Sunday, May 2, 2021

What Will Happen After Your Last Breath?

Guest post by John Prin

Photo courtesy Davide Cantelli via Unsplash
Have you ever stood by a terminally ill person’s bedside the final hours of that individual’s life? For many people who have, thoughts of their own mortality and of the afterlife abound. Whatever your feelings about the bedridden person’s fate, facing your own death—however frightening or unsettling—brings up the question, “What happens after my last breath?” It is an age-old mystery, one that millions of human face and have wrestled with, and will continue to wrestle with, due to lack of certainty and conjecture.

This post offers plausible answers. Let’s start with the documented near-death experiences of Dr. Eben Alexander, who wrote Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey Through the Afterlife (Simon & Schuster, 2012). His book describes in generous detail the journey his consciousness (soul) took beyond this world to the darkest and brightest and highest realms of spiritual existence, where, he says, he “met the Divine source of the universe itself.” (1)

Although scientists have debated the reality of near-death experiences (NDEs) as impossible and scoffed at tales of the hereafter as mere fantasies—and Dr. Alexander was one of those scientists—his own encounter in the heavenly realms while lying inert in a hospital bed during a week-long coma from spinal meningitis convinced him otherwise. Since 2011, he has dedicated his career to a single principle: “that true health can be achieved only when we realize that God and the soul are real and that death is not the end of personal existence but only a transition.”(2) 

If you flat-out disbelieve such a story could be real, you are not alone. Of course, there are skeptics who dismiss the possibility of an afterlife and claim human consciousness ends after one’s last breath, but those are topics thousands of people with NDEs over hundreds of years would vigorously dispute. Back in 731 A.D., The Venerable Bede, an English monk, described a man from Northumbria who “returned from the dead.” After dying in bed one night, the man returned to life at daybreak and sat up, surprising his relatives at his bedside. “Do not be frightened,” he urged, “for I have truly risen from the grasp of death . . . so I must not live as I used to. Rather, I must weigh my actions with greater care and act in ways more virtuous, so when I die I will have a home among the happy spirits who greeted me there.” (3)


Numerous similar accounts from 65 studies of 3,500 NDEs and from diverse Western and Eastern cultures are documented in excellent books such as Imagine Heaven by John Burke (Baker Books, 2015) (4) and Life After Life by Raymond A. Moody, Jr. M.D. (Stackpole Books, 1976). (5)   

Over the centuries thousands of parallel accounts have been documented—and, astoundingly, most share a great number of core elements. Take the career of Emergency Room Dr. Thomas Fleischmann of Hamburg, Germany. (6) He and his staff have worked tirelessly to resuscitate individuals on the brink of dying, some 2000 people, and he has eye-witnessed 20 percent of those patients return to life after all vital signs were shut down. From his study of return-to-life patients, he concludes that “a pattern has emerged for which I can personally attest, but for which we have no scientific explanation. That pattern begins instantly once the heart stops beating.” 

He adds:

Patients report how all pain is gone, all fear is gone. They speak of being at peace, of being calm, secure, and sometimes even joyful.

Many report floating above their dead bodies completely aware of their environment; they see and hear everything going on.

They enter a dark, confined space, which for 98 percent of them (regardless of race) feels warm, soothing, and comfortable—yet there is no connection to any religion.

They see a bright light, far brighter than anything on earth, but not blinding. A dazzling and bright humanlike figure clothed in white garments exudes unconditional love and “speaks” to them via telepathic thoughts.

Beautiful colors and ethereal music accompany this loving being, who presents a review of the person’s entire life: like a movie displaying all at once positive and negative encounters the person had with others. The key theme is whether love and kindness was shown to people (even animals), or whether hurtful attitudes and behavior predominated.

Each “traveler” faces the decision whether to continue experiencing the wonderous reality that’s ahead, or, based on their own assessment of the impact of their earthly behavior, to finish certain tasks of living back home and to improve their part in relationships. About half decide for themselves to return. Another half meet former relatives and friends who influence the individual to go back and behave by new rules with others—recall the man described by Venerable Bede: “I must not live as I used to. Rather, I must weigh my actions with greater care and act in ways more virtuous.” 

Emergency physician Dr. Fleischmann says the main lesson for him is: “Because of my NDE patients, I have absolutely no fear of dying. None.”

As for myself, I can affirm the credibility of such descriptions of the spiritual world from my own eye-witness experience. Also, like Dr. Fleischmann, I personally have no fear of dying. A surprising event occurred the day I stood beside my father’s hospital bed in November, 1965. During quiet moments when I held his hand and stared at his shrunken body, shriveled at age 59 from diabetes-induced kidney, gallbladder, and heart disease, I pondered his fate. Where might he go next, if anywhere?

“Dad, it’s Johnny,” I whispered. “Can you hear me?” No response. A coma had held him captive and mute for weeks, unable to speak or even blink his eyes.

Nothing on this rainy evening stood between Dad and death. To us, his family, it was another visiting day like the many dozens before it. Mom, as usual, spent much of her time sitting in a corner of Dad’s room sewing quietly on her needlework. As I stood at Dad’s bedside humming his favorite song from his boyhood—A Simple Melody, a tune he’d sung many times—I hoped it

would soothe him now.

You can imagine my surprise when his head arched upward and his eyes opened wide. A smile cracked his face as he looked straight up, beaming, at something invisible—invisible to me but clearly very real to him. I reared back, speechless, observing what seemed a miracle. In complete silence, his eyes shined with a supernatural radiance and his smile broadened as though he was making contact with an unseen, benevolent presence, perhaps a welcoming party of cherished family members greeting him in the far beyond. I leaned closer, just a few inches away, and watched his eyes close in complete peace. His last breath came with a slow sigh. The message that seared into my psyche was:

I’ve gone to a place of peace, rest, and comfort—

a place of spectacular wonders—

so have no fear, no doubt, no worry. I am home!

* * * 

1. Proof of Heaven, paperback back cover. 

2. Proof of Heaven Publisher’s “About the Book” description

3. Reflections on Life After Life, Raymond A. Moody, Jr. M.D., p. 66

4. Imagine Heaven, John Burke

5. Life After Life, Raymond A. Moody, Jr. M.D.

6. From Life to Death, Beyond and Back, Thomas Fleischmann, YouTube TEDX talk 


Unknown said...

Hi John, Thank you for sharing your thoughts and all your research. For those who desire evidence of life after death, this is helpful. I actually have an elderly friend who wonders if life after death is possible. I will pray about sharing this with her. I love the story of your dad. I also witnessed something similar with my dad when he died, but not quite as dramatic. But I am convinced that he saw God too. God bless you John!

Unknown said...

A fascinating topic of speculation and faith. I haven’t read many books by folks who claim to have had a near death experience, probably because of my “trust but verify” journalistic bent, but there are clearly overwhelming consensus on the “bright white light”. Some doctors claim that has something to do with dying brain cells reacting to lack of oxygen. But I do put stock in the personal stories I’ve heard from people I know who say their loved ones saw someone right before they died, like your dad. Sometimes it’s another family member who had died, sometimes angels or heavenly beings. My faith informs my belief that these stories have merit, but I don’t know that it changes the minds of many who don’t believe in an afterlife (unless, of course) they go through a NDE themselves!

Joe Bailey said...

Another wonderful blog, this time on death and NDE's by you John. A great review of the research on NDE's and your personal story of death were touching, sensitive and touched me deeply. Thank you for your gift!
Joe Bailey, Psychologist and Writer

Bread & Butter said...

Wow, that is quite a dramatic conclusion, John. Thanks for sharing about NDE.

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