Near Death Experiences and the Mystery of Life

A friend sent me information about a new book, a neurosurgeon’s supposed proof that heaven is real. I admit I haven’t read the book, but I’ve read articles by the man, seen interviews of him talking about his experiences, read the reviews, and I can’t believe his experiences tell us the truth of what happens when we die. Regardless of what happened (or did not happen) with his cortex, he was not dead, so everything he says he experienced has to do with the mystery of consciousness — of life — not the mystery of death.

I felt such goneness after my life mate/soul mate died, such an irrevocable ending of his presence in my life and on earth, that although I believed in near death experiences during my questing youth, I can no longer believe people who had near death experiences were actually dead. Dead is dead. The neurosurgeon could have experienced something wondrous, something extraordinary and life changing, but he wasn’t dead no matter what his physicians said. It’s entirely possible (in fact, I’d say probable) the machinery that tracks our body processes and the current understanding of those processes, including that of the human biosystem, are imperfect. These NDE stories place too great a reliance on the doctors and the machines that proclaim death. Nothing on this earth — especially no machine and no doctor — is infallible.

During the past thirty-one months of my grief updates, I’ve often mentioned the feeling of utter goneness that I experienced, but I did not begin feeling my soul mate’s “goneness” until two or three hours after his death. Although I have no idea what happens to us after death, I do believe in the possibility of a continuum of life because I remember feeling him leave this earth.

At the moment of his death (when his heart stopped, that is), I did not feel anything except a moment of relief that his suffering was over. I watched the nurses clean his body and shroud it in a blanket, then I waited numbly for the funeral director. After she took away his body (in a black SUV, not a hearse), I left. The highway was dry, but about halfway home, my car suddenly went careening, around and around, back and forth, totally out of control. (I assumed I hit a patch of black ice, but that was such a peculiar night, I can’t say for sure.) I thought I was going to die, but oddly, I never left the road. The car finally came to a halt facing the wrong way on the highway. I was fine. So was the car. As I sat there gripping the wheel, I wondered if he had stopped by on his way out of this world to save me, to leave me a final reminder to be careful, or maybe give a shake of his ghostly head at this evidence of my carelessness. (He always worried that I wasn’t careful enough.) I remember feeling him leaving this earth — like a breath passing over head — but to be honest, I don’t know if I really felt his leaving at the time or if the impression was something my mind created later to explain the bewildering event. It was after this particular near death experience (as out of control as the car was, it truly is amazing that I survived intact), that the feeling of his goneness slammed into me, and I never again have had any sense of his presence in my life.

What was he doing for those hours before he left this earth? Finishing his dying, possibly. Closing down systems of the body and brain that have yet to be discovered. From grief, I have learned the power of our lizard brain, learned that there is way more to the brain — and human biology, psychology, and consciousness — than is in our textbooks. Do people experience things out of their normal lives when they are undergoing severe physical traumas such as almost dying? Many do. Some don’t.

As for the doctor who supposedly offers proof of heaven, the very length of his coma argues against his having died — if he’d been dead, his body would have begun to decay. Even if he was being kept alive by machines, he was still alive. His body was not dead. His brain is part of the body. Therefore his brain was not dead. And neither was he.

I am not denying a life continuum, a spectrum of life where this earth is the part visible to our physical senses, but a “near death experience” is a far cry from a “death experience.” Such stories offer insight into a greater glory, but it isn’t necessary the glory of heaven they offer but instead the glory of us here on earth.


Pat Bertram is the author of the conspiracy novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+

10 Responses to “Near Death Experiences and the Mystery of Life”

  1. shadowoperator Says:

    A thoughtful, considering, and intelligent post, Pat.

  2. Joy Collins Says:

    Pat, you know I have followed your posts since the beginning and often we have seen eye to eye on many things but I have to disagree with you on this one. Dead is not dead – that is the point. In fact, there is no such thing as death. Death is what we perceive from this side of the veil. The point of near-death experiences and this doctor’s particular experience is to show that we are consciousness, we are eternal spirit and that never “dies”. We go on forever. The fact that people with flat-line EEG’s can come back to tell of these experiences [and they are all so similar there must be some truth there] shows, at least to me and many who are more learned than I am, that we are not our brain, we are not our body. We are spirit. We just inhabit this body. I believe that what we believe determines how much of the afterlife we experience, from this side and the next. As we evolve and realize that there is more to us than muscle and bone and brain, then we open up ourselves to all sorts of experiences, the likes of which we can only glimpse from this side.
    No, that doctor wasn’t truly dead but his body had started to shut down. In fact, they were going to take him off life support when he woke up. And knowing what I know of his illness, his brain was too ill and his body was too far gone for what he experienced to have been imaginings. His experience might be one to chalk off to an aberration if he were the only one to experience these things, but he’s not. Just like past life experiences that can be verified, near death experiences teach us [at least they do me] that there is more to life than what we perceive with our five senses in the short span of years that we are here [this time].
    A near death experience can never be a full death experience. But does that make his story any less real, any less useful? It’s the closest thing we have right now to understanding what happens when we die and isn’t that a comforting thing?

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      My point was that we only have the output of machines that track known body processes and the opinions of doctors to show that he was dead. I don’t think we know all there is to know about life and our bodies to know for a fact that the guy was dead. It’s entirely possible near death experiences are a different form of human consciousness that have nothing to do with being dead. They could be a sort of dream, some deep stimulation of the limbic system, or a dip in the collective unconscious. I understand that such experiences are profound and change peoples’ lives, but I am not going to live my life based on something someone else experienced, especially if I don’t know exactly what it means. My focus is on opening myself up to what can be experienced here. Whatever happens afterward will take care of itself.

      I’m glad you find comfort in such stories — you’ve been through so much and deserve whatever comfort and peace of mind you can find.

  3. rami ungar the writer Says:

    In Judaism, sleep is classified as 1/60th of death, so religious Jews will often thank God for returning them to life upon waking, and especially after they’ve had a nightmare. I guess it’s like you said, how do you define death? And even if you don’t believe in near-death experiences, you can believe in life-after-death, right?

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Definitely you can believe in an afterlife without believing in near death experiences. I think our lives are like the electro-magentic spectrum, where only part of the spectrum is visible, and parts of it are something completely different the way sound is different from color, though both are parts of the same spectrum. Here on Earth, we are only dealing with a small fraction of the spectrum of our lives. I’m not sure how much of ourselves we will remember — much of us is purely physical, such as whatever is stored in our genes.

  4. Abigail Says:

    These are often-times called “near” death experiences. I have heard numerous stories of people who were dying who clearly saw and heard things while they were still here. I know of a couple personally…one who came back and one who passed on. In the bible, Stephen saw Yeshua as they were killing him. How many of these experiences are “legitimate”? I don’t know. But it is clear that something can, and does, happen.

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