Dreams of Kindness, Love and Grace by Carolyn Berry
Do you wonder what is going to happen to you after you die? Do you fear death? Is there an afterlife, or does our spirit even go on at all? If you ponder your own death, do you face it with hope ... confusion ... resolve .... horror.... avoidance ... peace? Why does our culture equate death with loss, with quitting, with separation, with “the end” of who we are?
As our calendar year ends, as the natural world relaxes into the death-like dormancy of dark winter, as so many pause to review the heartaches and joys of 1998 and imagine a better world for 1999—my life holds a gift that begs to be shared.
It was during a window of wintry passage some 13 years ago that I stumbled onto a discovery of enormous proportions. To say that it changed my life is an understatement. I look back upon the experience with emotions too huge to capture within the clutching grip of mere words. In January, 1986, I died.
Those were my “Super Woman” years. A female “Atlas” of epic proportions, I shouldered the weight of the world single-handedly, and was both blissfully addicted to, and darkly resentful of the load. A mother of two in a struggling marriage, my son had just turned the corner into the “terrible two’s” and my daughter of eight months was on the verge of learning to crawl. I had been ill off and on since summer, fighting severe allergies and stubborn sinusitis that resisted every antibiotic I was prescribed. Grim persistence was the companion that carried me through each day. My mind blocked my physical body in an effort to keep the squirrel cages spinning on schedule. If I didn’t do it, who would?
One day in early December I realized I had become very, very ill. Blinding headache, peaked fever, and relentless nausea overwhelmed me. Being the 20th Century “Joan of Arc,” I called the kids’ grandma to baby-sit for awhile, then secretly drove myself to the Emergency Room. A spinal tap confirmed viral spinal meningitis. I was immediately hospitalized.
By January the headaches still stubbornly failed to abate. A diagnostic CAT-scan was scheduled, and it was during that procedure that .... I died. No one was aware until that day that I am severely allergic to x-ray contrast dye. So, instead of a simple diagnostic procedure, I experienced a medical “Code Blue”—a state of complete respiratory and cardiac arrest.
I could describe for you in great detail everything that took place in the room as my spirit hovered over my body in the upper right corner of the room—the intensified state of my senses, my deep awareness of every emotion and word uttered (whether directed to me or not), every touch of my lifeless form by the medical professionals who rushed to attend me. I could describe their faces, tell you their names, describe the texture of their hands on my skin, and quote their words complete with accents. I could describe the ice-like sensation in my veins of the lydocaine push, the expectancy that turned to horror when epinephrine was administered and conjured up nothing more than the continuing monotone of a flat line.
I could describe all of that, but what I wish you to know and hope you will remember (even if it is with some uncertainty or even disbelief) is my description of what I experienced when I was gone. There was the classic light (though I saw no tunnel) and I joyfully experienced loved ones who I had lost during this lifetime. They spoke to me, though not audibly. My body was clinically dead but I have never been more fully alive.
I would describe my visit beyond this life with these words: tranquillity, being held in love, freedom, no fear, profound knowing, mercy, and purpose—awareness that we DO belong somewhere. I returned somewhat unwillingly, not because I wished for death but because I realized how limited I am in this human form. And I returned compelled to better this world.
Whatever your personal persuasion, may you approach each day holding the notion that death is nothing to be feared and that our living is an opportunity to leave a legacy of immeasurable proportion.
Carolyn Berry is a speaker and writer about authenticating and simplifying our lives. She welcomes readers’ comments by mail at PO Box 612, Salem, OR 97208-0612, or via e-mail.