-body experiences, and human consciousness.
Perhaps one day we will all recognize that we are not our bodies, but that we merely occupy them in the same way a deep sea diver occupies a diving suit.
Have you had a validated out-of-body experience? If so, I would love to hear about it.
Closer to the Light, Melvin Morse, 1990
Journeys Out of the Body, Robert A. Monroe, 1971
Oh Arline, it’s so strange here.” Arline’s mother commented as she lay dying. “I’m in a never-never land. I’m halfway between two worlds.”
What are we to make of this? Could a dying brain provide Arline’s mother with hallucinations simply to ease her fears? If so, what clever brains we all must have!
Near-death experiences have been the ‘flavor of the month’ for 40 years, yet deathbed visions, which also provide strong veridical evidence, are rarely discussed.
Could it be that dying for real is more threatening for most than the prospect of spending a few minutes checking out heaven during an NDE?
It wasn’t too long ago that family members were shunted out of hospital rooms when their loved ones began making their transition. While I understand the reasoning for this – it was considered far too confronting to witness the dying process of a loved one – such enforced separation not only robbed them of some sense of closure, it also deprived many of the opportunity to share profound insights.
In the nineteenth century and earlier, people appear to have been more aware of the significance of this mystical moment. In those days, most died at home surrounded by loved ones, and their dying words were often written in diaries or bibles and shared with family members who were not present at the time.
When ten-year old Daisy was dying of scarlet fever in 1864, her mother wrote down every word her daughter uttered and published it as a book in 1894.
In Daisy Dryden: A Memoir, we learn that Daisy often spoke of (and to) her deceased brother, Allie:
I do wish you could see Allie,” Daisy said to her mother on one occasion. “He is standing beside you. He says you cannot see him because your spirit-eyes are closed, but that I can, because my body only holds my spirit … by a thread of life.”
Such deathbed statements are not unusual. One of the first books on this subject – appropriately called Death Bed Visions – was a collection of historical accounts gathered by Sir William Barrett, a scientist who was appalled by the Spiritualism craze sweeping the world at that time.
In everyone’s life, however, there comes that moment when beliefs and attitudes are put to the test. Barrett’s moment came when his wife – a distinguished surgeon and gynaecologist – attended Doris, who successfully gave birth but owing to a serious heart condition, could not be saved.
Lady Barrett later related Doris’ final words to Sir Barrett:
“Oh lovely, lovely.” Doris had said, looking up at the ceiling and smiling. When asked what was lovely, she replied: “Lovely brightness, wonderful beings ….”
Doris’ baby was brought to her and she questioned whether she should stay for the baby’s sake, then quickly added “I can’t – I can’t stay. If you could see what I do, you would know I can’t stay.”
While this is typical of death-bed visions and proves nothing, Lady Barrett related one further comment by Doris:
Why, it’s Father!” she announced. “Oh, he’s so glad I’m coming. He is so near!” Then, with a puzzled expression, she added: “he has Vida with him.”
Doris’ mother later confirmed that Doris’ sister Vida had recently died, but the family had agreed not to tell her due to her weakened condition.
This intrigued her skeptical husband and he spent the last two years of his life collecting other accounts from around the world. His book was posthumously published in 1926.
Many assume these visions are merely hallucinations caused by a dying brain, but Karlis Osis,Ph.D, would not agree. Osis conducted research in the late 1950’s and found that when healthy people hallucinated people, they saw living ones, while the visions of the dying were of those who had previously passed. (Deathbed Observations by Physicians and Nurses, 1961)
The highly esteemed psychiatrist and thanatologist, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, made a similar observation. She asked hospitalized children aged five to seven who they would most love to have with them if they could choose, and not surprisingly, 99% replied that it would be their mothers or fathers.
If deathbed visions are merely the mind’s way of providing comfort in the dying hours, then one would expect that these children would hallucinate visions of their parents.
Ah, but then Dr. Ross dropped her bombshell: “In all the many years that we have collected this kind of data,” she wrote in On Death and Dying (1969), “we have never met a child who, in the imminence of their own death, mentioned a person in their family that had not preceded them in death, even if only by a few minutes.”
