I’ll be honest: I don’t believe in an afterlife. That said, though, I have a hard time explaining some of the
things said by people who have had near-death experiences. Sometimes they’re comforting… but sometimes, they’re actually quite spooky. I realize that a lot of it almost certainly has to do with how our bodies and brains deal with trauma — but people who have had NDEs are usually really, really sure that they’ve experienced something extraordinary. Something that may or may not be supernatural in nature.
There’s been some effort to study near-death experiences from a scientific perspective and determine exactly what might be going on during them; there’s even a
scale that actually rates the intensity of near-death experiences .Consisting of 16 different items, each scored between zero to two, the scale determines that experiences with scores of seven or higher classify officially as NDEs.
However, not all NDEs are equal. Although
some themes tend to pop up again and again in reports of near-death experiences — bright lights, out-of-body experiences, an overwhelming sense of love (although not always), and so on and so forth — it seems that there isn’t a universal sequential order in which each of these elements occur. One study published earlier in 2017 which attempted to investigate “whether NDE features follow a fixed order or distribution” found that each near-death experience usually follows “a unique pattern of events.” Said study author Charlotte Martial of the University of Liège and University Hospital of Liège in Belgium according to Science Daily, “Our findings suggest that near-death experiences may not feature all elements, and elements do not seem to appear in a fixed order. While near-death experiences may have a universal character so that they may exhibit enough common features to belong to the same phenomenon, we nevertheless observed a temporal variability within the distribution of reported features.”
This might be one of the aspects that accounts for the extreme variation in the ways people report their NDEs. The experiences might be positive, or negative, or just kind of weird — and what people might say about them, either right after they wake up or later on when they attempt to put the experience into words, reflect the wide range of qualities they might have.
These 11 examples show just that — and whether you believe in an afterlife or not, they’re worth reading all the same.
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“I Know It’s Not My Time To Die”
Anita Moorjani was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2002. In 2006, she fell into a coma from which she later awoke; she described what happened to her after she fell into the coma as though she was “above [her] body.” Said Moorjani to TODAY in 2016, “It was like I had 360-degree peripheral vision of the whole area around. But not just in the room where my body was in, but beyond the room.”
Here, she said, she met her father, who had previously passed away. “He said that I've gone as far as I can, and if I go any further, I won't be able to turn back. But I felt I didn't want to turn back, because it was so beautiful,” Moorjani said. “It was just incredible, because, for the first time, all the pain had gone. All the discomfort had gone. All the fear was gone. I just felt so incredible. And I felt as though I was enveloped in this feeling of just love. Unconditional love.”
After she awoke, she said, “Within four days, my tumors shrunk by 70 percent. … I kept telling everyone that,
‘I know I’m going to be OK. I know it’s not my time to die.’”
This one popped up in an AskReddit thread from about four years ago asking about
what people who have died and been resuscitated remember seeing. Although one Redditor commented that this short-but-sweet story was “the one thing in this thread that hasn’t unnerved me,” I actually find it kind of eerie; the image of a field of flowers might seem calm, sure, but it also feels… odd to me. Empty. Devoid of other people.
That might just my own emotional baggage, of course. But it’s interesting all the same.
“It Flew Around And Then Came Back”
So, hey, fun fact: Ernest Hemingway had a near-death experience during the First World War. He referenced it in a letter he wrote to his family while he was convalescing in Milan from a shrapnel wound; dated Oct.18, 1918, then letter included this tidbit (in typically efficient prose): “All the heroes are dead. And the real heroes are the parents. Dying is a very simple thing.
I've looked at death and really I know.”
Later, he described to a friend
exactly what he experienced: A big Austrian trench mortar bomb, of the type that used to be called ash cans, exploded in the darkness. I died then. I felt my soul or something coming right out of my body, like you'd pull a silk handkerchief out of a pocket by one corner. It flew around and then came back and went in again and I wasn't dead anymore.
Unfortunately, I can’t tell you the username of the person who posted this one; it’s from another AskReddit thread dated about eight months ago, but the Redditor seems to have deleted their account (or at least the record of their comments on this particular thread). The comment is still readable in full, though — the
context was a car crash, and just prior to the excerpt seen here, the Redditor said that they had seen “this woman with blonde hair in a gray dress suit. She said she was an off-duty EMT. She told me to relax and keep my legs elevated.”
Also, the Redditor asked around afterwards, and no one else remembers the lady. Apparently, she didn’t exist.
