11 people who came back to life reveal what they saw on “the other side”
It’s the question we’ve all asked: What happens after death? These people say they have an idea. By Marissa Laliberte.
All images: Getty Images
Can people really see things when they’re “dead”?
No matter what you believe about the afterlife (or lack thereof), there’s no denying that plenty of people have claimed to see visions or have out-of-body experiences after their hearts have stopped.
Sceptics might brush those off, but researchers have found that most near-death experiences tend to have common themes: Feelings of leaving or returning to their bodies, a sense of peace, bright lights, and encounters with spirits or people.
In fact, medical treatment is good enough now that there’s a difference between clinical death (no breath or pulse, but could still be resuscitated) and biologic death (actually dead).
Even cynics might get chills hearing about these otherworldly visions from people who were clinically dead or close to it.
“The most glorious feeling”
In 1994, orthopaedic surgeon Tony Cicoria called his mum from a pay phone during a lake house trip. They’d hung up but he still had the phone in his hand when a blue flash came out. He hadn’t realised there’d been a lightning storm brewing. He felt his body fly backward – and then, confusingly, forward. Cicoria turned around to see his own body lying on the ground. “I’m dead,” he thought. No grief. No ecstasy. Just a fact.
After watching a woman start CPR, Cicoria moved on, floating up the stairs to see his kids getting their faces painted, realising that they’d be OK. “Then I was surrounded by a bluish-white light … an enormous feeling of wellbeing and peace,” he told the New Yorker. “The highest and lowest points of my life raced by me. I had the perception of accelerating, being drawn up… There was speed and direction. Then, as I was saying to myself, ‘This is the most glorious feeling I have ever had’ – slam! I was back.” (Weird side note: The doctor who revived Cicoria became overwhelmed with the urge to play and write piano music.)
“Just love. Unconditional love.”
After a four-year battle with lymphatic cancer, Anita Moorjani slipped into a coma in 2006. Doctors were sure it was the end – not realising that in her near-death state, she still had a consciousness. Initially, she felt like she was floating above her body with “360-degree peripheral vision” of the hospital room and beyond, she told TODAY.
She couldn’t see her late father himself, but she did feel his presence, and he had a message for her. “He said that I’ve gone as far as I can, and if I go any further, I won’t be able to turn back,” she said. “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.”
About 30 hours after falling into a coma, Moorjani flickered back into consciousness. Two days later, her organs started to regain function and the tumours started shrinking. Now she’s cancer-free and is a public speaker and author of books like What If This Is Heaven?.
“It was really bright”
Annabel Beam had been diagnosed with two chronic, life-threatening digestive disorders at age four. By age eight, she was ready to give up until something unexplainable happened. She was sitting on a tree branch 10 metres in the air when it cracked; she fell all the way down and into a hollow at the base of the tree, where she was trapped for six hours. She says she died and went to heaven: “It was really bright, and I sat on Jesus’s lap and he told me, ‘Whenever the firefighters get you out, there will be nothing wrong with you,’” Beam told TODAY. “And I asked him if I could stay and he said, ‘No, I have plans you need to fulfil on Earth that you cannot fulfil in heaven.’”
When she woke up, her illness had healed. Her mum wrote the book Miracles from Heaven, which was later turned into a film.
“I felt my soul or something come right out of my body”
When Ernest Hemingway was serving the American Red Cross in Italy during World War I, he was badly injured by a mortar bomb. He apparently died for a moment, but per Hemingway style, he doesn’t make it sound too flowery. “I felt my soul or something coming right out of my body, like you’d pull a silk handkerchief out of a pocket by one corner,” he told a friend. “It flew around and then came back and went in again and I wasn’t dead anymore.”
“Time wrapped in on itself”
The Near-Death Experience Research Foundation (NDERF) collects stories from people who have seen the “other side.” One four-year-old girl was in the hospital with a high-grade fever that had caused hallucinations, vomiting and fever, when she felt her toes reach the foot of the bed. She opened her eyes to see herself lying on a gurney before her non-body started to rise up, out of the building. “I began browsing through time,” she writes. “I later detailed things that occurred before I could even talk … As I kept ascending, I felt at peace. There were no questions or unknowns. Time wrapped in on itself. There was no past, present, or future as we see it here. Everything happened now and all at one time. I felt no fears or worries. I began drifting towards a beautiful light and I wanted to touch it. Suddenly there was a pop. It felt like I was attached to a cord when someone grabbed it and jerked me down.”
