I’ve been thinking about death a lot lately.
The reasons are varied and scattered. Part of it is how much death there is around me. Well, maybe not around me personally. But more than 1,000,000 Americans have died from Covid, and that’s a gross understatement because the true toll won’t be known for years, once the consequences of delayed preventative screenings and various other things play out.
Part of it is because my own health seems so shaky. Longhaul Covid damn near killed me last year, and though I have recovered to a great extent, I’m not what I was. I mean, it has been nearly a year and a half since every waking moment I have comes with this horrible taste in my mouth and this goopy feeling that isn’t there, thanks to whatever the hell Covid did to either the nerves in my tongue/mouth or to the part of my brain that receive signals from the mouth. I wake up at least once a night with my hands so damn stiff from whatever Covid did to my joints that I can’t even make a fist. I still have random bouts of tiredness and brain fog. And I just … deal with it. Because that’s the way things are now.
I also realize that I’m 47 years old and that, if you add up all the things I’ve had that lead to shorter lifespans, I could go at any time. Lyme, thalassemia, depression, severe insomnia, sleep apnea… If it can shorten a life, I’ve had it.
However close I am to death, I at least know I’m somewhere along the back nine, and that is just stunning to me. Where did the hot-shit young newspaper guy go who had everything in front of him?
The thing is, I know what comes next.
I know saying that makes me sound nuts, and I know telling this story puts me firmly in the realm of those who walk around the fringe. But I also know this happened and that it wasn’t “just a dream.”
Was it a near-death experience? Dunno. Was I actually dead? Dunno. I know that, at the time this happened, I was having about 30 times the acceptable level if “episodes” each night in which I would stop breathing for more than 10 seconds, so it’s not hard for me to fathom that all of this could have happened when that clock ticked well past 10 seconds. But the truth is, I have no clue what “it” actually was. I just know that it wasn’t a dream.
It was June 23, 2020. The “it” started with me realizing I was struggling to breathe. I was in bed, and I felt like I was suffocating. I called for my wife, gasping that I needed help. I’m struggling so hard, I break off a piece of our headboard trying to get her attention. There’s a time then when I’m actually watching myself in bed struggling to breathe, from up above on the ceiling.
Then, suddenly, I’m floating. I’m outside this big, huge factory. I don’t recognize it. It’s light blue and unfamiliar. There is a tower with a ladder up the side. And it sits kind of on a bluff. I float over to the edge and see this river far, far below, moving very fast. And I feel as if I’m being pushed from behind, and there’s something inside me that knows if I fall in, I’m going to drown.
The “scenes” keep cutting back and forth — struggling while in bed, looking up at the factory, looking down at the river. Then, without any desire to do so, I float in through a door in the factory, and I’m in this long hallway. I recognize that I’m in a hospital. I’m all of a sudden on a stretcher in the hallway. A woman is next to me, but I don’t see her. I just hear her, and she says she’s going to take care of me and that it’s OK. In the background, I hear this steady “beep … beep … beep.” but I don’t recognize what it is coming from.
Then, once again, I’m outside, but it’s dark out, and the factory’s tower is lit up somehow. I look up and see BILLIONS of stars. And suddenly I have this realization: Oh my God. I’m dead. The suffocating, the hospital, the woman beside me … something happened in my sleep and my wife took me to the hospital and now I’m dead.
Without intention, I realize that it’s time to go. There are stars in the sky and there’s something there for me so I look up and then … I just sort of … go.
I zoom up so fast and the world just recedes behind me and I realize I’m in what I consider to be outer space but I’m not scared. I’m searching for something, searching for this light. But there’s nothing like I expect, no huge singular bright light. What I see, instead, are several rectangles in space that are lighter than the areas around it, like there’s a light source coming from inside the rectangles. I turn over and there’s one to my lower left. I look around and see these other boxes of light and realize they are not for me. So I just go to the one that’s for me. I don’t propel myself. I actually don’t even see my physical body anymore. I don’t decide to go. I just go and fall into this light spot.
Once I’m “in” there, I don’t really see anything. Not that I remember, anyway. I don’t see any people or any anything. All that’s there is what I feel. I’m not feeling any sort of sadness. I don’t even have any thought that I have any reason to be sad. It’s hard to explain, but there’s no concept of sadness or longing or missing the people back there. What I feel is calm and comfort and contentment that whatever I was doing I am no longer doing, that if I was alive I am no longer alive. The biggest thing I feel is relief, that I don’t have to fight anymore, I don’t have to worry about all the things that were troubling me. I don’t have to deal with any of it anymore. That’s done. I did it. I can just rest and I am finally free.
But this doesn’t last long. I don’t hear anything or see anything. I just know that I have to go back. I remember feeling something kind of like disappointment, but, looking back, even that was very muted. It was like the existence of anything bad there is drowned out. Then I’m zooming back, out of that rectangle. I see the earth below, and I am falling like a skydiver without a parachute but I don’t feel the speed and I am not scared. I see the factory below and I know that’s where I’m going.
I start to hear beeping again. Beep… beep… beep… and I just know I am going to wake up in the hospital. I’m 100% certain of it. I realize that everything I’ve felt before going there was the process of dying — suffocating and the woman next to me and the beeping… that beeping was someone’s heart monitor, I realize. I zoom through the door of the factory and, again, it’s a hospital. I travel down a hallway and into this small room where I see me, or, well, my body, and I enter it through my head until I am fully back in it.
I try to speak, but my voice comes out really weak. I don’t see anyone, but I feel that my wife is there, that she’s behind me to my right. I say “Get a pen and something to write on” because I want to tell her everything that just happened. I say weakly, like someone coming-to after surgery, “It’s true. It’s all true,” and what I mean is that there really is a “heaven,” someplace we go after we die. I’m so sure that when I open my eyes I’m going to know exactly where I am — in that hospital room – that I am shocked when I open my eyes and I’m in my bed at home. My wife is next to me, sleeping soundly. And I am thoroughly confused.
Fast-forward to today. I’ve told a few people about this experience. Some try to tell me it was a dream. Others see it as a true “near-death experience” or an “out-of-body experience.” What do I think it was?
Man, I get it. I get how if I say, “Um, yeah, I was dead and I saw what comes next” that I sound like a lunatic. I know how I thought of other people who would talk about stuff like this.
I also know how it felt to be there. I have never felt such an all-encompassing peace and calm. There was nothing bad. Nothing worrisome. It was all 100% peace and calm and contentment — beyond comprehension. So was that “heaven?” I don’t know. If it is, it isn’t what everyone talks about heaven being like. There are no clouds and pearly gates and streets paved with gold. There were no relatives there to greet me, no robed figures, no … no … no religion. It was just calm and contentment and peace.
What does that mean? Heck if I know. I’m just telling you what I experienced. And it’s something that now, more than a year-and-a-half later, I still think about, still remember so clearly and vividly it’s like I can touch it.
But I can’t. Not quite. Not now.
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