STORIES FROM THE OTHER SIDE OF DEATH
In the 1990’s I was the Chaplain at Orana Centre For Aged Care, in Point Clare, NSW. Shirley was one of the residents in the Hostel, and had been a committed Christian all her life. Soon after I commenced at Orana, Shirley shared with me the story of her Near-Death Experience. When she was in her mid-50’s she was having some tests done on her heart in hospital when she suffered a massive cardiac arrest. She remembers looking down at her body from high above and watching a team of medical staff working frantically on her. She was able to recall, in specific detail, everything that was said and done, yet all the while she says she felt a wonderful sense of peace. The next thing Shirley remembers is that she was standing in a green field. She says that words could not describe the vibrancy of the colours in the flowers and plants, colours beyond anything that this world can offer. She also describes the sensual quality of the golden light that seemed to flow right through her, filling her with an inexpressible joy.
Gradually she became aware of music and singing. The singing swelled all around her, a myriad of voices all worshipping God, although at no time during this experience did she see anyone else. The singing contained more harmonies than she had thought possible and was, in her words, “the most beautiful song I have ever heard”. Shirley then described a strange thing that happened. Although she was sure she had never heard the song before, she instantly knew the words and the melody, and found herself being caught up in singing it. I remember her saying to me, “Kevin, I was singing harmony!” This was quite humorous, because Shirley was tone deaf!
Shirley says she seemed to be in this place for an extended period of time, bathed in golden light and caught up in rapturous singing. Then she felt a presence behind her and heard a voice say two words, “Not yet”. Instantly she found herself back in the hospital, lying on a bed, looking up at a crowd of medical staff all working on her body. She found that she could not speak because she had been intubated. She tried desperately to communicate with the staff to tell them to stop trying to save her, because she wanted to go back where she had been. Being unable to speak, she shook her head frantically from side to side and groaned at them. One of the nurses, thinking that Shirley was panicking, took hold of her hand, stroked her head and leant over her, saying, “It’s all right Mrs W. We’ve got you back now. You’re going to be OK.” This caused Shirley to shake her head even more vigorously as she tried desperately to communicate that she wanted them to let her go. Sadly, for Shirley, the staff stabilised her and she was admitted to ICU.
She remained in hospital for 5 days, and she says that for the first few days she was terribly depressed. She just wanted to go back to heaven! She had nothing really left to live for. Her husband had died, and she rarely saw her children, who all lived in far flung corners of the country. Eventually, however, she concluded that God must still have a purpose for her, and so she snapped out of her depression and decided that she would just make the best of it until God called her home.
God certainly did still have a purpose for Shirley. At Orana, she was God’s little ray of sunshine. She would visit the sick in the nursing home, she volunteered in the hostel shop, she ran a Bible study for hostel residents and she was constantly sharing her testimony with anyone who would listen. Shirley was the happiest person I knew. Over the years I often heard her say, “I can’t wait to die, because I’ve been to heaven and it’s wonderful!”
NOREEN (Not her real name)
Noreen is a wonderful Christian lady in her mature years. She currently attends the same church as me. I recently preached in the morning service on the topic of Life After Death, and after the service Noreen spoke with me and told me two separate stories. She told me of her mother’s experience many years ago of suffering a cardiac arrest in hospital and eventually being resuscitated. Her mother had an almost identical experience to Shirley; floating above her body, then finding herself in a green field of intense light and vibrant colours, and being filled with an inexpressible joy. She returned to her body after medical staff stabilised her and, unlike Shirley, was able to speak, because she had not been intubated. She wanted to go back to heaven, and, in her case, she was able to verbalise this to the staff. Apparently, she was quite angry with them, saying “What have you done?! Stop! Let me go! Let me go!” Noreen was told of her mother’s outburst by the staff when she subsequently visited her mother in hospital. The staff asked her, “Is your mother always that cranky when people are trying to help her?”
Significantly, I had not mentioned the story of Shirley in my sermon that morning, yet as Noreen told me about her mother I was struck by how the two experiences were almost identical.
The second story Noreen told me was of her own out of body experience as a child. When she was 5 years old she was critically ill and was operated on. During the operation she “died” and medical staff had to work desperately to revive her. She remembers floating above her body and looking down from a considerable height. She could see the doctors and nurses working around her and she could see herself lying on the operating table. She did not tell anyone about this experience for many years, because, as a small child, she did not know what to make of it, and she was embarrassed by it. It was only many years later, when she was a Christian, that she was able to reflect on her experience and bring a level of understanding to it. She now firmly believes that what she experienced in that operating theatre was the separation of her spirit from her body as she approached death. She also remembers feeling a wonderful peace, and having no fear at all while this was occurring.
These are not the only stories I have been told of out of body experiences and visits to heaven. Over the years I have conducted many Bible seminars on the topic of Life After Death, as well as having often preached on the topic. Almost every time I do, one or two people speak to me afterwards and describe their vivid NDE out of body experiences. They tend to fall into two categories. Those whose “clinical death” experience was brief and who were resuscitated quickly, describe floating above their body and feeling a great peace as they were looking down at themselves. Those whose cessation of cardiac activity lasted longer seem to have a more vivid experience of something beyond the operating theatre or hospital. They speak of moving towards a light, or being surrounded by a light, or being in a beautiful field or garden. Many speak of hearing music and singing.
Interestingly, the people who tend to share these stories with me have three things in common. Firstly, they are sincere, sane, ordinary people. They are not kooky, religious “nutters”. Secondly, they all exhibit a reticence to share their story too widely, for fear that they will be disbelieved and categorised as a “fruit loop”. Thirdly, they are all, without exception, able to describe their experience in the most vivid, precise detail, and they do so with great passion. For them, this was not some vague dream, but an intensely vivid experience that overwhelmed their senses and that cannot be adequately expressed in words. For each of them, it was a deeply transformative experience; one which has shaped their perspective on life subsequently.
The Bible says, “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). This verse, of course, was written to Christians, who are given an assurance that they will be ushered into heaven. Elsewhere, the Bible indicates a less desirable destination for those who reject God’s offer of forgiveness. Scripture constantly reminds us that our physical outer shells will one day wear out and be discarded, but the real us will live on. Have you considered your own eternal future? Because one day your own body will stop working, and you will leave this world behind. Where are you heading?