During the winter session of my Junior year (1976) at the University of Northern Colorado, I was enrolled in a tennis class. It was too cold to play outside on the courts so we were hitting balls against the walls of the indoor gym, when I began to feel the pain of a migraine headache quickly building in intensity. I became frightened as I realized that by the time class ended, the pain would be beyond my control. I had been prescribed a medication I carried with me that I could use when the pain was too extreme. I had only used it on a few rare occasions when I felt unable to function at all. It would put me to sleep for about 24 hours. I needed to get back to my dorm room, but I felt I couldn't wait. I took the medication assuming I would collapse, and hoped that somehow someone would get me home.
As long as I could remember, I had suffered with headaches. As I entered adolescence, they worsened. I was even hospitalized for testing to rule out brain tumors. I received counseling after one doctor believed them to be stress related. Eventually I began daily treatment with several prescribed medications. My migraines usually lasted for weeks at a time. I was terrified of the pain and was convinced that something was so terribly wrong with me, that I would never live to the age of 20. I felt depressed when I should have been celebrating my 20th birthday. I realized I had to go on - plan on living - look to the future - grow up. It was about eight months after that milestone, during that tennis class, that I used the medication, which I saved for a time when the exploding pain was too much.
I continued hitting the ball against the wall as I felt the medication numbing my body. The next memory I recall is walking back to the dorm. It was a 15 - 20 minute journey, but I remember just a moment. I was walking alone, up the hill past the Campus Bookstore. Then I remember being in my dorm room worrying about a paper that I realized was due soon, I just needed to type the title page and it would be done.
I began wondering if I had taken the medication or just thought about taking it. I tried to remember, but couldn't. I decided that I must not have taken it since I was alert and in pain, so I took another dose, and then sat down at the typewriter to finish my paper. The title page would take just a few minutes to type and I knew from past experiences that the medication would take longer than that to be working. Moments later I lost control of my body and fell forward into the typewriter. I was still conscious and could feel the migraine, but could not move or feel anything below my neck. I just lay there helpless. I tried to call for help, but a cleaning lady was vacuuming the hallway outside my room and no one could hear my cries.
Once the vacuum shut off, I cried out again and a male student heard me. He cautiously entered my room and I asked him to help me to my bed. I told him I was paralyzed. He pulled me out of the typewriter and sat me up in the chair, but then let go and I fell forwards, my face crashing into the typewriter again. He was at a loss for what to do so he went for help. When he returned, he had a friend. The two of them struggled to move me the few feet to the bed. Once I was on my bed, they left and I drifted immediately to sleep.
While sleeping I became aware that I was totally without pain. I realized I had never in my life been without some kind of physical discomfort. It was such an overpowering awareness. I couldn't feel the migraine, or the bed beneath me, or the clothing on my body or even my head on the pillow. It was such a relief. At the same time, I was overcome with peace, contentment, joy, happiness and love. It all felt so incredibly wonderful. There is no way I can adequately explain to others how wonderful that felt, but I remember it clearly, even though more than 20 years have passed since that day.
Another transformation took place in my mind. I was completely alert and very interested in the experience, but my mind was not at all like the mind I had always had. I fully understood what was happening- I knew I had died, but I felt not even a hint of fear, uncertainty or unwillingness. As I was experiencing this, I became distracted by my roommate, Trina, who entered the room, looked at me "sleeping" on the lower bunk, and then climbed up to her top bunk. I marveled at how she had shaken the bed climbing up, but I had felt no pain. I watched as she reached for her Bible, opened it to Psalms and began reading. It was while I was looking over her shoulder to see what she was reading, that I realized I was no longer in my body. I looked down at myself on the lower bunk, looked again at Trina, and thought, "She doesn't even know I'm dead!" I was amused by that thought.
My focus left that room and there was a period of time (time was no longer a reality) when I rested in a state of peace. It may have been during this time that I gained the knowledge I later recalled, but I have no memory of learning. I wasn't even aware of the feeling of movement until I began to see a glimmer of light in the distance and realized that I was in darkness, traveling towards the light.
When I think of that now, it reminds me of when I was a child and we explored long curving train tunnels in the hills above our boarding school in Kenya. Those tunnels were blacker than anything I had ever witnessed. I had been frightened by the inability to see, by the sounds, and the knowledge that the tunnels were full of bats. I remember the sense of relief when I would first spot the dot of light far in the distance. My fears dissolved as the light grew. This childhood memory is similar to the visual experience of going towards the light, but the feelings and emotions could not have been more different. I was experiencing pleasure beyond what my human mind had ever imagined.
