Medicine

Some people who have died—and lived to tell the tale

WILLIAM LOWTHER June 14 1976
Medicine

Some people who have died—and lived to tell the tale

WILLIAM LOWTHER June 14 1976

Some people who have died—and lived to tell the tale

Medicine

Susan Kraft hardly remembered the accident at all—the car spinning wildly out of control, heading at high speed for a concrete bridge abutment. “But at the moment of impact,” she later recalled, “I entered a calm, dreamlike state, accompanied by a feeling of being at peace with everything.” Her reactions—the altered perception of time and space and the sense of emotional detachment — were typical of those who go to the brink of life and beyond. Kraft, 21, described her brush with destiny to psychiatrist Dr. Russell Noyes, an associate professor at the University of Iowa college of medicine, and one of dozens of American doctors and scientists now actively studying the question of life after death. “I saw an endless stream of past experiences,” Kraft told him. “They were all pleasant. Time stood still. It seemed to take forever. It was all very much like sitting in a movie theatre watching it happen on the screen. I didn’t feel like a participant.”

For centuries, man has wrestled with life after death. Theologians have sermonized on it. Philosophers have mused on it. Physicians have clinically attempted to observe it. Now, with modern advances in rescue and resuscitation techniques, an increasing number of patients, (principally victims of heart attacks or accidents) are being brought back to life—after clinical “death”. Their experiences, as recorded by researchers bear a striking similarityregardless of age, background or manner of death. Despite the wealth of new data, one central question remains unanswered: Are the memories of those who have “died” actually glimpses of an afterlife? Or is it just the human mind under stress, appearing to be outside the body, in another world?

Most researchers stop short of evaluating their interviews with the“dead.”But says Dr. Ray Moody, an Augusta, Georgia physician and author of the recently published paper Life After Life: “I can no longer dismiss out of hand the notion that there could be other realms of existence.” In one of Moody’s most dramatic sessions, a young housewife recalled: “I had a heart attack and I found myself in a black void. I knew I was dying... I could see a grey mist, and I was rushing toward it. Beyond the mist I could see people. The whole thing was penetrated with the most gorgeous light, a living, golden-yellow glow, pale, not like the harsh gold color we know on earth. As I approached closer, I felt certain I was going through the mist. It was such a wonderful joyous feeling. Yet it wasn’t my time because instantly from the other side

EDDY DeROY appeared my uncle Carl, who had died many years previously. He blocked my path, saying: “Go back. Your work on earth has not been completed. Go back now.” I didn’t want to go back, but I had no choice. And immediately I was back in my body. I felt that horrible pain in my chest and I heard my little boy crying, “God, bring my mommy back to me.”

An expert with more positive views is Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, the 49-year old Swiss-born psychiatrist who has specialized in counseling terminally ill patients. “Beyond the shadow of a doubt there is life after death,” says Kubler-Ross. “I have interviewed hundreds of patients who were declared legally dead and were later revived.”

One woman, suffering from a widespread malignancy, “died” in a small Indiana hospital. Three and a half hours later, resuscitating teams brought her back to life.

The woman later told Kubler-Ross that she felt herself floating out of her body and then saw her own corpse. “She also described a fantastic feeling of peace and wholeness. She tried to convey to those fighting for her life to relax, take it easy. But she realized they could not hear her. The more she tried to tell them to relax, the more frantic they became. She finally gave up on them and—these are her own words—‘Then I left consciousness.’ ” Moody, who was a philosophy professor before he became a medical doctor, insists that his work isn’t proof of life after death. “All that I have done is collect a series of anecdotes from people who have been near death. The subject needs a great deal more study. But almost everyone who comes close to death hears pleasant music or a buzzing sound. Many have the sensation of floating out of their bodies upward, others feel they are being whisked away through a small, dark cave or tunnel.” Noyes’ findings, published in a ninepage paper titled: Depersonalization In The Face Of Life-Threatening Danger: A Description, discusses 114 accounts of near-death experiences. “Many experienced fear momentarily upon the recognition of extreme danger. However, they soon found themselves calm. Nearly half reported no fear at all despite the gravity of the situation. One third acknowledged feeling as though a wall existed between themselves and their feelings.”

All of those involved in current studies fear their findings may be sensationalized or misunderstood. Noyes, for example, refuses to discuss the possibility of life after death—he is concerned only with the question of “depersonalization”. Still, he concludes: “One may take comfort from the fact that, suddenly confronted by death, one might find within himself the resources for coping. In such an urgent moment, strength might be found to effect a rescue, but failing that, to face life’s end with serenity, even acceptance.”

Noyes speculates that out-of-body experiences may be projections the brain makes to negate death, to pretend we are only witnessing it as a spectator. Nevertheless, the doctor has not made up his own mind about life after death. “All I can tell you is what patients tell me. They are filled with curiosity, wonderment. I’ll just have to wait and see.” WILLIAM LOWTHER