Last week I spoke to my friend Sally about the long struggle her mother has had with cancer—she is in a hospice now approaching her last days of this life. Although she has always been a person of faith, she is afraid of death. That is an understandable thing—fear of the unknown.
Trying to comfort Sally, I related my own near-death story. When I was 20 years old, I was in a diabetic coma. I had an experience that—even though I have faced my mortality a few times since—has never been repeated. While in the coma I had no knowledge of what was going on around me in the ER, but was very much aware of what was happening to me; my mind was extremely clear, and I knew that I was dying.
I felt as if I was floating in a bright, very comforting light, and I could hear a type of musical sound—not like anything I have ever heard here on earth before. I felt a "peace" descend upon me that I had never experienced, before or since. The word "peace" is inadequate; it doesn't even come close to describing what I felt—the "peace that passes all understanding."
With calm reasoning, I made a sort of mental list—the pros and cons of whether to go on, or to go back. I didn't hear any voices, or see anyone during this experience, but I "felt" the presence of God.
I thought about my parents, and how grieved they would be to lose me, but then I knew that, even missing me, they would be okay. I thought about all my plans for my life. I was in college, and was a very goal-oriented person, but suddenly it seemed that if those things happened that would be nice, but if not, that was alright too. The one thing that surprised me then—and even now, when I think back—is that I had always hoped to get married, and that having children was important to me. But even that wasn't enough to make me want to come back.
Now, of course, I'm so very blessed that I have had the joy to marry, be a mother and grandmother.
But just as I had that thought, I felt like I fell back into the bed, or maybe into my body. I only came to very briefly—there were several people surrounding my bed working on me, and the nurse at my right said, "She's back." I thought, "No, I want to go on!" I didn't want to come back—I wanted to stay in that peaceful place. I passed out immediately, but this time it was nothing like before—no concept of time, no thoughts. It was a completely different experience from the first time, and I was in the coma for a few days more. When I woke up finally, I was in the ICU.
My doctor came to see me, and showed me his report. He pointed out a pH number that showed that I was one-tenth of a point from death. He just said, "I thought I lost you."
Although I'm not anxious to die anytime soon, since that experience, I have not feared death. I know without a doubt that what awaits those who believe in God, and put their trust in Him, is beyond all comprehension.
Such an experience is not easy to talk about, or to try to explain; it is life-changing. This life is precious, and a gift, and to be appreciated, but this is not the end. What we do here in this life, and the choices we make, will determine our next life. Even some non-believers have had these experiences, but not always peacefully. Some come back completely changed, as believers.
Perhaps the Lord allows some people to go through this, so they may tell others, who will believe and give glory to God. Like in the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11), "...Jesus said, this illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God that the Son of God may be glorified through it" (Verse 4).
But Lazarus did die again, in God's time—so will all of us one day—and we need to be ready at any time. For my friend's mom, and for others, it lingers: death comes slowly, like a terrible tease. For some, as we see daily in our headlines, death is sudden.
In the story of Lazarus we also see Jesus understanding pain and suffering. He was moved with pity and emotion seeing the grief of his friends, and of those who cared about them. The shortest verse in Scripture is verse John 11:35—"Jesus wept," even though "he knew what he was about to do. " The irony is that Jesus' gift of life to Lazarus led directly to his own death. Jesus knew this when he traveled to Mary and Martha to perform this miracle, but he did it so that they would believe. I'm sure that his humanity feared the suffering he was destined to endure, but his divinity knew that it was the only way to win our salvation, so that eternal life with God could be given to us—through death, through resurrection, to eternal life.
1/14/2011 5:00:00 AM