Near Death Experiences, Part 2
The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, “Thus says the Lord: Set your house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover.” Isaiah 38:1b
Last week I shared three stories of my experiences with loved ones who were near to death. My mother and grandmother, both of whom died over a period of weeks, increasingly withdrew from their typical interests and seemed to be increasingly focused on a life beyond and imperceptible to this one. My father, who died suddenly, was unusually pensive the night before his sudden death, as if he knew something was changing.
Here are more near-to-death stories. My wife’s uncle was hospitalized and being wheeled away for an MRI. His wife said she would see him when his test was done. He looked at her and said, “I won’t be here.” He suffered a fatal medical condition during the procedure. How did he know? Was it a flippant remark that just happened to come true? I doubt it, because experiences like this, where someone seems to know they are about to die, are not uncommon.
My wife’s cousin was in a horrible automobile accident thirty-plus years ago. Thanks to the skilled efforts of numerous medical professionals, she survived, but has no memory of the events from the day before the accident until about 10 days after. In her words, “I still remember…the feeling of the presence of God with me and being ‘outside of myself.’” She said there was no fear of dying in this state, although she remembers wishing not to die at that time because of her two young children.
The dying may not always reach a state of acceptance, however. My grandpa was a farmer – strong and somewhat aloof. He was not one to show his feelings, except for his occasional aggravation at the antics of his 11 grandchildren, all of whom invaded his home for a week each summer. I know his relationships with his children, particularly his youngest son, were strained. Instead of staying at home after school and taking over their Kansas farm, Uncle Ken bolted for California. For grandpa, it might as well have been the moon.
Grandpa contracted pneumonia one winter. The infection would clear in one lung only to reappear in the other. He fought hard to recover, but he weakened and was understandably distraught over the lack of control he had over his situation. His frustration led him to cry in front of us more than once, something he probably thought was the ultimate humiliation. He asked to see his children one last time. They all obliged with a visit, and then he recovered sufficiently to transfer to a nursing home. When he returned to the hospital and asked to see his children again, none were able and/or willing to travel back. He passed shortly thereafter.
As I reflect on grandpa’s dying experience, it seems to me he was being softened in his final weeks on earth. I say this not because I knew grandpa’s heart, but because I perceived him as a man in need of softening. I suspect being humbled while we are on earth, painful as it is, makes our passage to the next stage of life easier. Part of that softening could have included reconciling with his children, although I do not believe that happened.
One of my spiritual teachers had an abusive, alcoholic father. As his father neared death, my teacher traveled to see him. His father said, “I only wish I weren’t so weak.” My teacher responded, “Why is that, dad?” The response was, “So I could climb out of this bed and beat you one last time.” When he passed a short time later, his son’s farewell was, “Bon voyage, you son-of-a-*****.” No doubt, the relentless pain underlying the father’s abusive behavior followed him to the next stage of his life. It also left unresolved scars on the loved ones he abused, just as he likely bore scars of abuse by his father. He was destined for a hellish next stage of life, hopefully one where his pain could be healed and transformed. That anger, no doubt, was a manifestation of anger at himself. I am reminded of Jesus’ words to love our neighbors as ourselves. Love for self as a beloved child of God is required in order to properly love others.
The dying process often helps us release our earthly attachments, as was the case with my mother and grandmother, while providing opportunities for reconciliation, as with my grandfather and my teacher’s father. It is up to us to recognize and utilize those opportunities, however, which is part of dying well, a topic for later in this series.
This is the 22nd in the series of Life Notes titled, If I Should Die Before I Wake. I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. At the website, you can also sign up to have these reflections delivered to your Inbox every Thursday morning, if you are not receiving them in another manner.
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