Ross provided many outstanding examples to illustrate this. One poignant account was of a young girl involved in a tragic car accident with her parents and siblings. The girl suffered life-threatening injuries and Dr. Ross sat beside her to provide comfort as she died.
Suddenly, the girl announced that “everything is all right now. Mummy and Peter are already waiting for me.”
Prior to this, Dr. Ross had neither the courage nor the opportunity to tell the dying girl her mother had been killed in the accident. As the girl’s brother, Peter, had been taken to another hospital, Ross had no information about his condition.
A short time later, Dr. Ross received a call from the other hospital. Peter had died ten minutes before his sister passed.
This experience of being greeted by someone thought to be still alive but later found to have died is so common that it has it’s own label. It is known as a ‘Peak in Darien’ experience. But that’s another story, probably for another blog.
I have collected so many veridical accounts over the years, I could write a book.
Oh, wait a minute, I AM writing a book!
But I can’t resist including just one more intriguing account. This one concerns the second president of the United States, John Adams, who, with life-long friend and occasional adversary, Thomas Jefferson, drafted the Declaration of Independence in 1779.
Once retired, Jefferson lived in Virginia while Adams resided in Massachusetts, but the two men kept in regular contact through letters.
It is sufficiently remarkable that John Adams died on July 4th, 1826 – on the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration he had drafted with Jefferson.
But wait, there’s more!
Moments before taking his last breath, Adams’ eyes opened wide. He stared intently at the foot of his bed, and in the presence of those gathered around he announced:
“Thomas Jefferson …. survives!”
It was not known until later that Jefferson had chosen that same auspicious day to depart this world, beating Adams into the afterlife by just a few minutes.
Had John Adams’ old friend been at his bedside to welcome him over?
What do you think?
You are welcome to leave a comment. The comment link is at the top of this post, just below the title.
“Those who report nde’s are just parroting what they’ve already read or heard.”
WAIT!!! Before you jump through my computer screen, that’s not what I believe!
But it was. Once.
Near-death experiences became such a familiar concept after Life After Life was published in 1975, that these days, phrases like heavenly tunnels, life reviews and beings of light roll of most tongues with ease. It’s tempting to agree with the skeptics and assume that those who say they had an ‘nde’ were already familiar with the concept.
OK, but what about before 1975? Did people have near-death experiences before these accounts were gathered, labelled, catalogued, examined, and subsequently published as a best-selling book?
You betchya! Sorry, skeptics, but we can’t credit Dr. Raymond Moody with inventing near-death experiences!
Ah yes, you say, but were accounts prior to 1975 similar to modern-day accounts?
Absolutely! Throughout history, survivors have described whizzing through tunnels, seeing a bright light and being prevented from entering it. Some were told to “go back, it’s not your time!”
Let’s take a moment to think about this. How likely is it that people who were separated by thousands of miles could make up eerily similar stories? There were no google searches, few if any telephones, and not a lot of local bookshops where they could buy paperback books on the subject!
To satisfy my own curiosity that modern-day nde’s are not merely copycat accounts, I have spent half a lifetime gathering pre-Moody near death experiences, and I am currently writing a book about them. Following are just a few examples I found – can you put names to any of them?
- A world-renowned psychiatrist who died of a heart attack in 1944. In his 1965 memoir, he recalled finding himself high in space and described how the earth looked from his vantage point. Thirty years after his experience, astronauts described identical views. (hint: his name is very youthful – with an accent)
- A high profile American author who was hit by numerous pieces of shrapnel during the first world war. In a letter reproduced in a 1962 biography about him, he described how he felt like “a pocket handkerchief” as he left his body. The incident so deeply affected him that he later had a character in one of his most famous novels have the same experience. (hint: his way was to be a determined writer!)
- A famous admiral and intrepid explorer who died of carbon monoxide poisoning in the 1920’s. He struggled to climb over a wall in a desperate attempt to gain access into heaven. His account was featured in his autobiography, published in 1938. (hint: he made many feathered friends during his shivery journeys)
- A nineteenth century admiral whose nde occurred as a result of almost drowning, and included a detailed life review. His experience was carefully documented by the personal physician to King George IV and was later included in an 1847 memoir by a knighted naval administrator. (hint: the wind scale he invented was named after him, and it is still in use today)
Perhaps the most exciting references to pre-Moody ‘nde’s’ came to my attention when I thought I had exhausted all possibilities. These actually made news around the world this century!
