I’ve finally got it. It has taken three and a half years to solve two important mysteries. And now I’ve got it. The night Laura passed, I had what Dr Raymond Moody calls a ‘Shared Death Experience’ in his book Glimpses of Eternity: Sharing a Loved One’s Passage From This Life To the Next.
Let me explain. I’ve long puzzled over two things. First, how it is I wound up so happy, and feeling so much more myself than ever before, after losing Laura, the person I loved most in the world. It made no sense to me. And the other mystery is what I saw the night Laura passed. What was the beautiful, calming white light pouring out of the crown of her head as she lay dying (see blog posts Illuminated and Laura’s Passing)? Initially I thought I was seeing her soul leave her body. But if so, why would it take so long to leave? The strange light was present for an hour or maybe two hours. People who’ve had Near Death Experiences (NDEs) report that the soul can spring out of the body in a finger snap.
The first clue came from reading Dr Raymond Mood’s book Life After Life where he famously coined the term Near Death Experience (NDE) for an experience where a person dies and then travels to the afterlife before coming back to this life. The most common element in these stories (5% of the population report having them) is that the dying person sees a white light, which ‘has the most profound effect on the individual’. Moody’s interviewees describe this light as a spiritual being, that comes to help them cross over. It communicates with them telepathically and envelopes them in feelings of calm, peace and love.
When I read that, it sounded so familiar. I felt so soothed by the light I saw around Laura the night she passed. After it appeared. a sense of peace, of beatitude, almost of a state of grace descended on the room. Even the patient in the neighboring bed (behind a flimsy curtain), who had just been in surgery for throat cancer and who had been agitated all evening, suddenly calmed down. It was so relaxing, so enveloping, I almost flopped over Laura’s bed in a sort of trance. As Moody reports, typically the white light provides ‘a feeling of complete peace and utter relaxation’.
But why was I seeing the light too? Usually it is only the dying person who experiences it. So I’ve often wondered if Laura in some way allowed me to glimpse part of her journey. And then last week I read Dr Moody’s more recent book Glimpses of Eternity about the ‘tidal wave ‘of people experiencing ‘Shared Death Experiences’ (SDEs). An SDE is when the partner of the dying person, sitting bedside, is drawn into the Death Experience too. Most common is seeing the ‘beautiful and loving light’ that comes to welcome the departed. Some partners even ‘lift out of their own bodies and accompany their dying loved ones’ to the afterlife. One woman reported that as her mother lay dying, she too lifted out of her body and began hovering over the bed next to her mother in spirit form. Some go through a portal to the next life and get a life review too. Me, I just saw the white light.
But here is the thing; Shared Death Experiences, like Near Death Experiences, are profoundly transformative. You are never the same afterwards. Dr Pim Van Lommel, the Dutch expert on NDE’s told me at the Open Center’s Art of Dying Conference that I had all the symptoms of a person who had undergone this type of transformation. People who’ve had these experiences report being: ‘More alive than ever before. You get an enhanced sensitivity and increased intuition. You might know in advance about an incoming phone call. You know when someone else is dying. The person who has had the experience changes. You go and live according to your new insight.’ he said. Dr Moody agrees. And both say that people who’ve had these experiences are less afraid of death, and live more fully in the present afterwards.
Another interesting observation is that people who’ve had a Shared Death Experience tend to have ‘visionary encounters with the departed loved one’ after the person’s death. Well if you’ve been reading this blog since Laura died you’ll recognize how true that is (a couple of the many posts on Laura’s lively spirit include Blythe Spirit and Loving Laura). And three and a half years later, Laura’s beautiful being is still at my side. And she still occasionally sends me ‘something lovely’ (tonight a beautiful butterfly on my bike handlebars as I raced down 2nd Avenue to go to dinner). And best of all I love her night time visits, when she pops in for a ‘spirit snuggle’. But gone is the razzmatazz of the early months, of things jumping off the shelves and the living room light wildly flashing, now we are more like old marrieds, happily basking in each other’s loving presence.