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Near death experiences: What they tell us about life

by Justina Hurley 

near death experience

What happens when we die?

Is there something more? And what about the people who have near death experiences (NDEs)?  We’ve all heard the stories, the friend of a friend who knew someone who… you get the gist…

As resuscitation and life saving techniques become more and more advanced, the number of people reporting NDEs is growing.

What is an NDE?

An NDE typically includes one or more of the following:

  • a sense of leaving the body;
  • movement, often through a tunnel;
  • being engulfed in light or darkness;
  • feelings of intense and indescribable love, peace and sometimes terror; 
  • perceived encounters with deceased loved ones,
  • unfamiliar entities and/or spiritual presences;
  • a life review;
  • a landscape;
  • an overpowering sense of knowledge and purpose.

The effects of an NDE or related experience are often powerful, enduring, and may be life-altering.

Life after death?

In reality, these experiences don’t tell us anything about life after death as, for anyone who has an NDE, the one thing they all have in common is that at a certain point they are told that there is a stage they cannot pass if they are to go back to their lives. So the only 100% way to know what actually happens after death is to actually die!!

What NDEs can tell us though is what happens in what we could call a death preparation process. More importantly, the purpose of most NDEs seems to be to drum the message home that life is more amazing than we think and almost all NDE experiencers totally transform their lives and their life values after the experience. Getting close to that edge between life and death is intriguing and hearing about it passes a bit of the transforming effects to all of us.

The late Dr. Lloyd Rudy, a cardiac surgeon from Washington, had a patient who died and came back to life during an emergency heart valve resection. After failing in efforts to get the patient off a heart-lung machine, they declared him dead.

After 20 minutes of no heartbeat etc., Dr Rudy and his colleague, now out of scrubs, were back in the theatre discussing what else could have been done during the procedure. However they noticed that the the monitor was now showing a trace of electrical activity. They scrambled an emergency team and began life saving procedures again.

The man recovered and after a couple of days began to speak. He had no brain damage and spoke of seeing a bright light. Dr Rudy said:

“But the thing that astounded me was that he described that operating room, floating around and saying I saw you and Doctor Catanio standing in the doorway with your arms folded and I didn’t know where the anesthesiologist was, but I saw him come running back in. And I saw all these Post-Its [used for messages from the nurses]”

The man not only reported things that happened in the operating theatre, but also reported conversations that had happened outside the theatre. Listen to Dr Rudy’s full account here:

One story leads to more and following this clip, a youtube user, Michelle Gruber, comments:

I have worked in cardiac/lung surgery & ICU, and have had several pts relate stories similar to that. I was at the bedside of a woman who coded and was dead for 20 mins. As her family came into the room to view the body, she came back to life. She turned to me and said “I was in heaven. What happened? ” the doctor behind me was in shock. Her mom passed out. She said goodbye to her husband & then coded and passed away.

Interestingly, that fits with a little known study that found that people who had NDEs, and particularly those with powerful NDEs, were more likely to die in the hospital, or shortly after leaving it.

Dr. Pim van Lommel, of Rijnstate Hospital in Arnhem, and his team interviewed 344 patients brought back from clinical death from cardiac arrest at 10 hospitals in the Netherlands between 1988 and 1992. They also found:

  • Of the 344 interviewed, 62, or 18 percent, reported an NDE. Most were considered superficial, involving only a vague memory of one or two impressions, such as seeing a bright light or moving through a tunnel. But 41 of the people, or 12 percent, reported stronger experiences with several components, ranging from star-flight like Taylor’s to leaving the body and conversing with the dead.
  • Younger patients were more likely to report an NDE, as were those who had more than one heart stoppage or who’d had a previous NDE. Having a good short-term memory was also an important predictor of who reported the events.
  • Women, people who’d been revived outside the hospital and the few who said they remembered being afraid during their heart episode tended to have deeper NDEs.

Near-death experiences are often explained away by a lack of oxygen to the brain after the heart stops beating. But if that’s the case, van Lommel’s group says, most of the people in their study should have reported the phenomena.

“Our results show that medical factors cannot account for occurrence of NDE,” they write.

The researchers also conducted follow-up interviews with some patients two years after, and even eight years after, their brush with death. They found that those who’d reported NDEs were much more likely than those who did not to say they’d come to believe in an afterlife and were unafraid of death. All the patients reported being more religious and more spiritually and socially aware than before.

Even among those who survived to the eight-year interview, NDE patients continued to have almost-perfect recall of their experience.

Dr. Bruce Greyson, a University of Virginia psychiatrist who has studied out-of-body experiences, agrees that existing medical knowledge can’t account for reports of NDEs.

“It is possible, of course, that reports of NDEs are erroneous misinterpretations of mundane events that do not require accounting. But that hypothesis becomes increasingly unlikely as more and more well-documented NDEs accumulate,” Greyson says.

Although the frequency and rudiments of NDEs don’t vary much across countries and cultures, some important details do differ, Greyson says. For example, he says, the “tunnel” that is fairly common in American and European experiences is quite rare among Asians.

What’s more, people often interpret their experience through the lens of culture and religion. Christians may encounter what they believe is a benevolent “being of light,” and label that Christ, he says, while others may view the same light “in terms of their own cultural or personal expectations.”

Bill Taylor was 37 when his heart stopped beating, the result of a viral infection that attacked the vital organ.

More than two decades later, he vividly recalls what happened next: he was floating in a celestial sea of stars and planets, looking across the vast universe bathed in overwhelming love and feeling integral to its design.

“You see as if you had eyes, but yet you see other things too,” he says. “I could see how everything was connected to everything else.” Doctors then jump-started his heart, bringing him back to life and tearing him from the peaceful emptiness.

Taylor, who is now president of the International Association for Near-Death Studies, saw a bright light, like that shed by a welder’s torch, during his NDE. But in his experience, he says, he also was a light source, a tiny spark charged with pouring energy into the links uniting the universe.

The worst part about his NDE, Taylor says, was initially having no one with whom he could share his visions. “It was very difficult and isolated. It was painful not to be able to talk about it with someone,” he recalls.

In recent years, we have the near death experience of neurosurgeon Dr Eban Alexander (read about that here) and Hong Kong based Anita Moorjani had a spectacular NDE during which she recovered from stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. You can read about her experience here.

To read more NDEs, check out the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS) website

IANDS’ purpose is to promote responsible, multi-disciplinary exploration of near-death and similar experiences, their effects on people’s lives, and their implications for beliefs about life, death, and human purpose.

Sources: Health Day News/Scout News








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