perhaps I was halfway to heaven?
The day I died resulted from of a heart condition called atrial fibrillation (a-fib). Think of it as a quivering heart caused by a heart muscle spasms. It’s no fun to have your heart shaking uncontrollably. It weakens you since your heart is not pumping blood efficiently. It also feels like something is going very wrong with one of my most vital organs.
The first time I experienced an episode of a-fib happened on August 31, 1997, the same day Princess Diana died in a car accident. I was laying in the hospital bed, I was watching coverage of her tragic death, and contemplating my own death from an abnormal ticker. After several hours, medications and something to eat and drink, it finally went back to normal (sinus) rhythm.
Since then I’ve had several episodes of a-fib, and usually my heart slips back into normal rhythm on its own. But the day I died, it was refusing to beat normally despite strong doses of medicine. Thus, the doctor decided to have the hospital staff do a “cardioversion” on my heart. That’s medical talk for essentially doing the electric paddles and applying a heart shock, like using a defibrillator.
I was immediately concerned about the pain of being shocked, but the doctor assured me that I’d be under light sedation and wouldn’t feel or remember a thing. But then he told me that to shock my heart into beating correctly, they would first stop my heart momentarily, then restart it with the shock and hopefully it would beat correctly. In other words, I would have no heartbeat for a few moments and therefore I would be dead for a moment before hopefully they got it going again.
The hospital staff had me sign a bunch of papers agreeing that if I didn’t make it, I’d never sue them. I thought that was ironic—how could I sue them if I was dead? Maybe they were concerned that Carolyn would try to sue them, in which case they’d pull out the papers and say “Look, he told us it was OK if he died at the hands of our staff!”
At any rate, I signed the papers, they laid me on a gurney, strapped on a breathing mask for the aesthetic and had me count down from 10 to zero. I think I counted just to nine before I was in la-la land.
What happened next is the best part of the story. First, they were right, I certainly didn’t feel any pain or discomfort. In fact, what I experienced was just the opposite! The next thing I felt was the most tremendous sense of peace and bliss and ecstasy I’ve ever experienced.
In fact, I remember thinking “I don’t know what this is, but I don’t want it to ever end! And I don’t even know where I am, but I don’t ever want to leave” Every care was lifted. Everything was awesome. I really didn’t know I could feel that amazingly wonderful!
What had happened? What was I experiencing? Reflecting on the incident, I believe that I died and momentarily went to heaven, or somewhere near there where everything is blissful. I got a little taste of heaven and wow was it mind-blowing!
Now I must hasten to add that my wife Carolyn is an RN. Her take on it is much more mundane and uninspiring. She thinks they just gave me some really good drugs! And frankly, she might be right.
But what I do know is that I’ve never felt that great and I learned some things through my near-death experience.
Here are 3 things I learned the day I died:
1. Our “normal life” can turn upside down quite quickly.
The near-death experience above took me totally by surprise: the day I died and was brought back was a total shock to me (pardon the pun). But that’s the way momentous things often happen to us.If you’re old enough to remember the day America was attacked on 9/11, you know the shock of a world turned upside down quite unexpectedly. It was the same for me the day I got a call saying my mother had experienced a heart attack. Within about 24 hours she was dead—before I could see her again, at age 69. I figured we’d have many more years with her, but it wasn’t to be.
Likewise, you might remember the day you wrecked the car, or got the call that your tumor was malignant, or found a pink slip in your office mail. Often we’re given no opportunity to prepare for those tragedies, they just happen.
Instead, preparation is what we do each day by becoming more and more deeply grounded in God’s Word and our relationship with Him.
2. There’s a whole lot more out there that we can’t see, hear, touch, taste or smell.
We tend to think that if we can’t experience something with at least one of our five senses, that it doesn’t exist. However, this is absurd, for we never experience thoughts or emotions with our five senses, yet they are some of the most real parts of our existence and control much of what happens to us.
Likewise, God, sin, forgiveness, salvation and the eternal are quite real, although on this earth we might not think we experience them with our 5 senses. Therefore, people say they are too “weird” to believe in. In his book Life Without Lack, Dallas Willard responds to this misconception:
It is this total otherness, this holiness, this weirdness that makes most people not want to get close to God. They want to have just enough of God to make their little train chug on down the track, something to fix them up, a cosmic aspirin to help them get on with their own business. So, when they see the light and the smoke coming out from around the door and the walls shaking, they say to themselves, “Maybe this is a little too big. I don’t think this will fit into my plans.” (p. 42, Thomas Nelson Publishers. Kindle Edition)
I don’t know if what I experienced the day I died was drug induced or a cosmic experience. But what I do know is that there is much more to the universe than materials which we can observe with our five senses. There is a “weird” intangible and supernatural reality to be recognized, embraced and reckoned with.
3. If we know Jesus, we need have no fear of the unknown.
The day I died, there was the potential of not surviving the procedure. Imagine someone telling you they were going to stop your heart and then try to jump start it—wouldn’t you feel at least a little anxiety? What if their heart jumper cable wasn’t well connected, or their equipment didn’t work, or the electricity went out in the middle of the procedure? OK, maybe they had all those bases covered somehow, but what if my heart simply refused to start again?
However, I was quite peaceful about the experience. Why? Because I know my future is secure in the Lord and the gift of eternal salvation He has promised. My salvation is as secure as Romans 10:13 promises: “Whosoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”
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