Mrs C. remembers with clarity the experience she had when 30 years ago she survived a nearly fatal pneumonia:
A feeling of great calm came over me for the first time in weeks and I gradually became aware that a number of my dead relatives [my father, aunties and uncles] had gathered around the bottom of my bed. I recognized them all even though they appeared not to have faces. There was a strong light on top of as well as inside the head of each of them. They were smiling at me and beckoning me to come with them. At first, I thought how nice and peaceful it would be to join them, but suddenly I became very frightened. I was greatly concerned for the welfare of my children in my absence and felt I could not leave them to the care of social services or my mother-in-law, who I did not like. She had not proved herself to be a very caring or loving woman to her own sons so I knew the children would not be loved as I loved them. At this point, I fought against the decision to join my relatives and shouted out loudly, 'I can't come with you, I have to stay for the children, I can't come yet.' With that, they disappeared but I was by then too afraid to relax again in case they came back and was not able to resist them . . . I truly believe
I did experience this event and don't believe I was hallucinating. I have repeated the story on many occasions since and the account never varies, as it is imprinted indelibly in my mind forever.
As in this case, near-death accounts often include claims of having met deceased relatives, friends, religious figures or unknown beings, who come to help during the dying process. All those who reported these experiences are absolutely sure that what happened was a real experience and not a mere hallucination.
In some particular cases, these 'others' are beings who supposedly died at the same moment and who become companions on the journey in the afterlife, as in the case of Timothy Wyllie, who had the following experience:
I died. It was for me quite incontrovertible, although I didn't fully understand what it all meant until I came across the researches of Drs. Moody and Elizabeth Kübler-Ross some years later. Here's what happened. My body just broke down. I had walking pneumonia; my back had given out and I was terminally exhausted from attempting to hold together a disintegrating situation. If I managed three or four hours of sleep a night, I reckoned myself ahead of the game. No holidays. No weekends. Constantly having to prop myself up; put on a good face; encourage a wilting and depressed crew of about 50 people to yet greater efforts. One evening I collapsed. My body would go no further. The donkey could be beaten no more. I dragged myself back from our First Avenue monster to the relative place of our house on East 48th Avenue to the relative peace of our house on East 49th Street and drew one final bath. I knew I was finished but I had little idea of what lay in store for me. Within moments of stretching out in the bath, I found myself, to my utter amazement, hovering somewhere out in space, my body clearly visible in the bath far down below me. The next thing I knew I seemed to be in a valley as real and solid as any landscape I have seen in my travels. A monorail car was sweeping down towards me on a single, shining curve of metal. Then, mysteriously, I was inside the monorail cabin together with nine or ten other people. I can see them today in my mind's eye; opposite me sat a black man playing a trumpet with great beauty. Somehow at that moment I knew we were all dying at the same time. A voice came to me over what I took to be a speaker-system, although it may well have been directly into my mind. It was very clear and lucid and quite the most loving voice I have ever heard. 'You are dying,' the Voice confirmed to me, 'but we wish you to make a choice. You can indeed pass on to what awaits you on the other side . . .' At this point I was given to see my body very casually sinking under the water of my bath somewhere below me. A simple and painless death. '. . . or you can choose to return to your life. We wish you to know, however, that you have completed what you came to do.' The Voice was utterly without attitude, wholly kind and considerate and with no bias whatsoever as to which option I might choose. I thought for a moment with a crystal clarity I have never since experienced, and knew in my heart I desired to return to the world.
It was at this stage that Timothy met two angels:
On announcing my decision, there was an expression of delight so profound the monorail cabin dissolved around me, leaving me, once again, suspended in space, this time before a seemingly endless wall of angelic Beings. Such music and singing welled around me as I have never conceived, or perceived, before or since. I disintegrated into the overwhelming beauty of the sounds. The next sensation was becoming aware I was standing on the edge of a vast, very flat plain. Beside, and slightly behind me stood two tall Beings dressed in white, or simply creatures of light - I could see clearly, since my attention focused on what lay in the center of the plain. It was an immense structure I can liken only to an extraordinary elaborate and beautiful offshore oil rig. It shone with gold and silver and had at each corner the faces of people and animals. Somehow it was in constant movement, yet in itself, it did not move. Intuitively I knew at that moment I was seeing the same structure Ezekiel describes with such elegance, although I find it difficult to retain the image now in my imagination. I was led into this enormous place and taken to a bright lit room where I was gently laid out on a flat surface similar to an operating table. Beings clustered around me, murmuring soft encouragement. Some apparatus appeared and I have a dim recollection of being hooked up to it. There was a moment of intense pain, except it was not truly pain. It wasn't quite shock either but some combination of both sensations. I felt as if in some way my blood had been completely changed, as if all the tired old vital fluids had been switched in one infinitely rapid moment. I recall that after the 'operation' I was taken 'somewhere'. I am still, to this day, rather embarrassed to admit I believe it was heaven. I have no conscious recollection of this last journey, my only clue being a strange sense of familiarity with a description of 'heaven' I came upon some years later in Robert Monroe's book Journeys Out of the Body.
Timothy's experience had also a very deep healing effect:
The next thing I was aware of was descending gently again to my body still propped in the bath, the water now cool. When I got out to dry myself off I found myself completely healed, my back straightened and the thick phlegm in my lungs gone. From being terminally ill I found myself fully restored and stronger than ever.
Religious figures are also encountered. As will be argued in the next chapter in greater detail, sometimes these visions are culturally dependent. For instance, a Christian will be more likely to meet Jesus, while a Buddhist will meet Amida, a Hindu will meet Yama, the King of Death, while non-believer will meet an unidentified 'Being of Light'. Usually, these figures fulfil the same function of welcoming the person to a new realm of existence, independent of their culture. As Paul Badham observed: 'As in all religious experiences what is "encountered" is described in the language of specific religious traditions, but that does not exclude the possibility that the underlying reality may be the same in all cases' (Badham 1990).
But this is not always the case. Sutherland reported several cases in which the NDErs specifically noticed how some aspects of their near-death visions were very different from what they were encouraged to assume from their religious background. The story of little Daniel is one of these. One day, he shocked his mum when at the age of 4 he told her that Jesus didn't look like illustrations she was showing him in a religious book:
This 4-year-old was telling me that this picture and the picture on the wall were totally wrong, that Jesus didn't like look like that at all. As he explained it, Jesus had a black flowing cape. And then he drew him, he always used to draw him with a black flowing cape.
(Sutherland 1995: 99)
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