I AM not frightened of death… I have already died.
And it was beautiful.
My death all happened one bright day in May 1988…
“Tell me how it feels?”
It was my mother’s voice; there was no mistaking that. I struggled to say something but a dryness in my throat allowed only a smile.
She clenched my left hand.
Beyond her the ward clock reported 9.30.
I drifted back to sleep.
Sometime later I again opened my eyes.
Mother’s own eyes brightened and, as if from her mouth, I heard my father ask: “How is it son?”
I was surprised. I managed to reply: “Fine, but I can’t move.”
The ward clock betrayed 10.10.
“Is that all it is?” I asked looking up at the wall, knowing that I had been led to the operating table at 8.30am.
“It’s 10pm,” my father replied.
I gagged… why had I been out for more than 13 hours?
Over the next three days my parents, surgeons and nursing staff gradually outlined to me the most telling day of my life: a day when surgeons worked tirelessly to remove two thirds of my right lung and repair a damaged aortic artery.
It was an operation plagued with difficulty and twice they thought they had lost me. But working straight through, they never gave up and used finely honed skills to take away the cancer and repair my body.
So what of my own memories…
I recall being taken down to theatre that morning, laughing and joking with the trolley porter and nurse. Whether the personal euphoria was due to unreleased fear or the pre-med tablet I had been given some hour earlier, I will never know.
I also recall being administered the drugs to send me to sleep for the duration of the operation. Again, my memory is that of lightness and love.
I also have vague recollections of waking from the operation momentarily around 1pm that day, seeing my parents’ faces above me, and then coughing violently.
It was that cough that tore the stitching between my aortic artery and the remaining lobe of my right lung.
And within seconds my chest cavity began filling with blood as my lung collapsed and my heart went into overdrive.
I was enveloped by dazzling white light and warmth. Faces swirled above me and I looked down on my own prostate body on the hospital bed.
I was drifting.
Meanwhile, surgeons, doctors and nurses fought to save my life.
Apparently I died for 16 minutes and there was no pain, no fear, no despair.
Instead, it was a rebirth of life and spirit.
The physical aspects of my rebirth have been a boring gain in weight and seasonal hay fever, which I had never suffered from previously.
But the psychological changes have been manifest: no care for a career or future, dazzling vocal dreams, spiritual awakening, ESP and hours of deep thinking.
My own NDE (Near-Death Experience) changed me forever.
According to experts, such experiences may encompass a variety of sensations including detachment from the body, feelings of levitation, total serenity, security, warmth, the experience of absolute dissolution, and the presence of a light.
Neuroscience research suggests that an NDE is a subjective phenomenon resulting from “disturbed bodily multisensory integration” that occurs during life-threatening events.
NDEs are also a recognized part of some transcendental and religious beliefs in an afterlife, dating back to the ancient Egyptians and Greeks.
Natasha Tassell-Matamua of Massey University, New Zealand, says that 20 percent of cardiac arrest survivors and between four and nine percent of the general public are estimated to have had an NDE.
“Those reporting NDEs often describe a profound psychological event that is mystical, transcendental, or even spiritual in nature; where the boundaries between space, time, and normal perceptual awareness become blurred,” she says.
Some who have survived an NDE describe an “out-of-body” experience and have been able to accurately describe resuscitation efforts.
Others have described seeing a bright light at the end of a tunnel, strange and other-worldly landscapes, or claim to have seen their lives flash before their eyes.
Now it has all been brought amazingly to life by the magic of TV.
Netflix’s drama series The OA, is a dizzying tale of Near-Death Experiences and inter-dimensional travel seen through the eyes of a once blind woman.
The series follows Prairie – a woman who lost her sight as a child, went missing aged 21, and returned seven years later able to see again.
As the series progresses, Prairie tells the story of how she ran away from her adoptive family to find her Russian father, only to be captured and experimented on by a scientist obsessed with Near-Death Experiences.
