Stories about people dying and coming back to life grab our attention in a way that few other things do — and a lot of it has to do with what people see during near-death experiences. Even when people’s bodies or brains have technically shut down, those who are then resuscitated still frequently report experiencing everything from complete emptiness to vivid visions and sensory experiences. You only have to turn to Reddit to see the wealth of stories that exist in the world; from AskReddit threads to entire subreddits devoted entirely to the topic of NDEs, there’s no shortage of sources to consult in search of first-hand experiences about brushes with death. And for many of us, they are endlessly fascinating.
Exactly what a near-death experience is sort of depends on who you talk to. As Gideon Lichfield noted in an in-depth look at the science of NDEs in The Atlantic in 2015, scientists studying the phenomenon have explained them as being due to “oxygen shortage, imperfect anesthesia, and the body’s neurochemical responses to trauma”; however, wrote Lichfield, many in the “NDErs” or “experiencers” community made up of those who have actually had NDEs consider these explanations to be “inadequate.”
Where you fall on the spectrum likely has something to do with whether you’re religious or spiritual — although part of me also isn’t convinced that NDEs must necessarily be either a scientific, biological phenomenon or a spiritual one (and I say that as an extremely non-religious, mostly atheistic person myself). I wonder if they could be both: That is, whether NDEs can have both biological elements and spiritual ones. After all, your belief system shapes how you view and process the world; as such, even if an NDE is, from a technical standpoint, your body reacting to trauma, your belief system might also shape how you perceive the experience itself.
One Redditor, u/Magma151, made a stirring observation in one thread about NDES concerning the kinds of stories that get shared on Reddit. “I see two different answers here,” they wrote. “One is that they were trapped in a void of pure nothingness, not even awareness. Just black. The other is a state of pure peace [and] happiness, seeing loved ones and basking in the light.”
The most important part, though, is what they wrote next: “I think I like the latter, and that is what I will hope for in death,” they said. “And if I'm wrong, it's not like I would be disappointed. I wouldn't have the awareness to do so.” They finished, “I [would] rather live my life in hope of what's to come, rather than fear.”
And, I mean… same. Hope wins out over fear. Every time.
Here are 15 stories drawn from a variety of threads and subreddits about NDEs showing the wide range of things that people see during brushes with death. I think they’re worth reading, no matter what you believe in. Check out these other sources for more.
Not exactly comforting for anyone who was hoping that there's something beyond the proverbial veil, but oh well.
2"All I Could Think About Was My Daughter"
It's moments like this that really make you realize the things that matter the most.
3"Time Slows To A Crawl"
According to one study from 2012, we experience time slowing down during accidents due to our cognitive processes becoming "rapidly enhanced," which distorts "the relation between the temporal properties of events in the external world and in internal states." Thus, the external world appears to slow down to us.
4"It Was Weird AF"
I'll be honest: I am not totally sure whether or not this comment is just trolling us. But while we're on the subject, have you heard that fan theory about Ed, Edd 'n' Eddy? The one that posits that all the characters are actually dead? It's weirdly fascinating. I actually first encountered it on the r/FanTheories subreddit a few years ago, but according to Know Your Meme, it's been around longer than that; its earliest known appearance was on 4chan's /x/ paranormal board in 2009.
Just, y'know, for the curious. I don't know. It seems relevant, somehow.
5"There Was Something Eerily Comforting About Being At Zero"
Think of this one as a companion to the first one on this list: "Nothing" isn't necessarily scary.
6"It Was Like I Was On Another Planet"
Not all NDEs are this detailed, but some certainly are. If you have an NDE like this and feel detached and depressed afterwards like this Redditor says they do, you might think about visiting a therapist; they'll be able to help you work through whatever you're going through.
9"The Hole Was Gone Like It Had Never Happened"
OK, technically this one isn't about what the Redditor saw during their NDE, but about what they saw after it. It's still eerie, though — and although I'm sure there's a rational explanation for it, I'll be damned if I know what it is.
10"It Was The Most Beautiful Thing I Had Ever Seen"
I imagine this is kind of what floating through space would be like.
11"I Had A Really Weird Out Of Body Experience"
According to The Atlantic, an out-of-body experience is one of 16 possible elements of a near-death experience according to the Greyson scale — the scale developed by Bruce Greyson, who was one of the first doctors to study near-death experiences, as a way to describe the intensity of an NDE. The scale scores each element from zero to two and then adds them together; a maximum score is 32. An experience that scores as seven or higher is an NDE according to the Greyson scale.
12"I Saw An Infinite Amount Of Other Views Of The Same Experience"
Interestingly, a number of commenters responded to this one by noting that it sounded a lot like what they experienced while they were on DMT (which is both a naturally-occurring compound in the human body and a lot of plants, and an illegal drug).
13"I Had A Long Conversation With My Deceased Grandparents"
It's not uncommon to see friends, family, or other loved ones during an NDE; according to one study from 2015, they're a "comforting" part of the dying process.
14"The World I Had Entered Was Liquid"
Here's a link to "The Crawling Chaos." If you haven't read it yet, you should.
15"He Showed Me The Movie Of My Life, All The Experiences I Still Needed To Have"
Anecdotally, a lot of people report stories in which someone tells them it isn't their "time" yet. Whether this is your brain trying to make sense of what's happening or something else remains to be seen.
For more stories about what people have experienced during near-death experiences, check out this AskReddit thread; it's several years old, but it's full of thoughtful reflection on the subject.