“Can you see the light? Go towards the light!” How else can you send your dying nine-year-old son into the unknown? Claire Madison's son Ben, a hemophiliac, caught AIDS from a contaminated blood donation. How to prepare him? How to relinquish him?
I read her account years ago, and that sentence remained in my heart, “Go towards the light.” I had read about near death experiences (NDEs), but they hadn't resonated, so when I read Sam Parnia's account of one of his patients experience, it gripped me. Here was a doctor, a scientific observer, telling what his patient, Joe Tiralosi, remembered from his 47 minute death, before his heart was restarted. Joe described “encountering a luminous, compassionate being that gave him a loving feeling and warmth.” And this encounter changed him going forward, as it does so many NDE-ers.
So I continued reading Sam's methodical explanations of the physical process of death, shot throughwith these experiences of light and redemption. He did not find a mechanical or neurological explanation; in fact he was able to explain why such theories don't fit. He saw clearly that there is a coherent self that is present even when the brain is no longer firing.
This I find a great comfort. It is disheartening when I read neuroscientist's flat assertions that we are a bundle of chemical reactions, in fact not one but multiple selves (often fighting), spinning on an uncaring planet. I can feel a core “me” which connects with a friend's core “me”. I can feel that you have a different flavour from me and that characteristic signature remains the same. If I meet you again after years apart, we pick up where we left off. I don't find that bustling, busy Brenda has morphed into an obsessive stamp collector.
So our core self goes forward. It can see and reflect and remember if it returns. Several patients reported the life review. Judgment day? Apparently not. It seems that we see our lives from both our experience and that of those we have hurt. But we are the jury. We see the whole without our ego's reframe. The benevolent presence is there, accepting and comforting. So different from the Old Testament God of my fchildhood.
Sam has researched many cases and repeated stories of light, love and acceptance. The only accounts of fear came from resuscitated suicides. As I muddle my way through cancer and a shortened life expectancy, I have prayed, but from below, so to speak. I had to be good enough. I seem to be swatting rather hopelessly for an exam. Now I glimpse a source of warmth and good will, a kindness. Since reading Sam's account, I have tried to be open to and perceive this presence.
I feel less like a dog anxiously placating and more like a cat purring in the sun.
Go Towards the Light – TV movie (1988)
Erasing Death: the Science that is Rewriting the Boundaries between Life and Death by Dr. Sam Parnia and Josh Young. Dr. Parnia is the director of the AWARE study on awareness during death and resuscitation.