In a new book, Proof of Heaven, Neurosurgeon Ebon Alexander makes the claim that indeed an afterlife exists because he himself experienced “heaven” while in a deep coma and then returned to “tell the tale.” What makes his testimony especially noteworthy is that Dr. Alexander comes from the medical scientific community and during this episode his physical brain had completely shut down and would have been incapable of producing imagery or dreams.
While I welcomed this new addition to the body of literature on near-death experience (NDE), I wasn’t particularly surprised by his revelations because I myself have personally known two NDE’ers and had the occasion to discuss face-to-face in great detail their otherworldly journey. Not only that, three years ago I came frighteningly close to one such event of my own. All grist for my novel-in-progress. But—more about my experience later.
Billy Joyce Branson was the oldest sister of my closest playmate Tom when I was growing up in the rural farm community north of Emporia, Kansas, in the latter forties. She had gotten married before completing her senior year in high school to a pipeline worker and moved to Oklahoma. A short time later—on the 27th day of May, 1950, to be exact—when she and her husband were returning to Emporia for a family gathering, their automobile was involved in a terrible accident.
Billy was thrown out through the window into the ditch, and the vehicle rolled over her, inflicting massive, incalculable injuries. She lived long enough to be transported to the nearest hospital; however, after receiving Extreme Unction from a priest, Billy’s pulse ceased, her fingernails turned dark and all life signs went flat. The doctors disconnected the artificial breathing apparatus and departed the room, leaving the grieving family by her bedside.
As Billy would describe many years later in a book she wrote titled Mining the Silver Lining, as well as to me on several occasions in conversation, she stood apart that night observing the mournful hospital scene, her body there on the bed, her distraught father unable to let go of her wrist, her mother on her knees weeping, her husband clutching the sheet at her feet and sobbing. And then, to quote her exact words, “With exhilarating velocity, I flew straight towards my destination somewhere beyond this physical world. I don’t know its name or location, but I knew it was where I had to go.”
She observed the Earth growing smaller and smaller behind her until she arrived in what seemed to be a room with a long table. Surrounding the table were nine “solemn” men silently staring at her, apparently waiting for her to speak. She explained to them she’d left the world by accident and made an appeal to return to complete her goals and unfinished life purpose.
These men seemed to confer with one another and then issued an authoritative decision. To quote once more her exact words repeating what was said to her, “We have decided that your reasons for returning to your physical body are of sufficient importance to warrant your return. As soon as these goals are accomplished, you are to report back here.” And suddenly, back at the hospital, her father, still “dazedly” holding her wrist, felt a faint pulse, rushed to recall the doctors who hurriedly reentered the room and reattached the breathing apparatus. And, as Billy phrased it, the breath of life was restored.
In her aforementioned book she details her lengthy and painful recuperation. She was left partly paralyzed, but went on to become a psychologist, counselor, lecturer, writer and astrologer. Her most recent book, just released this month, is titled How Astrology Saved My Life, and speaking at a conference in Arizona, she shared the stage with the previously mentioned Dr. Ebon Alexander.
Several years ago, needing some electrical wiring in our home upgraded, my wife and I hired a contractor named Jim S. to do the work. As the job progressed Jim and I became better acquainted and found we had a number of things in common—an appreciation for good writing, trading the stock market, an interest in the “spiritual” realm. One evening after work while sitting in our living room, Jim related to me how he’d had a NDE.
It seems he’d been helping a friend work on a truck engine and one morning, while he was holding a tin can full of gasoline, the motor unexpectedly backfired and the gas spilled onto Jim and ignited. He was wearing a polyester pullover which melted and kept burning and he was virtually roasted alive.
In the hospital in the ensuing days his condition steadily deteriorated and eventually he flatlined. As he explained to me, he left his body in the hospital bed, felt himself swept into some other reality and, as is commonly reported in other such cases, saw his whole life flash before him. He was then aware of being joined by other “beings” of some sort, benevolent and nonthreatening. And he was cognizant of being evaluated in some way, but not in a harsh, judgmental fashion.
Jim was then told he had completed sufficient “life goals” such that he could progress on and remain in this realm, or, if he chose, he could return to his earthly body. But he was warned, if he did so, he’d have to endure great and protracted pain. Thinking of his family obligations and how his family still needed him, he averred that his departure had been premature and he did wish to return—and there he was again, opening his eyes to view the hospital room and feel the tortuous fire in every nerve ending.
Jim went on to say that, during his long recovery, at times he’d feel himself “leave his body” to escape the relentless pain. Sometimes he’d drift out the hospital window, floating gently over the city like a bird suspended on the wind, and on occasion beyond to faraway places over the horizon. Some time later after Jim had confided this experience to me, I, coincidentally through a church book discussion group, met the former director of the burn unit where Jim had been treated and he corroborated Jim’s story.
Three years ago these two “otherworldly revelations” came to take on a special significance to me personally when I experienced a strange, unsettling event of my own. I had been troubled by some mysterious stomach distress that seemed to linger, and my doctor, in the course of ordering various tests, prescribed prednisone. Unfortunately, it and my body didn’t cooperate well and I ended up in the emergency room with a recalcitrant pulse rate of 140. The attending physician there informed me that it would be necessary to stop and restart my heart to effect a definitive diagnosis. “Kind of like rebooting a computer,” he smilingly explained. They then injected me with adenosine, and for the first time in 66 years, my heart totally surrendered its beat and fell silent.
The first sensation I experienced was a growing roar in my ears like a train passing by; I could still hear the nurses’ voices faintly but they seemed totally irrelevant to me. I was looking up at the huge lamp overhead and its light became suffused with brilliant orange and yellow colors framed in darkness, forming almost a mandala pattern.
I seemed to be floating upward, toward the beautiful light, but the striking thing about it all was that I had totally lost time. It was as if I’d entered a dimension with no beginning or end. As if I were sitting in the middle of eternity, in a state of “perpetual now.” Then my heart kicked back in and suddenly I was on the table with the doctor, the nurses and my wife by my side. And time was mine once more.
Reflecting on all this over the weeks that followed, I arrived at an individual insight about our heartbeat and time. Just one humble, personal opinion. It would seem on an unconscious level the beating of the heart segments experience into “time,” like the second hand on a watch segments a minute into past, present and future. And the cessation of that beat is like popping off all the hands on a watch face and then staring at the motionless, unchanging numbers—forever. Perhaps that’s the first stage of “crossing over” to another place of timeless being, a “land” neither Billy nor Jim were prepared to depart for yet. And neither was I. After all, I still have a novel to complete. On this side.