I began writing this description of my near death experience on October 6th, 2007, thirty-five years after the experience. My almost drowning experience took place almost a decade and a half before I ever heard the term 'near-death experience'.
It was the late spring of 1972 in Kaukauna, Wisconsin, very close to my seventeenth birthday. I was a senior in high school and it was the day that seniors received their yearbooks. For some long forgotten reason there was no school and yearbooks needed to be picked up during the late afternoon. This gave my best friend since sixth grade and I an excuse to take our visitor from inner city Philadelphia on a rafting trip down the Wolf River. We drove to Menominee and rented a raft. The water ran high and fast. Being a confident swimmer and having rafted a few times on the same stretch of the river, I was full of that invincible self-confidence, a type of bravado that can affect many teenagers. I neglected to put on my life jacket.
We were having a lovely time showing our Philly friend one of the freedoms that small town kids frequently enjoyed. While floating along the current we began to pick up speed. Up ahead a walking bridge crossed the river. We noticed a very old man frantically motioning to us to move over to the left. We couldn't hear a word he was shouting, but he was obviously agitated. We decided that he must be in trouble and needed our help so we tried to maneuver the raft to the left shoreline. The current fought back and we strained with all of our might to pull ourselves toward shore. Instead, the raft careened into the mid-span abutment and folded up. We were thrown into the icy springtime flow. My friends and the raft headed right - a fact that I was unaware of until much later, while I headed left and directly into a whirlpool.
The whirlpool pulled me under. I couldn't tell which end was up. I was swimming frantically to try to get out and running out of breathe, beginning to panic, feeling desperately cold. I couldn't tell if I was swimming up or down. A voice or thought came into my head it said something like, 'Let go. Go with the flow. Let go.' I immediately stopped swimming. It felt like a release, surrendering to something greater than myself. There was a deep element of trust involved - an inner feeling that all would be as it should be. Everything went black.
My life began to play before my eyes, like a movie made up of vignettes, both snapshots (like a still photograph) and video clips (like the quick movie segments that make up a TV commercial). There wasn't any sound that accompanied them. They progressed in a chronological sequence from birth to my current age. I can still remember a few of the flashes including: As a toddler I received my first bee sting by swatting what I thought was a fly on the front porch door screen (viewed from behind); a tantrum I threw on the dining room floor when my mom wanted to go to the grocery store (viewed from a point floating near the ceiling)*; getting a lady's electric shaver from my dad for a sixteenth birthday present (viewed floating above the dining room table). It felt as if the images were flashing, moving, almost dancing directly across my eyelids. Similar to what I imagine virtual reality goggles might feel today. This 'life flashing before my eyes' experience happened very quickly. I can only guess it was a matter of seconds.
*(At a later point in time, I questioned my mother about the early flashbacks that were not a part of my current memory. I did indeed swat a bee at about age three and threw an enormous tantrum at the foot of my mom's old tread pedaled sewing machine that sat in our dining room right around the time that I had started school. Some of the other flashbacks I asked about she did not remember.)
Then it was dark, complete and total blackness. I looked side to side and saw more blackness. I thought my eyes were closed so I consciously checked to make sure they were open. The voice inside my head said, 'Turn around,' and when I did I saw a pin prick of light. I remember thinking, 'I'm in a cave,' and then the calm, persistent thought urged me to move toward the light. It reassured me to be unafraid. It was smooth, slow, peaceful, and without a sound, like floating. I don't recall making any effort to move my body. I mere glided along through the dark. Looking around me, I would occasionally see people. I saw an older man walking along with a burro. I saw my grandpa (my dad's father, who had been dead for a number of years). I saw other people that were heading in both directions some slowly, some merely a blur.
The light at the cave entrance grew larger and larger the closer I got to the mouth. It was incredibly bright, unlike the light of day, that often has a tint to it, and this particular light was pure white. As I entered the light, I was surrounded by an immediate feeling of ultimate peace. I was home. I was surrounded by pure love and acceptance. I was fully connected to this peace and love. The closest I have come to feeling this sensation again has been at the birth of my two children.
