I find stories of near death experiences fascinating – the descriptions of tunnels of light, the sight of waiting relatives and a feeling of rising out of and above one’s own body. It’s all part of that wonderful feeling that there are more things in heaven and earth than are ever dreamt of in our philosophy. Wouldn’t our lives be so very dull if we knew absolutely everything about everything?
Equally fascinating to me, although talked about a whole lot less, is the idea that we may, occasionally at least, have some control over when we will pass on. I’ve had two experiences that make me certain that this is the case.
In the spring of 1999 my mother was diagnosed with cancer, culminating in her final days being spent in a hospice. By then the seasons had waxed and waned and winter had descended upon us so that those final days were enveloped in the grey, cold chills of December. This was always an important month to my mother – celebrating her birthday, followed a few days later by my Dad’s birthday and then their wedding anniversary on the 16th.
By the time she was admitted to the hospice she was very frail, totally immobile and could no longer speak to us, her only communication being by the slightest twitch of her left forefinger to indicate that she could hear us. Soon even that ceased and she just lay still, her breathing becoming ever more shallow. It was an incredibly painful time because we thought that every night would surely be her last and yet still she managed to miraculously continue on to another day. Until, that is, we reached a particularly significant punctuation point. The 16th December of that year marked her 50th wedding anniversary. She stayed with us during that day and then in the early hours of the 17th she slipped away.
The thought that occurred to me at the time was that she had stayed for her special anniversary. Some might say that the timing was pure coincidence and I might have been persuaded to agree, had it not been for my own experience.
In April of 2003 I was out shopping with my daughters when I suffered a haemorrhagic stroke. It was not, as you might expect, an event marked by dramatic and blinding pain but rather a quiet darkness that came from nowhere and descended quickly, wrapping me in its black embrace. One minute I was feeling fine and looking at a row of shampoo bottles in the shop, and the next my logic and speech had gone haywire. I tried to make a comment about one of the bottles but the words came out all wrong. I remember thinking that was weird because that wasn’t what I’d meant to say at all and then I somehow knew that I was in major trouble, in fact, don’t ask me how or why, but I knew I’d had a stroke. I remember my daughter rushing off to call an ambulance. I remember slumping against a pillar before sliding down onto a hastily provided chair and finally, I remember that I slurred to a paramedic that I’d had a stroke before blacking out entirely. In the ambulance there was a brief moment of consciousness, but mostly just the sensation of the movement of the vehicle. I wasn’t panicked – the darkness had enveloped me and it was strangely calming and comforting.
In the A&E department the medics constantly spoke to me, asking my name, my age, what year it was – anything I suppose to keep me with them and I dutifully answered, often saying completely the wrong answer despite knowing better, and in between the breaks into semi lucidity I quickly drifted back into that world of quiet calm. There was no worry, no fear for my well-being, just absolute tranquillity. And then it happened. After one question I opened my eyes just long enough to focus my husband’s distraught face. The quiet darkness was drawing me back again but this time I began to slip and slide – very much that glorious feeling you are sometimes fleetingly aware of as sleep descends and you enter another state of consciousness. I felt that I was floating away on that calm and comforting sea of black towards a tiny sliver of brightness, far, far away in the distance. My conscious, waking mind suddenly took over and I knew that if I wanted to stay on this earthly plane I had to stake my claim. I remember thinking that I couldn’t leave my family, I wanted more time with them and I knew – in fact I could feel – the devastation that my departure would cause.
Now I can’t say that at that moment the clouds parted, a celestial choir sang and I made a miraculous recovery but I did hold on and, quite clearly, I’m here to tell the tale. I’m absolutely convinced in my own mind that if I’d wanted to, I could have just as easily very gently slipped away that day but I’d made the conscious decision to stay.
My experience has made me think again, many times, about my mother’s passing and I don’t have any doubt that she waited until all those significant December dates were out of the way. Who knows how this happened, I just know it did.
“We are ignorant of the beyond because this ignorance is the condition of our own life. Just as ice cannot know fire except by melting and vanishing.” – Jules Renard