Most people find it very difficult to confront their own death or that of a loved one. There is a lot of inherent soul searching and hard psychological work involved with coming into to the acceptance phase of a terminal diagnosis. The late Swiss psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross identified the five stages of death in her classic book, On Death and Dying ( Touchstone,1977). They are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Sometimes these stages do not get worked through in that order and often not worked through entirely. The ability to talk openly about one’s fear of death with loved ones or a professional counselor can be a huge benefit to the dying person. Often what one is most fearing is the death of the body with no real evidence of what might come next. Most but not all religions support the idea of an afterlife.
There is some fascinating new research by Dr. Sam Parnia, a 41 year old critical care physician at Stony Brook University's school of Medicine in New York. Dr. Parnia's research is starting to disprove what has been accepted for centuries that when the body dies that is all there is to life. Death it seems is rather a process that possibly might be interrupted. Dr. Parnia’s research, is based on those who have had what he has labeled an “after death experience”. This term refers to those who have survived a loss of bodily functions, sometimes for hours, been resuscitated using the very latest techniques and returned to consciousness to rely their experiences of what might be found on the other side of the barrier. This research has led Dr. Parnia to further study this phenomenon. Dr. Parnia has collected over five hundred cases of those who experienced a close encounter with death and been brought back to life, including children. He concluded that the term “near death experience” should more accurately be called “actual death experience” or ADE, since scientifically speaking those who did die and returned ceased electrical activity to the brain and by definition should not have been able to report the very lucid, detailed and accurate descriptions of the experience.
In 1999, Wyoming orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Mary Neal, had a life changing after death experience. She tells in her book (To Heaven and Back: A Doctor’s ExtraordinaryAccount of Her Death, Heaven, Angels, and Life Again: A True Story, Waterbrook Press, 2012), thatwhile in a kayak accident, she overturned and was underwater for over 14 minutes. Dr. Neal asked for divine intervention, she felt her soul break through the surface of the water and she describes encountering a group if 15-20 souls who greeted her with the most overwhelming joy she ever imagined. These experiences are shared by more people as today there is less stigma or fear of being ostracized for speaking out about them. There are even organized groups for people who have had near death experiences.
In research for my book, Soul Service: A Hospice Guide to the Emotional and SpiritualCare for the Dying (Balboa Press, 2013) www.soulservice.info I interviewed Dr. Raymond Moody (Life After Life, Harper Collins, 1975) who has spent many years researching the phenomenon of the near death experience. Dr. Moody believes that “It lies within the realm of possibility that…almost everyone may eventually come to accept intellectually, even without definite proof, that there is another dimension of existence into which the soul passes at death.”
I recently attended a seminar with presenter Deepak Chopra, M.D. who is exploring the realms of consciousness as it applies to our sense of who we really are. Dr. Chopra sees that there are infinite possibilities of ever changing and evolving human understanding of what is consciousness? Who or what is the mind and who is the thinker behind the mind? Are we all connected to the universal intelligence? It is interesting to ponder that these possibilities could one day take us closer to a deeper level of understanding on the nature of consciousness.
Perhaps one day science and spirituality can move ahead to complement one another to delve further into the individual nature of human consciousness. The knowledge gained would help us all to develop a much deeper understanding and lessen the fear that often surrounds the death experience.