Life is constant chaos, fast-paced and run by our chase of deadlines and the incessant ringing white noise of the world. However, there are moments or breaks that compel you to pause, screeching your life to an absolute halt. Moments where work requirements and expectations are forced to fall back, demanding your attention to realise them for what they are… For me, that was the loss of my dad this year due to the coronavirus.
The sash of strength I put on so bravely slipped right off my sulking shoulders, I constantly found myself gulping for air trying to internalise what had been so quickly taken from me. How his last text to me was “THANKS” because he thought he had more time.
This left me wondering, what if we did have more time?
Heaven is a concept I threw out when I left religion behind but the idea of an afterlife and the continuation of a soul is something I had to investigate once he had died. Research shows that near-death experiences are one of the few spiritual experiences that can be investigated by the means of science.
So let me start from the beginning. What are near-death experiences (NDE’s) and what are their common features? The school of medicine at the University of Virginia defines NDE’s as intensely vivid and often life-transforming experiences which often occur under extreme physiological conditions such as trauma, ceasing of brain activity, deep general anaesthesia or cardiac arrest where no awareness or sensory experiences of any kind should be possible according to the prevailing views in neuroscience.
What makes these experiences so fascinating is that patients, although having varying NDE’s from each other often report having similar encounters, this has led researchers to compile a list of common features NDE’s:
· Feeling very comfortable and free of pain
· A sensation of leaving the body, sometimes being able to see your physical body while floating above it
· The mind functioning more clearly and more rapidly than before
· A sensation of being drawn into a tunnel or darkness
· A brilliant light, sometimes at the end of the tunnel
· A sense of overwhelming peace, well-being, or absolute, unconditional love
· A sense of having access to unlimited knowledge
· A “life review,” or recall of important events from the past
· Encounters with deceased loved ones, or with other beings
As modern medicine increases, the number of individuals reporting NDE’s also increases, this is due to the development of advanced medical equipment which are used to resuscitate people.
The exact neurological sequence of events that happens during these episodes are difficult to pinpoint because of the uncontrolled environments in which people die.
Although science doesn’t have the complete picture due to limited research, I want to draw attention to the story of Anita Moorjani, a woman who was diagnosed with lymphoma and was losing her cancer battle slowly withering down to just 85 pounds and battling tumours from the base of her skull to her abdomen. During this life or death battle, she slipped into a coma.
She mentions that is when she died and crossed over to an afterlife, and saw her body laying on the bed whilst having a 360-degree view of the room.
What drew me close to this story, outside of the fact that four days out of her coma her tumour had decreased by 70%, was the story of her talking to her late father when she was in the "afterlife". Moorjani claims that he warned her about going any further as she wouldn’t be able to return to her body if she did.
"But I felt I didn't want to turn back because it was so beautiful. It was just incredible, because, for the first time, all the pain had gone. All the discomfort had gone. All the fear was gone. I just felt so incredible. And I felt as though I was enveloped in this feeling of just love. Unconditional love,"
I am often filled with a pang of unwavering guilt for not being in my home country at the time of my dad’s death. Routinely asking myself: did he wait for me…did he die feeling alone not knowing that his daughter loved him so dearly? My dad was in a coma for two weeks before giving in to the virus and research and encounters like this, although seemingly farfetched, give me the calm of knowing that he didn’t die feeling pain. That maybe one day I’ll get to see him again and we can have one of our hour-long debates, and THANKS will no longer be the last thing I heard from him.
Written by Tshimangadzo Nemurangoni