CROSSING DEATH’S DOOR

Recently, I listened to a talk on Zoom to an older man who says he went to Heaven and heard the voice of God. I was interested in listening to this man — his name is Peter Panagore — because early in my journalism career I had met another man, a young psychiatrist, who was working with patients who claimed to have died and been awake to see what lies beyond this world. I have never dismissed these claims.

In the spring of 1980, Peter Panagore, a student studying at the University of Montana, was ice climbing with a classmate in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Caught on the mountaintop after sunset and the evening temperature falling below zero, Peter, the less experienced of the two climbers, soon experienced hypothermia and passed out. His vital signs may have flat-lined, although there is no way to know for sure. But he remained unconscious for what seemed a very long time until he awoke to find his partner screaming at him to wake up.

In his book, Heaven is Beautiful, Peter writes that he died. But far from being void or nothing, he found himself floating firmly in a vast darkness extending beyond sight in every direction. “But the darkness was not dark. I could see it…. I heard my name called from deep, deep inside me, and also from beyond me. I heard my name called. It was “Peter” and more, my soul’s name, and it was said with Love beyond imagination.”

Peter’s description is one of thousands of men and women who have experienced what lies beyond the veil of death, and who returned, to tell their stories and to be recorded by researchers. “I don’t believe within the facts of scientific evidence there is life after death,” says Raymond Moody, the psychiatrist, clinical researcher, doctor of philosophy, and author of Life After Life I met in 1977 at a lecture in California. But, he asks, how do I respond to a patient waking up in the hospital morgue, asking, ‘Was I really dead?” after being read his medical chart — ‘patient died at 3 a.m.’

Or try to explain the experience of patients who have a panoramic experience, one of 19 common features Moody has discovered in which the person sees his whole life before him in 3-D color, and from the third person. One man told Moody he saw his own caesarian birth from a distance. Or to the woman describing the same detachment feature, saying she was just below the ceiling of the emergency room seeing her own body below her with nurses and doctors huddled around it

“Dead is the state from which one can return,” says Moody. “You don’t say, ‘You died and I brought you back.’ The important thing to describe is what happened physically… I will not get into a pointless ontological debate. You must reassure them they can find someone willing to listen, but ultimately it is up to them to integrate it into their own lives.”

A lot of people would say that when they tried to bring it up other people would listen for a few minutes, then pat them on the head and say, “Don’t worry. Everything will be all right.” Most people who say they have had a “near-death experience” (NDE), learn to keep quiet about it. Moody finds that many of these people have repressed the experience for many years.

That’s what Peter Panagore did. “I told no one what I saw or felt. I kept my mouth shut… I had nothing to say because I had no words to describe what I’d been through.”

Moody is one of the first, if not the first, modern researcher of the NDE phenomena. At first, he was amazed there wasn’t any reference to the subject in historical literature. But later he discovered that history is full of such cases. In a piece of 18th Century literature, for example, Moody found the description of a man believed to be dead and placed on a bed by relatives for a wake. “He sat up many hours later, relatives and friends scattering, but his wife stayed to hear him say he had been to many places and had a reluctance to return.”

Although not all NDE features occur in all cases, the features are seemingly related:

— The experience might be that of a noise, a buzzing, humming bees roaring, a vibration, often connected with a long narrow space, or commonly described as a “tunnel”.

— Many NDE voyagers report experiencing all the thoughts of their lives and the consequences of those thoughts, before them all at once.

— Another feature is that of unusual clarity, a feeling of alertness and awareness, associated with tremendous analytical power.

— The above feature is closely related to feeling detached from the body in which the voyager is able to observe their bodies outside of themselves.

— Many tell of experiencing intense light as well as a warm, loving presence.

Many, if not most, say they would rather have stayed “dead”, that it was so much more joyful than being in the world. This is true for Peter Panagore, who reports experiencing different forms of many of these features in his book. While he says he wanted to return to the world from Heaven to be the anchor and hope to loved ones and others, he also regrets returning.

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Journalist and memoir writer: I like to think of myself as an early Baby Boomer still coming of age.

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Davi Hanna Raijch

Davi Hanna Raijch

Journalist and memoir writer: I like to think of myself as an early Baby Boomer still coming of age.

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