Near-death experiences (NDEs) are profound psychic experiences commonly occurring in life-threatening conditions. They include feeling a sense of peace, of seeing a bright light, encountering deceased relatives or religious figures, and of transcending space and time. NDEs may occur in adults or children, have been reported from the time of Plato, and in a variety of cultures around the world. They are one part of a spectrum of significant human spiritual experiences. An experience can be deeply significant and meaningful to the person going through it, without meeting the strict definition of NDE. Such experiences may be referred to as “NDE-like experiences”.
In my fifth novel, The Key to Death’s Door, 14 year old Lee Hunter drowns and has a NDE. Here’s a small extract:
I tried to call out to Charlie. Tell him what was happening, but the words were washed down my throat with another mouthful of the river. Then I sank. No more sky. No more riverbank. No more Charlie. Just greenish-brown slimy water everywhere. My mind screamed at my legs to work, demanded one last push, but all my legs delivered was an excruciating pain that reached right up into my groin and squeezed my balls.
Fuck it. Fuck it. Fuck it, my mind chanted. I tried to use my hands to pull upwards, but you can’t grip water, even when your life depends on it. My heart thumped in my throat.
The voice came from somewhere above me. Like a command. I almost asked who it was, but remembered opening my mouth would likely be fatal. I couldn’t die. Not here in this disgusting river. My mother would be so upset. So disappointed. I was only fourteen, for Christ’s sake. I hadn’t even kissed a girl properly. Got a job. Done anything to make her proud. She would be left with this great big hole in her life, forever wondering why I’d never listened to her warnings about the river.
My heart seemed to slow. It pulsed in my ears. How long was it possible to hold your breath? A minute? Two? More?
I remembered Pentecostal church. The priest. Running across the field. I tried to seek comfort knowing I’d felt God that day. That there was something beautiful waiting beyond death. It seemed reassuring now as I sank to the bottom of Feelham River.
Something banged against my knee. Something hard and metal. Probably a shopping trolley. Kids thought it was fun to throw them off the bridge. Kids were such idiots sometimes – didn’t they realise they might end up drowning one day?
I opened my eyes, but all I could see was a dirty-brown film of water. I let some air out of my burning lungs before they exploded. So this was what it was like to die. I remembered lying awake when I was little, holding my breath, trying to imagine what it was like to be in a coffin with all the earth piled on top. How long had I lasted before I’d gasped for air? Not much more than a minute.
Go with the flow.
I tried to swim but I seemed to be sinking into the riverbed. Deeper and deeper. Not afraid anymore. I’m going to die. My heart slowed down, preparing to stop. Deeper still. I could no longer feel my body. The water now felt as warm as a bath.
Let go, Lee. Just let go.
And so I did. Sweet comforting blackness wrapped itself around me and hugged me tight. It promised peace. Time no longer existed. The river was gone. My body, too. I was a miniscule part of something so much greater than me. I wanted to stay this way forever.
Floating just beneath the surface now, I saw my body lying at the bottom of the river next to one of those metal cages used for transporting animals to the vets. More worryingly, there was what appeared to be the bones of an animal lying inside the cage. Even though the water was filthy, I could see right through its murkiness, as if my eyes suddenly had X-ray powers.
A fish bumped against my head, arched its body and swam away. There was rubbish strewn across the riverbed. Two car tyres. A swing seat. A wooden crate. It was like an underwater junk yard.
I floated to the surface. Charlie was standing a short distance from the bank in his boxers, eyes searching the water. He called my name. ‘Lee.’ No more ‘Gus-bucket’ in this strange new world.
I called back to him. He didn’t seem to hear me. He waded out towards me. Called my name again. Swore. Dipped his head under the water.
‘Charlie?’ I called. ‘I’m here. Right here!’
He swam out to within a few feet of me.
He seemed to look right through me.
I was about to grab hold of him, when I suddenly floated out of the water. Weightless. Effortless. Up, up, up. Above the clouds. Higher and higher. Like drowning in reverse. This thought made me giggle. Giggle like Elaine Martins when she got drunk on cherry brandy and peed her knickers. Higher than the moon, now. The stars. The universe. I was superman. Indestructible. The power to travel through solid rock. I thought it was supposed to be cold up in space. Although my clothes were no longer wet, I was hardly dressed for intergalactic travel. Even my bare feet felt toasty warm.
I headed towards a ball of light. The sun? A star? I had no idea, except I was being drawn towards it.
As I drew close, I stopped. It was six or seven foot high and about five foot across. The light seemed to emanate from a central figure. It had no face, no arms, no legs. Just robes of light dancing upon invisible limbs.
‘Hello, Lee.’ The deep male voice seemed to fill the whole universe.
‘How do you know my name?’
He didn’t answer. ‘You must go back and mend what has been broken.’
A million questions fizzed across my brain. ‘Who are you?’
‘I am the order of things, Lee.’
I didn’t want to go back to my puny body lying at the bottom of Feelham River. This one seemed positively supercharged in comparison. ‘I don’t understand.’
The light suddenly faded and died, plunging me once again into darkness. I felt so lost and alone in the vast expanse of space. I tried to call out to the light, demand that it come back and help me. But I could no longer speak.
I plummeted. Tumbled through the darkness at a speed beyond description. A thousand miles a second? Perhaps more. I remembered wishing on a shooting star once in my back yard. Closing my eyes and wishing Elaine Martins would be my girlfriend. Now I was just like that shooting star, hurtling towards Earth, a thousand unfulfilled wishes trailing in my wake.
I waited for the inevitable slap of the water on the soles of my bare feet. To sink to the bottom of the river and return to my useless body. But the impact never came. No grand entrance. No big splash. Just a seamless slide into a long velvety blackness. So the light had lied. I was dead. And dead was forever. Lee Hunter was no more. They would pull his white bloated body from the river just like they did with that kid who’d haunted his dreams throughout the summer two short years ago.
I read about a number of near-death experiences before writing Lee’s, and they all seemed to share some common themes. Many people have remembered time being altered, slowing or going faster, or losing all sense of time completely. Others have reported speaking to spiritual people/entities or hearing voices speaking to them just like Lee did. Many people also said that they wanted to remain within the experience and not return to life.
There is a lot of scientific research being undertaken into NDEs, why they occur, what happens to the brain during them and the affect on people after they have recovered from them. Research has also looked into if the manner of death affected the experience.
Comparisons have been done between drowning and cardiac arrest victims. Almost 70% of the drowning victims were children, so age was also explored as a factor. The data suggests that there is a statistically significant difference in the NDE according to the type of death one experiences. You can read more into the study using this link:
An In-Depth Study of Drowning Near-Death Experiencers by Jody 3/2/03.
So, just like Lee, many people (mostly children,) have had a similar experience after drowning. I found this interesting that there were so many cases of children who had drowned and had an near-death experience. The study considers, ‘Just as water birthing is considered less traumatic for a baby, perhaps a water death is an easier transition between the worlds than other types of death.’
Have you, or anyone you know had a near-death experience? I’d be interested to find out more, so please tell me about it in the comments below.
If you are interested in finding out more about NDEs, then you can use this extensive site http://www.nderf.org/. It’s the Near-Death Experience Research Foundation and is an excellent resource for anyone interested in learning more about the subject.
You can also find out more about The Key to Death’s Door here on Amazon.
Thank you for your continued support.