A thought came into my head. It asked me why I was here so soon. The thought was surprised by my appearance. I was unsure, uneasy. I was becoming disoriented, thinking to myself, 'Where am I? What is this place?' The thought in my head sensed this uneasiness, and as if it were reading my mind, began to reassure me that I was fine, that I was somewhere that was safe and redirected me to the feelings of peace and love that I had originally felt. I felt at ease, but I was curious and confused, thinking back: 'Can you really read my mind?' The thought seemed to realize that I needed a more concrete way to communicate in order to feel completely comfortable.
So the thoughts came into my head: what kind of form or shape would make you most comfortable? 'What do you mean?' I thought back. Some require me to take the shape of a wise old man, others a woman and still others an animal, all of different races, ages, sizes or species. What about you? I thought without hesitation 'Human.' With that, the light began to simultaneously separate into amazing rays of color and intensify into a more solid form. Once the light reached the stage where it looked like a human form, a rather generic looking cookie cutter shape, like a gingerbread man, I thought, 'That is enough, I am comfortable with this form.' The shape could move and was three dimensional. It was composed entirely of light and rays of luminescent color emanated from every part of it. I saw the color again, many years later when I first saw iridescent material. The feelings of safety, love and peace were even greater in its presence. We were still communicating through thoughts.
This Being wanted to know what voice I required, man, woman, child, etc. I chose that of a man. (An interesting choice to analyze at this point in my life.) I don't recall any communication about what language to use. I wanted to know what to call this light form. It began to tell me some of the many names for God that our world cultures use. I interrupted, 'God' worked for me, even if I wasn't sure at that time in my life if I even believed in God. Whatever the light truly was, I recognized it as a pure energy form. I never actually called it God, but I also recognized that many of the people I knew would have called it that.
We began to communicate. Where was I? Home, familiar place, somewhere I had been many times before. What was I doing here, the light wanted to know. I wanted to know too. I was told that I was too early. I still had work to do. What work? I would be able to figure that out. I would have to go back. I didn't want to. I really wanted to stay. I was immensely saddened. I understood that it was my duty and that I wouldn't be asked to do it if I wasn't capable. I realized that I must go back, but I was afraid. The light provided me with an escort to guide me safely back. I was still reluctant to leave, but felt comforted by my guide. (While in college, I continued to relive this rafting experience in my dreams. My guide appeared to me in my dreams as my grandpa - my mother's father, who had died just a little over a year before the raft trip.) I took a moment to bask in the all-encompassing love, peace and pure light before I turned ready to go.
I quickly traveled back into the darkness of the cave. It seemed like faster than the speed of light. I don't remember seeing anyone as I traveled through the darkness. The next second I was back in my body and I popped out of the darkness and up to the surface of the whirling river where I was able to take a breath of air rather than water for the first time. Everything that had happened to me could only have taken place in a minute or two. I was released from the whirlpool and the current was taking me quickly into a series of rapids.
I was ready to fight for my survival. In realizing, that unless I turned myself around so that my legs pointed downstream, I would most certainly bash my head on a boulder and be a goner, I began to navigate so that my legs were in front of me. I was relying on information that I had once heard on a television or radio show that was promoting motorcycle helmets. It mentioned that you can live with broken legs, but not a squashed brain. It's funny what you think of in an emergency. Now I was like a log floating through the rapids, but I still couldn't use my arms effectively to save myself. I decided that I must roll over onto my stomach. I thought that even though it would be harder to pull my head up for air, I would be able to use my hands to grasp on to something or maneuver closer to the side of the river.
I floated like this for a while. I would use a butterfly stroke to pull my head out of the rapids to take a breath and then try to grab onto rocks as I rushed by. After what seemed like an eternity and many, many tries my technique was successful. I snagged a boulder small enough to wrap my arms around and shallow enough that I could lift my head high enough to not suck in the rushing water. I rested there for a while, my legs and body too exhausted to stand. My lungs aching from the water I had inhaled. The water averaged around a foot in depth, with some deep pockets and some places a mere eight inches. I eventually stood and struggled clumsily over to the side. I was thrown to the right bank, which had actually flooded. I held onto the small trees and shrubs that were covered with about a foot of water. The river was not only high, but it had actually flooded.