As the light grew and overpowered the darkness, I came into the most beautiful place I have ever seen. A few years earlier I had viewed the splendor of the Lake District in Northern England, and marveled at it's beauty. But the place I went when I died was much lovelier. There was a series of rolling hills and valleys with streams flowing through. The grass was greener than any lawn in the wealthiest neighborhood. It was a beautiful sunny day and I walked along, just enjoying my surroundings.
I was alone, but not really aware of my aloneness. I didn't feel alone, but when I think about those beautiful hills, I have no memory of another person until I noticed a man standing just behind a low stone wall. There was so much I understood. I didn't have the limitations of the human mind. I knew that the man on the other side of the wall was going to take me to God. I knew that my experience was based on my needs. I saw a person I could trust. Another person would see what they needed to see. Previously, in my human mind I had only had a vague collection of thoughts about the afterlife, but when I was there, I was in a place I recognized and the man was someone I had always known. I knew where I was going and what was to come and I felt overjoyed.
The man was dressed casually - jeans and a loose shirt. He was gentle, compassionate, and focused on me. I looked into his eyes and suddenly knew it wasn't my time to die. I was stunned, I knew if I just stepped over the wall I could go on - that I had a choice, but he and I both knew I must return. As I looked into his face I said, "It's not my time." And he replied, "No, it Isn't."
Even though it would take endless pages to describe all I learned and experienced, It all seemed to happen in an instant. I had only experienced a small sliver of the afterlife, yet it was a profound experience.
As soon as I knew I must return, I felt myself being slammed into my body. It was a violent, painful and frightening moment. Every time I remember that moment, even now after all these years, I cry. I couldn't believe I had chosen to return. Had I forgotten the pain, the stress, the fear and the limitations of being human? (YES!) How could I have left the peace, the love and joy, the beauty I had come into? I knew I could have crossed the wall. I could have gone on. What a fool I was to return.
At the same time I was regretting my decision, I was overwhelmed by my human mind's fear of death. I knew I had died and I was frightened, Even though I had a clear memory of the afterlife, I was torn apart by the fears I had always had and couldn't seem to process my experience very well at that moment.
As my roommate climbed down from the upper bunk, I was "awakened" by the intense pain of the bed moving. I remember how I had been free from pain when she climbed up. Words started spilling out of my mouth as I tried to explain what had happened. Her first reaction was disbelief. When I told her what part of the Bible she had been reading while I was "asleep" on the bunk below, she was unable to respond. She avoided any further conversations, but must have gone for help.
A dorm supervisor, who was responsible for our floor, came in. She was not a close friend, but I respected her. She listened and tried to comprehend. I begged her to not let me go to sleep. I told her that if I had a choice again, I would not return. She did finally leave me and I did sleep, but I was not given a second chance to die.
I had never heard of anyone experiencing what I had experienced. I felt alone and confused. I quickly became unwilling to talk about my experience because the responses of others were so negative and hurtful. But I began to realize that my experience had taught me a great deal. As I thought about the loss of pain and the incredible peace I felt, I lost the fear of death I had always had. That fear has never returned. I know what awaits me and I long to be there again. I'm very aware that I returned for a reason. I don't know what my purpose is, but I do know that I understood it completely before I returned. I also understand that I needed to lose that memory. One of the greatest gifts from my peek into the afterlife is the comfort I have when a friend or family member dies. My grief is real - my sense of loss, but I know that they are free and full of joy.
Even though I rarely discussed my death, I tried at times to discuss what I learned during the experience, I am aware that I have knowledge beyond what I am able to remember, but what I have retained is crystal clear. The greatest obstacle in telling others is finding the words. Even as I write all of this I am painfully aware of not coming even close to really describing what happened, how I felt and what I learned.
My religious views changed the most. I had been raised in a Christian home and made a commitment to follow Jesus when I was 10 years old. My parents were missionaries in East Africa. At times I had felt distant from God, or rebelled against the morals I was raised with, but I still considered myself a Christian. I believed that the Bible was the Word of God, and that a commitment to follow Jesus Christ would save me from an eternity in hell. I had at times questioned the issues that separate religions, various theological questions, or concepts about salvation. During my death I gained an understanding that not only took me way beyond my previous beliefs, but in many ways, invalidated those beliefs. Since gaining such understanding, I have at times ignored what I learned and clung to beliefs held since childhood, and other times I've shed beliefs that I know to be human rather than divine in origin. It has not been easy for me to process what I learned.
One outcome is that I'm much more open to beliefs that differ from my own because I know how very limiting the human mind is. I know that God will make Himself known to us, depending on our needs and our beliefs. God himself, in the form of Jesus, struggled to bring understanding to His closest devoted followers. The night before His death, His frustration is obvious as He realized that they just didn't understand, and His time was near the end. Jesus was limited by His humanness. The Holy Spirit is limited by our humanness.
