When my no-nonsense aunt was 50 years old, she had a heart attack. Fortunately, she was a nurse at a nurses's convention. Her colleagues were able to revive her with CPR.

Later, she told my mother that when her heart stopped, she found herself floating above her body. She could see her colleagues frantically working on her body. Yet she felt gloriously at peace.

Suddenly she was back in her body, feeling pain. (When properly administered, CPR chest compressions are quite vigorous.) She was pissed. After that, she decided she did not want to be resuscitated if she had another heart attack. (My mother just mentioned this in passing the other day when we were discussing what happens when you die. I don't know why she waited 35 years to tell me about it.)

A friend of PS's had a similar experience. LM was on the operating table when things went south. She saw "the light," shimmering beings, and felt complete bliss, peace and love. Afterwards, she said she no longer feared death.

Both of these women had what is called a near death experience or episode (NDE). In an NDE, the person is close to death - for example, their heart has stopped beating or they have lost a lot of blood.

Others who have had near death experiences (NDEs) report that it is like "going home," or being plugged into a communal source of energy and euphoria. Many say they did not want to leave. They felt surrounded by an intense sense of love. About one-third report being welcomed by departed loved ones, and are able to communicate with them without speaking. Others see what they perceive as God. A smaller number of NDErs report a distressing experience involving feelings of terror, anger, isolation, and/or guilt. My mother's partner's heart stopped twice, and he didn't experience anything - he didn't even know he was unconscious.

In a Dutch study of 344 patients who went into cardiac arrest and were then revived after 2-10 minutes, about 1 in 8 reported an NDE-type event. (LLommel, P. V., R. V. Wees, V. Meyers, I. Elfferich. 2001. “Near-Death Experience in Survivors of Cardiac Arrest: A Prospective Study in the Netherlands.” Lancet. Vol 358 No. 9298: 2039.)

Some people may be reluctant to discuss what happened for fear others will think they are crazy. With increased acceptance and improved resuscitation technology, more and more people are reporting NDEs. Research has been undertaken in an attempt to explain what happens during an NDE. Some scientists believe NDE's result from lack of oxygen.

I've often wondered whether these experiences are associated with wishful thinking. But the people who have an NDE are adamant that it was intensely real to them. It is interesting to note even young children have them. Not everyone who has an NDE is religious, although some become religious or more spiritual as a result.

I'd like to believe that this is what it is like when we die. It would be reassuring to know that there is no pain - only bliss and love.




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