This was when I first thought about my friends. Were they alive? Where could they be? The blush of spring had been a sight to behold at the start of this trip, but at that moment, when I was safe, and could begin thinking about others, the planet took on a whole new color scheme. The sky, the trees, the leaves, the river all glowed with the light from within that I had seen while trapped inside that whirlpool. The greens were greener, the blues bluer and the browns were browner. It was as if everything were alive, even inert objects like rocks and water and sky. They all pulsed with life. This feeling stayed with me for weeks, but was never as intense as at that moment.
I walked upstream aided by the small trees and shrubs. I held onto their trunks and branches as I fought the current rushing past my feet. I searched the shoreline and bushes for any evidence that my friends were near. I prayed, hoping that I didn't find any bodies. The sound of the rapids got louder. I could finally make out the footbridge. There to the left, standing squarely in the area that the old man on the bridge had so feverishly tried to get us to avoid, stood my two friends holding the raft. They jumped up and down hugging one another and screaming once they spotted me. Behind them was a small dam or spillway. It would have been about a three foot drop into a relatively calm pool if our raft had just naturally gone that direction. All of our struggling to stop and help the old man on the bridge appeared now to be from his attempt to get us to avoid the drop and go along the more gradual, natural course of the river.
The raft had the bottom ripped out of it. After many hugs, we sat on the raft walls, dangling our feet and began floating along. Trying to regain our belongings, we fished out shoes, my life jacket, and the paddles. Everything was accounted for with the exception of items so minor that I can't remember missing them. The most amazing recovery of all was my glasses. While in the whirlpool, I still had my hands on the paddle. I made a decision to let go of the paddle in order to swim. My glasses were on my head, but I thought to myself 'Oh no, if I lose my glasses my mother will be furious.' So, I took them off and held onto them throughout the entire experience. I can't even image what the owner of the raft company thought when he picked us up at the designated spot, but at least my mom never yelled at me.
I don't know if this is a true near death experience since I have never had another one, or ever met anyone who had a documented near death experience. I didn't actually die and have someone revive me, but I am assuming this is at least similar to what a near death experience is. I always called this an 'I fell in a river and had hypothermia that played funny tricks on my brain' experience until I started to read about near death. At this point I am curious to learn more.
Date NDE Occurred: Spring 1972
At the time of your experience, was there an associated life-threatening event? Yes Accident almost drown Life threatening event, but not clinical death
Nearly drowned in a river.
How do you consider the content of your experience? Wonderful
The experience included: Out of body experience
Did you feel separated from your body? Yes
I clearly left my body and existed outside it
How did your highest level of consciousness and alertness during the experience compare to your normal everyday consciousness and alertness? More consciousness and alertness than normal I can't easily answer this question.
At what time during the experience were you at your highest level of consciousness and alertness? I can't easily answer this question.
Were your thoughts speeded up? Incredibly fast
Did time seem to speed up or slow down? Everything seemed to be happening at once; or time stopped or lost all meaning
Not during the experience, but when I finally popped out of the whirlpool I could tell that time had changed.
Were your senses more vivid than usual? Incredibly more vivid
Please compare your vision during the experience to your everyday vision that you had immediately prior to the time of the experience. Please see the retelling of the event to answer this question.
Please compare your hearing during the experience to your everyday hearing that you had immediately prior to the time of the experience. I could hear things without people actually talking.
Did you seem to be aware of things going on elsewhere? Yes, and the facts have been checked out
Did you pass into or through a tunnel? Yes I was in a cave.
The experience included: Presence of deceased persons
Did you see any beings in your experience? I actually saw them
Did you encounter or become aware of any deceased (or alive) beings? Yes Again, please see my retelling of the event. I did not know the man with the burro or the burro. I knew my grandfather (dad's father), but he was not walking with the two canes that he needed during his life. I knew my grandfather (mom's father), but he appeared only as a ball of light. I knew the light form - as my origin.