The Bible, even though it was inspired by God, was written by humans and is read by humans. It is bound by having to use words. It is profound, but limited. It helps us understand that which is way beyond our understanding. The undeserved, unconditional, unearnable love of God is beyond comprehension. The joy, peace, happiness, contentment and love that we experience in our lives, is only a shadow of the afterlife. The concept of salvation is our attempt to grasp what is already ours. Our understanding of salvation, much as we debate it, doesn't begin to reflect God's reality. I no longer try to seek the truth, because I know in time we all will understand how the truths fit together.
The Church (Religion) is what we have done to try to understand what is beyond understanding - to put limits on the limitless - to control what is uncontrollable. Religion is the outcome of our inability to grasp Spirituality. Yet - it feeds us, it help us grow closer to God, it is our lifeline, it helps us understand. It can also bring us pain, separation and confusion.
I don't argue religious beliefs. I don't try to prove the validity of my experience. I try to not let church rules and regulations interfere with the understanding I have. I just try to relate to God as best as I can.
The changes in my attitudes following my death experience have taken many years to comprehend, and I continue to remember, reflect on and incorporate what I learned. At first I was alone with my experiences. I had this wonderful journey, all kinds of knowledge and understanding, but an inability to adequately express (still a struggle), to be heard, or understood, so I tried to repress everything. Then a Sociology professor I knew as a friend told me about a Kubler-Ross book. Reading that was a real "mindblower" as well as an enormous sense of relief I was not alone after all. I couldn't believe the similarities between my experience and that of others. I wanted to learn more. I took a class on Death and Dying, assuming it would be a safe place to open up. When I wrote a paper about my near death experience, my instructor believed that what I experienced were hallucinations brought on by the drug overdose.
It was many years before I had the kinds of friends that knew me to be honest, trustworthy and believable - friends I could trust with my story. These friends encouraged me to talk more, to read other books about near death experiences and to integrate what I learned more fully into my life.
There have been times when I have felt so overwhelmed with the difficulties I've experienced in my life, that I have begged God to allow me to return to Him. I have prayed for death, for the chance to experience that wonderment again. I have questioned why I had the opportunity to know how marvelous life after life is, since one of the results has been a lessening of the will to live. But I have come to understand that knowing what unconditional love feels like, and experiencing such contentment, and remembering such beauty and peace means I have the opportunity to bring that into my experience here and now, and maybe to even help others understand- I don't have to wait until death. I have the memories that can help enrich my life here.
So much has changed in the past 20 years since I tasted the afterlife and I'm not sure which changes are a result of that experience and what is simply part of growing up and maturing. I believe that even though I have spent half my life repressing memories about my death, nevertheless, I have been affected.
I was religious with lots of questions.
I am more spiritual and have lots of answers.
I was terrified of death and dying.
My comfort through the dying process will be knowing the freedom, comfort and JOY that comes with death.
The pain of my migraine headaches controlled my life. I was dependent on medications.
I control my occasional migraines. The only medication I take is Tylenol.
I struggled with a poor self concept.
I am creative, independent and take great pride in my successes.
I had many broken relationships with family members and one time friends.
I gain a great deal of pleasure from my many good friends and a wonderful relationship with my parents.
"Who am I?" had a strong connection to career choices.
"Who am I?" has a strong connection to relationships with God, my family and friends.
I needed to know my goals and direction so I could gain a sense of purpose.
I have a sense of purpose. I don't need to know what I am to accomplish.
I struggled with the pressures of living.
I have lots to live for. I still feel pressure, but I handle it better.
A few years ago, a friend asked, 'If you had a chance again, would you step over the wall?' Without hesitation I answered, 'Yes, definitely.' She said, 'You would leave all you have now?' 'Yes, I would.' I answered. It's not that I want to leave my children, my husband, my parents and all my friends, but I have come to really appreciate the chance I was given, and when the time is right, that overwhelming feeling of peace will be there for me.
After the NDE:
Are there one or several parts of your experience that are especially meaningful or significant to you? I really appreciate the understandings I gained and I love remembering the feeling of such love and contentment. The worst part was when I slammed beck into my body and experienced such pain; fear and confusion.
Have you ever shared this experience with others? Yes Initially; people thought I was either lying or crazy. Because of their responses; I quickly repressed the experience. About 10 years ago I began talking to a few close friends and they encouraged me to talk more openly. I appreciated their interest and began allowing myself to remember and learn from the memories. I have a daughter; who is now a teenager. When she was still quite young; she began asking lots of questions about when I 'went to heaven' and she has a keen interest in NDEs. She had read a lot and has told me that because of my experience; she does not fear death.
At any time in your life, has anything ever reproduced any part of the experience? No