My friends know that I am fascinated by Near Death Experiences. What many people might not know is that fascination was triggered by a deep seated fear of sudden death since about the age of eight years old. I suffered from panic attacks much of my life. That all centered around the fear of sudden death. So, NDEs and other glimpses into what lies beyond have been a way for me to try to find some hope- to calm my fears.
Yesterday a friend sent a video account to me of an NDE had by Dr. Mary Neal. Dr. Neal’s NDE shares many common elements with other NDEs. If you’re not into NDEs you might not realize how common an occurrence they are. And while they vary from person to person in terms of specifics, almost all of them share the common elements of an overwhelming sense of peace, love, acceptance, beauty and a universal desire to not return. Dr. Neal was drowned in a kayaking incident. Two things that make her NDE more fascinating than some others are 1.) She should not have survived. She was without oxygen for, at the very least, 15 minutes and probably more like 24. Her brain should have begun dying in about 6 minutes. In about three more minutes, it should have been lights out in the warm water she was in. 2.) She was given a premonition of her eldest son dying before her. As I understand it premonitions are pretty rare. I’ll return to this later. This post is going to be fairly long. I’m going to save the best for last though. Stick with me. I think it will be worth it.
When I went to the counselor the other day, I told him I am a man of faith. He asked how Shayna’s passing had impacted my faith. I told him it hadn’t, but I’m not sure that’s true. Here is why. I’ve not been one to believe that God micromanages our lives. I’ve been more of a Deist. God set up the universe, put the laws of cause and effect into place and let it rip. One of my least favorite verses in the Bible has been the verse in Jeremiah that, in my opinion, so many people misuse “I know the plans I have for you… plans to prosper you…” First of all that was written to the nation of Israel, not to us as individuals. Second, Israel had a pretty primitive view of God, like many of us. If we just do the right things, God will do “good” things for us. “If we win the battle that is an indication of God’s favor. If we lose, God is mad at us.” In the modern era we think if we do the right things God will keep us healthy, God will give us wealth. That ain’t true. Good people get sick. Amazing girls die in their sleep. So was my faith shaken by Shayna dying? No. Did I rail against God? You bet! I yelled at Him. Just yesterday I told Him He got the wrong person. If you were coming to my house to get someone, you missed. You hit the wrong person. I was mad at God and I’m sure I will be again, but my faith has not been shaken.
Marcus Borg, the guy I give the most credit for me still being able to identify as a Christian, defines faith differently than many of us do. Faith isn’t the belief in a set of statements about God. Faith isn’t believing in penal substitutionary atonement or the Trinity or even believing in miracles. Faith is about commitment to living the life we think God wants us to live. Faith is about a deep abiding trust in God. My faith isn’t based on the Bible. My faith is based on a combination of things. There is a lot of wisdom in the Bible, but I also look at science and nature and other wisdom writings and intuition and personal experience to base my faith on. As for my faith, my commitment to doing my duty, whatever it is while I am here remains. I believe Shayna was given a mission and completed it. I believe my mission is not yet complete. So, my commitment remains to serving my family and to figuring out what I’m supposed to do before I can go join Shayna. And while I grieve, while I ask why, while I moan and cry and scream, deep down inside (very deep sometimes) I do believe it will be all right. I do believe that we signed up for this. My faith in the ultimate “all rightness” continues. My faith, as described above, allows me to get up out of bed each morning, now more than ever.
Back to Dr. Neal, I do recommend that you check out her experience. I’m only going to highlight the parts that really spoke to me. Life reviews are common in NDEs. Some think this is the judgement. But, what is also almost universal is during the life review there is no sense of being judged, at least not by anyone outside of yourself. During her life review she was shown how actions go out in ripples and impact people way beyond what we can imagine. I had never heard it described this way. She said she could see 25-35 people “deep” in how actions impact others. In nature, this has been called the butterfly effect. A butterfly beating its wings in one part of the world can cause a change in the weather in another part of the world. She was shown how the things we think are “bad” can work good in so many lives. She was shown what the verses like Jeremiah 29 and Romans 8 really mean. They don’t mean “bad” things won’t happen to us, they mean it will all be all right in the end.
For a very long time I have had faith that we are more than our bodies. C.S. Lewis said “You don’t have a soul. You have a body. You are a soul.” and I believe he was spot on. I have no doubt Shayna is in a better place. I read all this NDE and past life stuff to bolster my faith, but I do have that faith. Yet, I mourn. Why do I mourn if I have faith?
Dr. Neal was a woman of nominal faith before her NDE. Like many of us- most of us Christians, she went to church, said her prayers, said heaven was real, but really didn’t give much thought to it. And most of us are afraid of death. It’s the unknown. Biologically, we are programmed to resist death, to do anything to avoid it. It’s natural to fear death. It’s good to fear death. Otherwise we’d take stupid risks. We’d be suicidal. But, you know what? When she was on the other side, she described it as going home. She said the people who greeted her there were as if they were greeting her returning from a long trip. She said the feeling she got was “I’m going to be sleeping in my own bed tonight.” As a homebody, this resonated with me. As someone who has never quite felt at home in this world, this resonated with me. And I hope that it was what Shayna felt when the veil fell from before her eyes. Dr. Neal said for months after she came back she longed to be in heaven. She was not comfortable back here. This is also common in NDEs. Even though she knew she had a mission here, even though she knew she was going back some day, her heart was there. Now I can’t say I know how she felt because I haven’t been blessed with a NDE, but I can say that when God took Shayna he took at least ⅓ of my heart (⅓ is with Ty and ⅓ with Kayla). I don’t know how heart fractions work, but it feels more like ½ of me is there. The veil is thinner for me now. “This world is not my home.” is more true than it ever has been for me. I can sense home because a good chunk of my heart is there and I long for home. I no longer fear death. 2 Cor 5:8 takes on new meaning for me now. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (and Shayna).
The last thing from Dr. Neal’s account and the thing that struck me the most was the premonition of her son’s death and her reaction when he did indeed die. It was 10 years later. She thought maybe the plan had changed when it took so long. She hadn’t been told where or when or how he would die. But, he died. Dr. Neal has seen heaven, she has seen how even the tragedies work for good, she longs for heaven. Heaven isn’t something she believes in now. Heaven is something she knows. But, even with all that, she mourns his death. She knows she’s going to miss him. She fully believes he served his entire mission here on this planet and has been called home. Yet she mourns. I get that Dr. Neal. I’ll probably have a good cry in the shower in a few minutes. Thanks for letting me know that is all right.
So, yeah. The faith is still in tact. In fact maybe more so than ever. This still sucks. I’ll still cry. I’ll still worry about Kayla and Ty. But, I know in the end it’s all good. I will miss Shayna until the day I close my eyes and wake up to see her again. I don’t fear death anymore though. There is only one way home and it’s through that door.