Pastoral Challenges and Opportunities of the Near Death Experience

                                                Part V

                                             Deacon Bob Pallotti


            In this series of articles on the Near Death Experience we have focused on the experiences of those who have undergone what Dr. Raymond Moody has labeled, Near Death Experience.  We have also examined the impact of the experience on NDErs and their families.  To date, there is no scientific explanation offered that can account for all the elements of and NDE. Yet, there are many who still contend that this is merely a phenomenon of a dying brain despite the mounting evidence to the contrary.


            For purposes of review we remember that the following are aspects of the Near Death Experience:


·        The experience of leaving the body and witnessing things from above one’s body, known as an “out of body experience”, or OBE;

·        a sense of ineffability, an experience that cannot be describe with human language;

·        hearing yourself pronounced dead by medical personnel;

·        feelings of peace and quiet;

·        hearing unusual noises;

·        seeing a dark tunnel;

·        meeting “spiritual beings”;

·        seeing a very bright light that does not hurt the “eyes”;

·        a panoramic life review;

·        sensing a border or limit of where you can go;

·        going back into the body;

·        frustrating attempts to tell others what happened;

·        subtle deepening of the spiritual life and lifestyle changes;

·        elimination of the fear of death;

·        able to describe event s that happened in location far from the body;

·        and love is the most important thing in life. 1



            One particular form of NDE has many investigators baffled and seems to point to the experience as being one independent of the brain and even the experiencer.  This is called, Shared Death Experience.  A shared death experience is one where not only the person who is dying experiences being out of body, having a life review etc…, but so do the other people in the room!  Here is one example from the Anderson family as they sat by the bed of their dying mother:


            The day my mother died, my two brothers, my sister, my sister-in-law and I were all in the room. My mother hadn’t spoken a word in several hours, and she was breathing in an irregular pattern.  None of us were really upset because mother had been on a long downhill course and we knew this was the end.


            Suddenly, a bright light appeared in the room.  My first thought was that a reflection was shining through the window from a vehicle passing by outside.  Even as I thought that, however, I knew it wasn’t true, because this was not any kind of light on this earth. I nudged my sister to see if she saw it too, and when I looked at her, her eyes were as big as saucers.  At the same time I saw my brother literally gasp.  Everyone saw it together and for a little while we were frightened.


            Then my mother just expired and we all breathed a sigh of relief. At that moment, we saw vivid bright lights that seemed to gather around and shape up into…I don’t know what to call it except an entranceway.  The lights looked a bit like clouds, but that is only a comparison.  We saw mother lift out of her body and go through the entranceway.  Being by the entranceway was a complete feeling of joy.  My brother called it a chorus of joyful feelings, and my sister heard beautiful music, although none of the rest of us did.


            I am originally from Virginia and my sister, brothers and I aged that the entranceway was shaped something like the Natural Bridge of the Shenandoah Valley.  The lights were so vivid we had no choice but to tell our story to the hospice nurse.


            She listened and then told us that she knew of similar things happening and that it was not uncommon for the dying process to encompass people nearby. 2



              Such experiences call into serious doubt any explanation for NDEs as merely the result of a dying brain.  While some aspects of NDEs can be replicated to a point in experiments, no experiment comes close to replicating the vivid images, life reviews, veridical aspects (things that can be verified by the hospital staff and others), spontaneous healings etc   Clearly, Shared Death Experiences point to the non-local character of the event that transcends the brain and incorporates others in the room!


Here is another instance of a Shared Death Experience as relayed by Sharon Nelson of Maryland:


            About ten years ago, my beloved sister was dying of cancer at home in her bedroom.  I was present along with my other sister and my brother-in-law. About one week prior to my sister’s actual passing, a bright white light engulfed the room.  It was a light that we all saw and a light that has stayed with us ever since.  I felt and intense love and connection with everyone in the room, including other “souls” that were not visible but that we felt the presence of.


             There are even accounts of people experiencing the life review with the dying person and having out of body experiences with the dying.  Such experiences continue to fuel an understanding of the mind/brain relationship as one in which the mind uses the brain as a transceiver, i.e., that the mind and brain are interdependent but the mind transcends the brain and exists in a non-local transcendent realm.



This is the extraordinary finding of research on the Near Death Experience, of world renowned cardiologist, Dr. Pim von Lommel:


   ….I strongly believe that consciousness cannot be located in a particular time and place.  This is known as non-locality. Complete and endless consciousness is everywhere in a dimension that is not tied to time and place, where past, present and future all exist and are accessible as the same time. This endless consciousness is always in and around us. 3


            What are typical of Shared Death Experiences? Dr. Raymond Moody offers the following:


  • Change of geometry of the room.
  • Mystical light.
  • Music and musical sounds.
  • Out-of-body experience.
  • Co-living a life review.
  • Encountering unworldly or heavenly realms.
  • Mist appears rising from the body of the one about to die.
  • Sense of being in a different world of ineffability. 4


So what is happening?  As noted in previous articles in this series such events are considered Spiritually Transforming Experiences (STE) and seem to have much in common with mystical experiences down through the ages.  While the data continues to point to the genuine character of these experiences they do and cannot prove God or eternal life.  They can offer glimpses perhaps, but no more than that.  That will take us to our final articles in this series that will explore the Christian understanding of the eschatological significance of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and what is says about God and Human beings.




1 P.M.H. Atwater, The Completer Idiot’s Guide to Near-Death Experience (Indianapolis: Alpha Books, 2000), p.8.


2 Raymond Moody, M.D., Glimpses of Eternity: Sharing a Loved One’s Passage from this Life to the Next (New York: Guideposts, 2010), p.14-15


3 Pim von Lommel, M.D., Consciousness Beyond Life: The Science of the Near Death Experience (New York; HarperCollins Publishing, 2010), p. xvii.     


4 ibid., pp.75-104