We currently know that children of any age can have an NDE (Morse 1990; Sutherland 1995). Very young children, as soon as they are able to speak, have reported NDEs they had as infants or in the process of being born. One of these was Mark Botts, who had an NDE at the age of 9 months. His story emerged in a study that was carried out by Kenneth Ring and Evelyn Valarino (2000). At that time, the little boy was suffering from severe bron-chiolitis, which caused a full cardiopulmonary arrest. It apparently took more than 40 minutes for doctors to revive him, and afterwards he was in a coma for a further three months. A trachea tube, which prevented him speaking, remained in place until he was aged 3. And then another two years passed before, one day totally out of the blue he surprised his parents by talking about 'when he had died'. He described how, during his experience, he left his body and crawled through a dark tunnel into a bright golden light where he was greeted warmly by some 'white clouded figures'. He then glided down a golden road until suddenly a being, whom he understood to be God, appeared in front of him. They conversed telepathically until Mark was told he had to return to his body. He was told: 'You have a purpose in life, and when you fulfil it, you can come back and visit me again someday.' Interestingly, while out of body Mark saw things that could be subsequently verified. He observed the doctors and nurses working on him, and then he watched as his grandmother tried to find his mother who was 'at least a hundred yards away through many corridors, rooms and doors'. As Mark's mother said, in response to the cynicism she faced when talking about Mark's experience, 'How can you not believe when he can tell you where you stood, when it's impossible to see you? How can you not believe him when the things he said, happened?' (ibid.: 108-12).
NDEs of children are particularly interesting because of the innocence of their accounts. Morse and Perry carried out one of the first studies on the experiences of a group of 12 children who had survived the resuscitation process (Morse and Perry 1992). The results were very astonishing. Eight out of 12 reported the experience of leaving their bodies and traveling in other realms. These experiences seemed to be very similar to NDE in adults. However, some differences emerged from later studies. One of these was carried out by Peter and Elizabeth Fenwick who found out that children are more likely to include descriptions of a very concrete Heaven, peopled by angels, Jesus figures and golden gates. 'There was a big window and I saw Jesus with two child angels either side floating down to me', said one of their interviewees (Fenwick and Fenwick 1995: 175). According to the Fenwicks, these differences may arise: 'because a child's intellectual and perceptual world is simpler than that of an adult' (ibid.: 82). Interestingly, the researchers observed that 'the younger they are, the less likely they are to see their experience as spiritual or mystical, or to feel that it made them more religious' (ibid.: 82).
OBEs are also very common among children. Mrs H. Pelling remembers very clearly the out-of-body experience she had when she was 6 years old. At that time she was very ill in hospital after an operation for peritonitis. She said:
My recollections are of being up in the corner of the ceiling at the end of the ward, completely encompassed in this most brilliant light with an ecstatic feeling of warmth and comfort, looking down at myself in bed, with the vicar and ward sister kneeling at my bedside in prayer giving me the last rites (so I was told years later). I can still see it all as clearly now, all these years later. I remember the doctor saying to my mother on later visits, 'It was a miracle, she had the will to live.'
In the same way as described by adults, for her the Light was 'brilliant', the feelings of warmth and comfort all-enveloping. Another interesting peculiarity of children's experiences is when they have apparently been greeted by relatives whom they did not personally know, but whom they later recognized. Paul and Linda Badham in their Immortality or Extinction? (1982) mentioned one of these singular cases, which they found in a weekly paper called Pulse, where a GP, Dr Thomas Smith, wrote a review about the case of a little girl who had an NDE and met her grandfather's mother, of whom she had had no previous knowledge. Later on she was able to recognize her in a photograph at her uncle's home without having met her before (Thomas Smith, 'Called back from the dead', in Pulse, 10 July 1980).