“My Legs Are Becoming Shorter”
A caveat: This one isn’t really near-death experience; it’s an out-of-body experience. (It’s true that people who have near-death experiences often experience them as out-of-body experiences, but not all OBEs are NDEs — that is, you can have an out-of-body experience without having a near death experience.) It’s
fascinating, though, so let’s take a look, shall we?
In a study published in the journal
Nature in 2002, researchers were able to sort of trigger out-of-body experiences by stimulating peoples’ angular gyrus — an area of the brain associated with complex language function, mathematics and spatial cognition, the integration of sensory information, and our awareness of ourselves. One patient described what she was perceiving a few different ways when her angular gyrus was stimulated with electricity: She felt she was “sinking into the bed” or “falling from a height,” and when she looked down, she said, “I see myself lying in bed, from above, but I only see my legs and my trunk.” When she was asked to look at her actual legs during the stimulation, she said she saw her legs “becoming shorter.”
“The Same Three Questions”
Yet another AskReddit thread, this time from about two years ago, featured this gem. I’m curious
what those three questions were, but I assume they were things like, “What happened?”, “Where am I?” or “Why am I here?”
Near Death Experience Research Foundation identifies its website as a “free public service” meant to “research and study consciousness experiences and to spread the message of love, unity and peace around the world.” (It sounds a little woo-woo to me, but then again, I’m a skeptic and also kind of a curmudgeon, so do with that what you will. If the NDERF’s message appeals to you, you do you.) It documents self-reported stories that could be NDEs and attempts to classify them — and a lot of these stories are quite arresting.
In one, for example, a man identified only as John D (folks who contribute are usually only identified by their first name and last initial) described being in a car crash during his job as a water meter reader.
He had an out-of-body experience, seeming to hover about 10 feet in the air over his body, during which he was able to see and sense the arrival of an ambulance. Then, he says he went to “a place that was foggy, but not foggy.” At one point, he heard someone say, “Do we know the next of kin?” Here’s how he described the next moments: I was on a gurney against the wall in the emergency room with a sheet over my head. I sat up and said, "I can tell you." A nurse with her back to me screamed and dropped the tray of things she was carrying on the floor. A doctor ran over to me and I answered his questions, like who I was, [and] what was my wife and father’s phone number.
He passed out after that and came to two days later.
“I Was Dead And In Hell”
Veronika-Ulrike Barthel, then 22, was struck by lightning while she was driving. She first had an out-of-body experience and saw herself sitting in her car, holding the steering wheel with burned hands. After a journey through a tunnel, she said she stood in front of a gate that read, “Welcome to Hell” on it. She was brought to a waiting room; she could also see many people suffering in torment. She said, however, that she met Jesus while she was there and that he sent her back to her body. When she came to back in the physical world, she just kept screaming, “I was dead and in hell!” over and over and over again.
“Isn’t It So Sad About Michelangelo?”
This story comes from the same thread as the one about the person who kept asking the same three questions over and over again when they woke up. u/Sapphoof wrote in a later comment that they did eventually get some clarification on what their mother meant; said the Redditor, “Yeah, she felt that he was essentially a slave for the four years it took to paint the Sistine Chapel.” Weirdly, they also said that their mother had never before cared about art or Michelangelo; as such, they wrote, “It was pretty out of character and concerning at the time.”
Honestly, all I can think is, "In the room the women come and go,
talking of Michelangelo."
Dr. George Ritchie died of pneumonia. Nine minutes after he died, he came back — and he said what he experienced during those nine minutes was epic. He wrote about it in a book, an excerpt of which Return From Tomorrow and My Life After Dying, can be found here; he seems to have experienced everything from OBE to meeting Jesus, according to his account. The last thing he remembered was God (or maybe Jesus — it’s a little unclear which) giving him a mental message: “It is left to humanity which direction they shall choose. I came to this planet to show you through the life I led how to love. Without our father you can do nothing; neither could I. I showed you this. You have 45 years.” When he returned to his body, he wrote, “My throat was on fire and the weight on my chest was crushing me.”
I’m not totally sure what was meant by “You have 45 years”; it clearly wasn’t a message about his remaining time on Earth, because
Ritchie died in 2007 — almost 64 years after his near-death experience. Still, though. Talk about spooky.
Let’s close out with one last story from Reddit — one that shows
how universal these experiences can be. It’s weirdly comforting, no?
Whether you believe in an afterlife or not, clearly our brains — and maybe our souls — do some interesting things right before we die. Maybe what goes on behind the veil isn't quite as unknown as we think.