In 2004, Dr. Phillippe Charlier was browsing in a Paris bookshop and came across an old medical book. Published in 1740, ‘Anecdotes de Medecine’ had been written by French military physician Pierre-Jean du Monchaux.
Dr. Charlier purchased it for the equivalent of one dollar.
This battered old book had held its secrets for almost three centuries. One was an account by a man the author referred to as M.L.C and who was described as “one of the most famous apothecaries of Paris.” (Perhaps, like many nder’s today, M.L.C’s fame prompted him to request anonymity for fear of ridicule.)
“M.L.C. had a bad fever in Italy” Monchaux wrote, and he was “cured by French doctors and surgeons using bleedings. After the last bleeding, which was very abundant, he remained unconscious for such a long time that the doctors were worried.”
The patient later declared that “after losing all external sensations, he saw a light that was so pure and strong, he thought he was in paradise. He perfectly remembers this sensation, the most pleasant and beautiful he ever felt in his life.”
Almost 300 years ago, the author compared accounts he collected with those reported by others who had similar experiences, and stated: “Many people of all ages and gender claim to have felt a similar sensation in the same conditions.”
The book’s purchaser, Dr. Charlier, was intrigued. A medical doctor himself, he followed Monchaux’s example and compared these accounts to modern-day reports. Like the original author, Charlier discovered many similarities – indescribable peace, a light so pure and strong it seemed like paradise, pleasant and beautiful sensations, and a clear recall of the event.
Charlier published his findings in the peer-reviewed Journal of Resuscitation.
Were all these people, including M.L.C., merely parroting what they’d heard or read?
If you know of other accounts of near-death experiences published before 1975, I’d be delighted to hear about them – the comment tab is at the top of this blog, under the title.
“Would you have a copy of Life After Life by Dr. Raymond Moody?” I asked the young man at the local bookshop. I was doubtful. More than a decade had passed since it was first published.
“Certainly!” he smiled and pointed to a shelf at the far side of the shop. “You’ll find it in the ‘new age’ section.
Uh oh. The New Age section hardly inspired confidence. It would be somewhere among books about chakra balancing, reincarnation, aura cleansing and channelled messages from Atlanteans!
“Oh, I thought the author was a doctor.” I said dismissively.
“Raymond Moody? He is a doctor. Now. When he wrote Life After Life he was still just a struggling medical student.”
The bookseller was correct. Raymond Moody had, indeed, been a medical student when he wrote his first best-selling book. But he was hardly a struggling one.
He began life as a gifted child, and took his overwhelming thirst for knowledge into adulthood, gaining two doctoral degrees before the age of thirty. His first led to a career as a Professor of Philosophy. He later switched to psychiatry, and on graduation from medical school became a forensic psychiatrist which included dealing with the criminally insane
Eventually, Moody became a prolific author and world-famous lecturer, and came to be affectionately known as ‘The Father of the Near-Death Experience’.
When it came to the existence of an afterlife, Raymond Moody was a skeptic in the truest sense. The word ‘skeptic’ is of Greek origin and means one who suspends judgement while questioning the truth – a far cry from those who label themselves as such today! Moody did not discount the possibility of an afterlife, but he was doubtful.
In 1965, however, his life changed dramatically.
As an undergraduate student of philosophy at the University of Virginia, he was intrigued when one of his professors mentioned psychiatrist and colleague, George Ritchie, who had been admitted to hospital with pneumonia during world war 2. The professor related that Ritchie had been declared dead for 9 minutes, and during that time, he had an ‘interesting experience’.
Shortly afterwards, Ritchie addressed a group of students about his experience, and Moody was in the audience. He found the lecture fascinating and had no doubt Ritchie was an honest person who genuinely believed he had visited the ‘other side’. Nonetheless, he felt certain it must have been hallucinatory.