She explains that along with her fellow captives, she was killed over and again in a drowning machine to induce NDEs.
Brit Marling, who plays Prairie and co-wrote the show, said she first came up with the idea after speaking to a young woman who had experienced an NDE.
“When she described her experience, I was really riveted by the idea,” she says.
“She described leaving her body and the sensation of being above herself.
“All concerns and preoccupations went away and the only thing that remained in her mind was this question: ‘Did I tell the people I love enough how much I love them?’
“It became that simple. Then she rocketed back into her body.
“When you meet this woman, she has a kind of vividness and self-possession and ferocity that’s uncanny. It seemed like she’s really in control of her life.”
Researchers have identified the common elements that define Near-Death Experiences.
Although the features of NDEs vary from one case to the next, common traits that have been reported by NDErs are:
- A sense/awareness of being dead.
- A sense of peace, well-being and painlessness. Positive emotions. A sense of removal from the world.
- An out-of-body experience. A perception of one’s body from an outside position. Sometimes observing medical professionals performing resuscitation efforts.
- A “tunnel experience” or entering a darkness. A sense of moving up, or through, a passageway or staircase.
- A rapid movement toward and/or sudden immersion in a powerful light (or “Being of Light”) which communicates with the person.
- An intense feeling of unconditional love and acceptance.
- Encountering “Beings of Light”, “Beings dressed in white”, or similar. Also, the possibility of being reunited with deceased loved ones.
- Receiving a life review, commonly referred to as “seeing one’s life flash before one’s eyes”.
- Receiving knowledge about one’s life and the nature of the universe.
- Approaching a border, or a decision by oneself or others to return to one’s body, often accompanied by a reluctance to return.
- Suddenly finding oneself back inside one’s body.
- Connection to the cultural beliefs held by the individual, which seem to dictate some of the phenomena experienced in the NDE and particularly the later interpretation thereof.
The NDE stages have been noted for their similarity to the so-called hero’s journey in literature. Kenneth Ring (1980) subdivided the NDE on a five-stage continuum:
- Body separation
- Entering darkness
- Seeing the light
- Entering the light
He stated that 60 percent experienced stage 1 (feelings of peace and contentment), but only 10 percent experienced stage 5 (“entering the light”).
Instead, they reported dream-like or hallucinatory scenarios.
These mental experiences ranged from terrifying to blissful.
Others, however, experienced the opposite sensation, with 22 percent reporting “a feeling of peace or pleasantness”.
Heightened senses, a distorted perception of the passage of time and a feeling of disconnection from the body were also common sensations that survivors reported.
So are NDEs real and is there an after-life?
The Enlightenment was an intellectual movement which dominated the world of ideas in Europe in the 18th century.
It included a range of ideas centred on reason as the primary source of authority and legitimacy, and came to advance ideals like liberty, progress, tolerance, fraternity, constitutional government, and separation of church and state.
The Enlightenment was marked by an emphasis on the scientific method and reductionism along with increased questioning of religious orthodoxy – an attitude captured by the phrase Sapere aude, “Dare to know”.
Yet, despite this mass expansion of education and reasoning, a nine-year-old child in 21st century Britain acquired more knowledge in one term at school than the average person did during an entire lifetime in the 18th century.
My great grandmother was born in 1875 and died in 1970, aged 95.
During her lifetime she saw the first motor car, manned flight, the discovery of penicillin, the development of the Atom bomb, the first satellites, and even man landing on the moon.
But she died before HIV/Aids, microwave ovens, home computers, colour television, the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station, routine heart and lung transplants, cloning, cures for many cancers, CCTV, mobile phones and the internet.
Our knowledge is ever-expanding and whether you are a rationalist or existentialist, there is still so much about life and our universe which we have yet to understand.
But one thing is certain…I died, but now I am alive.
- You can read more about my cancer battle here: https://seagullnic.wordpress.com/2013/10/04/saving-grace/