Bereaved individuals have reported finding peace and comfort from learning certain details about near-death experiences (NDEs) and related experiences. Often those experiencing grief and loss are searching for answers to questions:
- Where is my loved one?
- Will I ever see him/her again?
- Did my loved one suffer at the time of the accident, heart attack, or illness that resulted in their death?
- How can I make meaning of this loss?
Insight gained from learning about an NDE can impact the grief process.
- NDErs reveal that the moment of death was not painful. Many people who have had a close brush with physical death assumed that they would suffocate or feel intense pain at the time of death. Surprisingly, they report that in clinical death (cardiac arrest, no breathing and/or heartbeat) they had no physical distress of any kind. Instead, they had a floating, peaceful, euphoric experience.
- Beyond the moment of death, many NDErs report entering a brilliant light that seems like an all-knowing, all loving being. They describe entering that light as "coming home," with a sense of familiarity, peace, and total comfort.
- For these and other reasons, most people who have had NDEs no longer fear death or, at least, have significantly reduced anxiety about death. They say that, because of their NDEs, they now know what happens in death, and they have no fear.
- NDErs sometimes say they encountered deceased loved ones during the experience. They usually report that these reunions were joyous, and that the loved one was in a state of complete health and well being.
- Some NDErs have reported that during their NDE, they encountered individuals whom they had never met, but who were later identified as deceased family members. Living family members may identify these relatives from their description, or photos may confirm that identification. These kinds of experiences lead many people to believe in immortality.
- Some NDErs report being sent back, some note they chose to come back, still others explain they were just suddenly back in the body. This might imply to bereaved family members that the person who did not come back found that it was time to die.
Although NDErs sometimes report distressing experiences involving feelings of powerlessness, isolation, torment, or worthlessness, such reports are much less frequent than reports of pleasurable NDEs. These points are probably most relevant to people experiencing grief and loss:
- It can be helpful to note that a psychospiritual descent into what we think of as hell has been the experience of saints and sages throughout history and across cultures. Every world religion has its mystics who seek ultimate wisdom, and an encounter with one's own fear seems to be an essential step toward spiritual maturity. There is no evidence that "good people" have pleasant experiences and "bad people" have frightening ones. It can be comforting to know that evidence from both the mystics and scientificresearchers indicates that, whatever the experiences along the way, the ultimate condition of consciousness is one of peace.
- Some NDEs include a life review. In this review, the NDEr typically re-views (sees again) and reexperiences every moment of his/her life. At the same time, the NDEr fully experiences being every other person with whom the NDEr interacted. The NDEr feels what it was like to be on the receiving end of his/her own actions, including those that caused others pain. The NDEr usually reports feeling profound remorse, along with extreme regret that the harm cannot be undone. This understanding is likely to be extremely painful, it is said to be more a corrective than punishment for its own sake, for at the same time, NDErs typically report learning that the ultimate purpose of life is to be a more loving person.
- Some people report having had a mostly distressing experience involving overriding feelings of terror, isolation, and/or torment. Research studies have suggested that a terrifying NDE is an incomplete NDE, and that experiences that run their full course resolve into the peaceful, healing, even euphoric kind.
What do experiences of Nearing Death Awareness and After Death Communication have to do with my grief and loss?
These experiences imply not only the ongoing survival of a loved one, but also their connection to, concern for, and even protection of those still in earthly existence.
- In nearing death awareness, dying people commonly are aware of the presence of deceased loved ones who are there to reassure them. While awake and alert, they often converse with the deceased. These experiences differ from hallucinations: Whereas someone hallucinating is out of touch with the surrounding environment and people, the dying person experiencing nearing death awareness remains in touch with ordinary reality as well as an alternate reality.
- In after death communication, a living person experiences the presence of a deceased person. The experience of the deceased person's presence can range from a vague but definite feeling, to a distinctive smell associated with the deceased, to hearing the deceased person's voice, to seeing all or part of the deceased person, either vaguely or extremely clearly. They may also experience the presence of the deceased loved one symbolically through such common signs as butterflies, rainbows, birds and other animals, flowers, and through inanimate objects such as pictures. It is common for the bereaved to experience the presence of loved ones for the first year or so after their death and this communication may occur throughout a lifetime, especially at times when it would be most helpful. In fact, people have reported being warned of impending danger by deceased loved ones, even after those loved ones have been dead for several years.
From near-death and related experiences, a bereaved person can find implications that the deceased did not suffer at the time of death, that he/she may continue to exist healthfully in some other form and dimension, that contact might occur between the deceased and the bereaved person, and that a reunion might await the deceased and the bereaved. At the same time, a very strong implication is that each person's life has a purpose, and there are probably reasons beyond our understanding as to why some people die from earthly existence while others are left to continue on in that existence. As a group, NDErs would tend to say that, by learning to endure the (apparently) temporary separation from those we love who have gone ahead into death, we enable ourselves to fulfill the purpose of our own earthly existence: to continue our own process of psychospiritual development. Knowledge of neardeath experiences cannot take away all the hurt and pain associated with a loved one's death, but it can provide some comfort and can help a grieving person endure the loss.
- Callanan, M. & Kelley, P. (1992). Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs, and Communication of the Dying. New York: Bantam.
- Guggenheim, B. & Guggenheim, J. (1995). Hello from Heaven. New York: Bantam. (A related audio tape is available from IANDS.)
- Horacek, B. J. (1997). "Amazing grace: The healing effects of near-death experiences on those dying and grieving". Journal of Near-Death Studies 16(2), pp. 149-161. (A related audio tape is available from IANDS.)
- Kircher, P. (1995). Love is the Link: A Hospice Doctor Shares her Experience of Near-Death and Dying. Burdett, NY: Larson. (A related audio tape is available from IANDS.)
- Ring, K. & Valarino, E. E. (1998). Lessons from the light: What We Can Learn from the Near-Death Experience. Portsmouth, NH: Moment Point Press.