In a lecture he gave 26 years later, Moody confessed:
“I grew up assuming that death was just an elimination of consciousness. I believed that when you died, it was like the lights go out and you go into an impenetrable blackness and it was like turning off your consciousness, which was very threatening to me because I really do enjoy thinking. I’m a thinking and information junkie to a severe degree.”
Four years later, Moody was teaching philosophy at a university in East Carolina when a student approached him and asked if they could discuss life after death in one of his classes.
“Why would you want to talk about that?” he asked, slightly bemused.
The student explained that he had a bad accident a year earlier, and had died. Then he added: “I had an experience that totally changed my life, and I haven’t had anybody to talk about it with.”
Moody listened with growing excitement for over an hour. The student’s experiences were almost identical to those Dr. Ritchie had described. Was it possible both men had truly taken a glimpse of the other side?
In his autobiography (Paranormal: My Life in Pursuit of the Afterlife, 2013) he recalled thinking: “What are the chances that Raymond Moody would hear the only two cases that exist in the world?”
On the other hand, he considered, was it possible there were others?
Have you ever experienced a moment when a random thought, a chance meeting, a rash decision or a simple change of mind took your life in an entirely different direction to the one you had planned?
For Raymond Moody, that one thought was his moment.
He let it be known he was open to hearing about other heavenly experiences, doubting there would be any response. Imagine his surprise when around one hundred and fifty people – students, parents of students, teachers and friends of teachers – came forward to tell him their stories, all in strictest confidence. Most admitted they had never told anyone for fear of being considered crazy. The few who had tried to discuss it had quickly clammed up after receiving negative responses.
Moody chose fifty of these people for in-depth interviews, and was amazed to hear more commonalities. Many told him they …
- felt peace and serenity at the point of death
- viewed their bodies from above
- traveled rapidly through a tunnel towards a bright light
- experienced a panoramic life review
- were greeted by deceased loved ones, and
- were told they must return, or chose to return
A meticulous researcher and self-confessed “information junkie”, he began to categorize the various stages of what he termed the “near death experience”, or “nde”. When he considered the implications of the information he had gathered, he knew it was time to put his findings on paper.
Years earlier, my bookseller had dismissed Moody as “just a struggling medical student”, leading me to believe it was a sensationalized book written merely to make a quick buck. The truth was very different.
The first publisher Moody approached demanded it be re-written as fiction to make it more sensational.
“That’s not going to happen!” Moody stated emphatically, and took it to a small publisher. The owner of Mockingbird Press happily accepted it, certain it was going to be a big seller. “I’ll bet it sells as many as ten thousand copies!” he told Moody excitedly.
Moody later wrote in his autobiography ‘Paranormal: My Life in Pursuit of the Afterlife‘: “I had stars in my eyes at the thought of ten thousand people reading my book!”
This “innocuous little paperback” hit the bookshelves in late 1975. To everyone’s surprise, the printers could not keep up with the overwhelming demand for copies.
- The Mockingbird Press edition of Life After Life was reprinted four times in six months.
- The Bantam edition followed in 1976 and required no less than thirteen reprints within four months of publication.
- The book was translated into multiple languages.
- It rapidly climbed onto every bestseller list in the world, remaining there for over 3 years.
Since its initial publication, Life After Life has sold in excess of thirteen million copies.
Moody later wrote:
“Why this took place can be answered in one word: vacuum. Up to this point, the subject had been considered one that belonged to the world of religion and therefore it had received little if any examination by medical science.” (Paranormal: My Life in Pursuit of the Afterlife)
Moody began this work as a skeptic. In his book’s introduction he wrote: “I am not trying to prove that there is life after death. Nor do I think that a proof of this is presently possible.”
He was still of that opinion 16 years later when, in a 1991 lecture, he added:
“I think the reasons for that are derived just as much from limitations of the scientific method as they do from limitations of these experiences.”
Dr. Moody finished this lecture with the following words:
“Having now interviewed over two thousand five hundred people, personally I am convinced. I have no doubt whatsoever in my heart that these folks do get a glimpse of the beyond.”
“Was it possible there were others?” he had paused to ask himself in 1969.
From that brief moment, his life would be forever changed.