One of my recent columns was about old photos; it seemed a little dark to me.
But then, I thought, the fact that I have no memories of either of my grandfathers is a wonderful testament on the improvements in health care services in our country. My grandkids know me and know what I look like and my sons knew their grandfather.
Still, I'm haunted by the recent death of my daughter-in-law Anne, who died leaving two young children, 3 and 7. My wife knew I had spoken with Anne before she died about a near-death experience that I had.
She asked me what I had told Anne and could it help the children better deal with her death?
I had drowned and been pronounced dead near Cape Cod in Massachusetts.
In spite of these details, I never felt that I had lost consciousness. I was aware of still being and I watched what was going on around me. It was very curious because at first a fire department rescue team and a ski patrol team fought over my body. What was a ski patrol doing on the beach in the summertime? I think the fire department won the battle and they are the ones who declared me dead.
I didn't hear this happen, but my doctor told me that this was the case.
You see, I had told him of the two groups fighting over me and he had checked it out. At the time, being dead didn't really mean much to me. From my perspective, nothing had changed.
Still, things did get different. It got cooler and brighter around me and the details of things were simply, not there. Everything was a colorless whiteness. I don't remember hearing much either. But I was conscious and aware and very curious. I was totally unaware that I was speeding down a highway in an ambulance. No one actually spoke to me, yet I was sure that I was not alone. And quite shortly, I heard a voice saying something to the effect that, "He's back."
It didn't seem to matter to me at first, that I was back, but soon there were faces leaning over me and I was being taken into a hospital. I remember that folks kept sticking needles under my fingernails to "check my blood gases" ... whatever that meant.
The next day, I was told that I had a heart attack. I, of course, argued that that was silly; I had just passed out.
I suppose that my actual death might have lasted only for minutes, but it always felt very real to me. The doctor and I argued back and forth about why it happened, but I think that even he recognized that something unusual had happened to me. I fought to get out of the hospital and to continue my vacation and for years carried a copy of my EKG around with me in case I ever again was locked up in a cardiac care unit. The thought being that then we all could discuss my individual T wave idiosyncrasies.
What I could tell my daughter-in-law, and what I had already told my father, was that there was nothing at all to fear in death. And, perhaps just as importantly, was the fact that consciousness continued after death. Death was not a black hole or a nothingness; it was strangely, a welcoming place without any fear.
As far as talking to Anne's children, I did not want to do that. I still cannot totally understand what happened to me. I could never explain it to a child.
I could never really answer their questions. I once participated in a study of near-death experiences and I completed what seemed like an hour-long telephone interview. I had strong feelings about my experience, but very few answers. Perhaps later in life, I can discuss my experience with the grandkids.
But, I understand that this is my experience and that I cannot know what anyone else will or might experience. I hope that Anne's experience is like my own. I can sense her right now: She's happily going on a run every morning ... and, she's smiling!
Reach Richard Olmer at
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