The experience included: Darkness
The experience included: Light
Did you see, or feel surrounded by, a brilliant light? A light clearly of mystical or other-worldly origin
Did you see an unearthly light? Yes Please see my retelling for a detailed description of the light.
Did you seem to enter some other, unearthly world? A clearly mystical or unearthly realm I was in the light.
The experience included: Strong emotional tone
What emotions did you feel during the experience? Peace, unconditional love, some fear and uncertainty, pure connection to all beings.
Did you have a feeling of peace or pleasantness? Incredible peace or pleasantness
Did you have a feeling of joy? incredible joy
Did you feel a sense of harmony or unity with the universe? I felt united or one with the world
Did you suddenly seem to understand everything? Everything about the universe
The experience included: Life review
Did scenes from your past come back to you? My past flashed before me, out of my control Again, see the retelling of my story.
Did scenes from the future come to you? Scenes from the world's future
Did you come to a border or point of no return? I came to a barrier that I was not permitted to cross; or was sent back against my will
God, Spiritual and Religion:
What was your religion prior to your experience? Moderate member of United Church of Christ
Have your religious practices changed since your experience? Yes I did not believe in God, and now I accept that we all come from the same light and are part of the light.
What is your religion now? Liberal lean toward Unitarian Universalist
Did you have a change in your values and beliefs because of your experience? Yes I did not believe in God, and now I accept that we all come from the same light and are part of the light.
The experience included: Presence of unearthly beings
Did you seem to encounter a mystical being or presence, or hear an unidentifiable voice? I encountered a definite being, or a voice clearly of mystical or unearthly origin
Did you see deceased or religious spirits? I actually saw them
Concerning our Earthly lives other than Religion:
During your experience, did you gain special knowledge or information about your purpose? Yes I knew that we are all one.
Have your relationships changed specifically because of your experience? Uncertain
After the NDE:
Was the experience difficult to express in words? Yes
Do you have any psychic, non-ordinary or other special gifts after your experience that you did not have before the experience? Uncertain I have had other experiences that are hard to explain. For example if I go out at night I almost always have at least one street light and sometimes two go out near me. I've asked many other people in the last three years if they have this happen and no one I've talked with seems to notice this. I thought nothing of it for years, because I just thought street lights were unreliable, short lived and always burning out.
Are there one or several parts of your experience that are especially meaningful or significant to you? The whole experience was incredible. I am not afraid of death. I know that we are all connected and that each of us is made of light and we are all 'God' on earth.
Have you ever shared this experience with others? Yes I told my friends right away. I thought I was hypothermic. It was very dreamlike and other worldly.
Did you have any knowledge of near death experience (NDE) prior to your experience? No
What did you believe about the reality of your experience shortly (days to weeks) after it happened? Experience was probably real I thought that it was real in relation to circumstances. I was deprived oxygen and in very cold water. I thought that the experience is what happens to the brain and body when in this state.
What do you believe about the reality of your experience now? Experience was definitely real I believe that my definition of reality has changed. Although there is definitely a difference between the conscious awake state and the dream or sleep state who is to say that one or the other is not real? I view the near death type experience that I had life altering and that in and of itself is enough to make it real.
At any time in your life, has anything ever reproduced any part of the experience? Yes The closest I've come to this feeling has been at the birth of each of my children. It was a reconnection to the feeling of unconditional love. I must say that it pales in comparison.
Is there anything else that you would like to add about your experience? I have had the experience repeated in a dream where I learned further details. This happened after my father's death. I also have had a dream where I thought that I have awoken from dreams to see myself looking at myself while floating near the ceiling. This was a really weird dream.
Are there any other questions that we could ask to help you communicate your experience? Another thing that I think is important to emphasis is that I did not want to leave this state. I truly wanted to stay in the light. I believe that question 33 could be reworded or perhaps another question added to address this. I wonder if there are other people like me who did not want to come back to our bodies.