Another very exceptional case is that of Hannah, which was reported by Cherie Sutherland in her Children of the Light (1995). Hannah has had four near-death experiences in her life, two of them in early childhood, one as a teenager and another, aged 20, during childbirth. She said:
I was born a Jew in Germany, probably some time in late 1937 but as I have no papers and all the people connected with me are dead, I have no way of proving it. My first experience happened when I was 3 or 4 years old. I remember being taken out of my house by my father and a soldier who sent us to the other side of the road. I looked back and saw my mother being held by a group of neighbours. She was yelling at the soldier who told her to be silent. I was afraid and started crying. My mother continued to scream at the soldier so he stepped up to her and hit her in the head with his rifle. As she was lying on the ground an SS officer went over to her, stood with one foot on her body and shot her in the head with his pistol.
I screamed. He turned, raised the pistol and pointed it at me. I turned to run and was shot in the back. I experienced a shock, and pain that nearly took the top of my head off. Then I heard music. I can't describe it in earthly terms. I was in darkness. Then the darkness changed into a passage and then it was light and peaceful, like being in a big smile. I heard voices and they were like a caress, but I didn't understand what was being said. In the light I could feel someone else's tears and I saw 'beings'. I then saw one who I remembered seeing at another time. I tried to reach out to him. Tears were in his eyes and his thoughts came clearly to me, 'You cannot touch us.' At that moment the pain started again and then I must have slipped into a state of sleep or unconsciousness.
Upon regaining consciousness some time later, Hannah realized she had been taken to the nuns, who were looking after her. She was afraid because she'd heard terrible things about nuns and Christians. Doctors examined her back, then strapped her to a table and one of them gave her a drink that made her feel dizzy and sick. He then began to operate on her back. She said:
I faded out. It was blue-black then a roaring black, then once again there was peace. This time there was no music, no lullaby. I saw two people I knew but I don't remember their relationship, and I also saw three 'beings'. The third 'being' then sent me a message of hope, love and caring. He sent me messages of a future without pain.
As Sutherland reported, Hannah assumed she then returned to her body, because later, while strapped in splints, she remembers the building being on fire. She said, 'I was rescued by being thrown out the window.' Before the end of the war Hannah was taken to New Zealand as an orphan. Her next NDE occurred when she was about 15 in a bicycle accident when she hit a truck. This time she had no awareness of any darkness or pain but, while out-of-body, observed the people who were gathered around her. She said, 'I floated quite happily, watching myself and them for a very long time.'
Five years later, aged 20, while afflicted with pneumonia and heavily pregnant, she was rushed to hospital in labour. Her child was born 'in a great hurry'. She said, 'I could see her, myself, and the doctors and nurses and then I travelled through the tunnel until I was presented with the choice of rest or going back.' The next thing she knew, she was in intensive care; and three days later her daughter died.
According to Sutherland:
In view of her many tragic life experiences it might seem surprising that Hannah did not choose 'rest' during her NDE. However, as a child she had seen her 'light being' guardian again - her 'friend of the tears' - and his message of hope had left her feeling she was not on her own, and that there was a future without pain.
There is a growing amount of evidence that children who have had an NDE take a different path in life. Atwater, who interviewed more than 250 NDE children, reported that the after-effects of an NDE can last more than 20 or 30 years (Atwater 2003). The argument has been extensively researched by Sutherland (1995) who came to the conclusion that the 'children of the light' may feel different from their friends and they may be more intuitive. She also suggested that some of them may be 'less afraid of death, have more vivid dreams, and are more likely to have an out-of-body experience and precognitive episodes. The experience may also influence career choices' (ibid.: 40). In the case of Donna (the little girl mentioned above), she had various precognitive dreams. She dreamed for four nights in a row that her grandfather died only a few days before this actually happened. In the dream, her grandfather went to the family grave plot and cleaned the spot on the stone where his name would be engraved. Then he sat at the grave site and talked to his grandson who had died previously in an automobile accident. In the dreams she couldn't hear what he was saying. She told her mother the story about each episode and somehow she knew he was going to die. He died of a massive heart attack just a few days after her fourth dream. After the grandfather's death, Donna's mother read his journal. He wrote of sweeping leaves off the grave site and talking to his grandson on the very days that Donna dreamed it (Morse 1990).
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