“I had the vision of seeing a white light”
When actress Jane Seymour was shooting the 1988 film, Onassis, she went into anaphylactic shock when her bronchitis antibiotics were injected into a vein instead of a muscle. “I had the vision of seeing a white light and looking down and seeing myself in this bedroom with a nurse frantically trying to save my life and jabbing injections in me, and I’m calmly watching this whole thing,” she told the Omaha World-Herald in 2016. She later added to HuffPost how the experience had changed her: “I remember looking down at this body that was mine, realising I wasn’t in it, and I totally grasped the concept that your body is really a vehicle,” she said. “You need to service it like a car.”
“I felt nothing but peace and happiness”
About 20 years ago, orthopaedic surgeon Mary C. Neal, MD, almost drowned while kayaking in Chile, and her heart stopped for more than half an hour. “Soon after leaving my body, I was greeted by a group of beings who were simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar. This may sound strange, but I felt nothing but peace and happiness in their company,” she wrote on mindbodygreen. “When I was separated from my physical body, I was simultaneously aware of what was happening in heaven and what was unfolding on the riverbank where I had drowned. I thought about my husband and my children, my parents and siblings (and not at all about my work or other earthly worries).” She went on to write the book 7 Lessons from Heaven.
“I was afraid”
When NDERF contributor Laurie was 19 years old, she was swept into rapids on a rafting trip. She was trapped beneath the surface, and as water filled her lungs, she knew she was going to die. Everything went black, then white, as if she was travelling through a tunnel. “Looking around me, I could see a room that appeared to be formed from pure white clouds, yet wasn’t solid,” she explains.
“In the room were three beings, made of shimmering crystal. Light shone through them like a glass prism, forming a rainbow. One was larger than the other two, but all of them spoke to me. I was afraid of them, and they seemed to realise this. Instantly, they transformed into what I recognised as angels. They didn’t have bird wings, they had fibres like fibre optic cables that were shaped like wings and pure light shone through the fibres, forming colours in all shades. When they spoke, their messages were sent telepathically.”
The angels showed her a golden field with beautiful music, with a tree and a lake nearby. A kayaking rescuer brought her to safety.
“Swooping golden orbs”
In 2008, neurosurgeon Eben Alexander, MD, went into a coma with a rare form of meningitis that only infects one in ten million people; his doctors figured he had only a 10 percent chance of living.
“I was rescued by a slowly spinning clear white light associated with a musical melody, that served as a portal up into rich and ultra-real realms,” he writes on his website.
“The Gateway Valley was filled with many Earth-like and spiritual features: vibrant and dynamic plant life, with flowers and buds blossoming richly and no signs of death or decay, waterfalls into sparkling crystal pools, thousands of beings dancing below with great joy and festivity, all fuelled by swooping golden orbs in the sky above, angelic choirs emanating chants and anthems that thundered through my awareness, and a lovely girl on a butterfly wing.”
After being unconscious for a week, he woke up and hadn’t suffered any brain damage. His book Proof of Heaven describes more of his experience.
“Love was actually permeating my being”
Dave Bennett was chief engineer of an underwater research vessel in 1983, when one night, he was thrown into the ocean. He’d been educated on the signs of oxygen deprivation, but as he drowned, he suddenly experienced something unlike anything he’d read about. He felt like there was some omnipresence keeping him from being alone as darkness slowly faded into light, and he started to move toward it.
“As I got closer, there were waves and waves of love that were just wrapping me in this warm embrace,” he said at an International Association for Near-Death Studies conference. “It was the most amazing feeling I ever had, and it felt as if this love was actually permeating my being, and it transformed me into this being of life. And as I got closer to the light, the light appeared to me like it was millions upon millions of fragments of light.”
Out of that, he saw what he interpreted as his family – not the ones he’d had on Earth but a second “soul family” – who relived his life with him through different viewpoints. He was told to go back to life to fulfil his purpose, and after 18 minutes underwater, he popped back to the surface.
“I realised: That’s Jesus”
In 2015, 17-year-old Zack Clements collapsed in the middle of his Christian high school’s gym class. His heart stopped for a solid 20 minutes as doctors kept working to revive him. But while he was unconscious, Clements says he caught a glimpse of heaven. “I saw [this] line of white angels. In the middle was the prettiest of them all, and I didn’t know who it was at first until he got closer to me. And then I realised: That’s Jesus.” he said in a clip People shared. “He put his hand on my shoulder and said I’ll be alright.” Some people have claimed the teen’s story was a hoax, but there’s no denying that to be resuscitated after 20 minutes without any lasting brain damage is a medical miracle.