Being dead is a pleasant feeling
by Peter Liefhebber
"It is as if one is going through a tunnel, it
gets darker and darker, then in the distance there is a light and you go into it. It is
describe what it is like, it is like being in the middle of the sun incredibly
bright light, but it is not blinding. One is simply in it and it is as if you are one with
this light. It is not only light, there is something more, this light knows you as you
are. You feel accepted. What really made an impression on me is the prevalent feeling
there of a sense of love and warmth which overshadowed everything else; it simply
Thus a 35-year old Dutch chemist in a radio
interview. He was speaking about a profound experience he had, on what he considered to be
his deathbed, after a brain hemorrhage. He is one of many, in recent years, who have dared
to speak out openly about to them a new reality: death is not the end. Their
belief is no longer theoretical, stemming from religious conviction, but a certainty based
on the experience of having had a brief glimpse of the other side.
Thousands, no, tens of thousands of people must have
experienced something very similar. They kept silent about it for fear of being ridiculed
by a materialistic society where fear of death is so dominant that to speak about it is
almost taboo. This fear of death, according to the evidence given by eye
witnesses who have dared to speak out, is totally unnecessary. Many of those who
have briefly passed the barrier between life and death find it much more
difficult to come back than to stay on the other side. In the words of the
same Dutch chemist: "At a certain point I knew that I had to choose: either to go on
(for you know that beyond that light there is something more) or to go back. That is just
about the hardest thing to do, because the feeling of so-called death is so
pleasant that it takes a great deal of will-power to go back. I made the decision, but I
can very well imagine that there are people who find it so pleasant that they stay there
and go on."
The fascinating thing about such first-hand
testimonies is the striking similarity between these experiences. This can be seen from
the results of the few scientific attempts which have been made to put this area of
knowledge on the map.
The American psychologist Dr Karlis Osis and his
colleague from Iceland, Dr Erlendur Haraldsson, have been conducting such a survey into
what they cautiously term visions of the dying. Questioning hundreds of
doctors and nurses, they gathered information about 442 deathbed experiences in the USA
and 435 in India (of which 163 people recovered). In no less than e91 of these cases,
evidence was given of hallucinations; these all had in common the appearance
of someone who said they were there to ease the transition. Sometimes it was a
figure of light but more often it was a member of the family who had passed on
and had come to help the patient.
The following testimony was given by a doctor:
"A female cardiac patient in her fifties knew that she was dying and was in a
discouraged, depressed mood. Suddenly, she raised her arms and her eyes opened wide; her
face lit up as if she was seeing someone she hadnt seen for a long time. She said,
Oh, Katie, Katie. The patient had been suddenly roused from a comatose state,
she seemed happy, and she died immediately after the hallucination. There were several
Katies in this womans family. All were dead."
Another very similar experience: "A 68 year-old
Polish housewife was afflicted with cancer. Her mind was clear. She was settling some
financial matters and asked for her purse. She had not thought of dying. Then she saw her
husband who had died twenty years before. She was happy with a sort of religious feeling
and, according to her doctor, she lost all fear of death. Instead, she felt it to be the
logical correct thing. She died within 5 or 10 minutes."
According to Osis and Haraldssons survey, one
of the significant characteristics of these experiences is their degree of similarity.
Personal variables such as age, sex, conditioning, social status or religious background
did not seem to have had any influence on the nature of the hallucinations.
Their content, however, differs significantly from the hallucinations which, for instance,
the mentally ill experience and which are mostly auditory. In the case of the dying (and
that of the psychic) clearly visible images are seen. Another difference is that, of the
apparitions to which terminal patients testify, about 90 per cent are close relatives.
This is not the case with the mentally ill.
There are still more striking differences which
prove that these appearances to dying patients cannot be dismissed as the fevered
ramblings of the confused, gravely ill person. Feverish hallucinations and those of the
mentally ill usually evoke anxiety, are threatening and confused. In the case of deathbed
patients however, there is overwhelming evidence of experiences which give tranquility and
joy. As instanced above, very frequently such an appearance results in the patient coming
out of a mental depression and, comforted and freed of all fears, dares to meet death face
to face. In over a hundred of the documented cases the experience was described as having
been in a heavenly place with magnificent landscapes and beautiful gardens. In
many cases where no images were seen feelings of rest, tranquility and peace, sometimes of
religious fervour, were experienced.
It is also striking that these
hallucinations were experienced by many patients whose mental functions were
in no way impaired. According to this survey nearly half of the patients were in a normal
state of mind, were completely aware of their surroundings and reacted rationally on
seeing the apparitions.
Religion no influence
The patients expectations did not condition
the type of vision experienced. Neither in the US nor in India did the purpose or the
identity of the apparitions correspond to the hopes or otherwise which the dying or
mortally ill person had concerning their recovery. In other words, patients who thought
they would get better did not have any less deathbed visions than those who knew that they
were dying. Whether they had a religious belief or not did not seem to make any
significant difference either: both believers and non-believers had deathbed visions to
the same degree.
Osis and Haraldsson also had the courage to state
their own personal beliefs:
"When Osis started the pilot survey he was
quite critical. However, after having encountered many consistent doctors reports
supporting the theory of postmortem survival, he slowly changed his attitude toward the
positive. Haraldsson also began with a reserved but searching attitude. Gradually he
became impressed by the data from the many interviews he conducted. The outcome of long
labors on statistical evaluations moved him further towards acceptance of the afterlife
hypothesis as the most tenable explanation of our data. Osis concurs with this
Even convinced humanists with a firm belief in the
finality of death, and that one lives only once, cannot easily ignore the testimonies
based on personal experiences of life after death. The book Life after Life by
the American philosopher and MD, Dr Raymond Moody, for instance, caused the Dutch doctor
and sociologist Albert Nieuwland to reconsider his world view. In a newspaper interview
Nieuwland, who teaches at the Humanistic Educational Institute, admitted that his initial
plan had been to shoot the book down in flames in the magazine published by
the humanistic organization.
"But when I read the book I became profoundly
impressed", said Nieuwland, and it caused him to read more on the subject. His
conclusion: "These stories are to be taken very seriously. They are still usually
dismissed as vague tales or as experiences caused by the anaesthetic or the taking of
medication. Yet, investigations done mostly in America have shown that such reasoning is
nonsense. Since about 40 per cent of dying people have these experiences, it
would be much more sensible to ask ourselves if we could learn anything from them."
Bibliography and recommended reading:
Karlis Osis & Erlendur Haraldsson, At the
hour of death, Avon Books, New York; Raymond A Moody, Life after Life,
Mockingbird Books, Covington, USA; idem, Reflections on life after life; Elizabeth
Kübler-Ross, Death, the final stage of death, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New
Jersey, USA; Floating between life and death, Algemeen Dagblad (21
Sept 1984); Johannes Hemleben, Jenseits, Rowolt Verlag, Reinbek, West Germany;
John Hick, Death and Eternal Life, William Collins Sons & Co; W Y
Evans-Wentz, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Oxford University Press, London.
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