Barbara Whitfield's NDE
I was born with a deformity, a curvature in my lumbar spine called “scoliosis.” It never bothered me until 1973 when it suddenly became the focus of my life. I was hospitalized four times in the next two years, each time for two weeks, with traction and injections of Demerol to help alleviate the pain. Looking back on it now, I believe, like many other NDErs, that my back pain was a metaphor for my life, which had got-ten off track.
Finally, I underwent surgery, a spinal fusion. I awoke after the five-and-a-half-hour operation in a Stryker-frame circle bed. This strange bed looks like a Ferris wheel for one person. There are two big chrome hoops with a stretcher suspended in the middle. I remained in that bed for almost a month, and then I was placed in a full body cast from my armpits to my knees for six months.
About two days after surgery, complications set in and I started to die. I remember waking up in the circle bed and seeing this huge belly. I had swollen up, and the swelling was pulling my incisions open and it hurt. I called for my nurse, and then I started screaming.
People in white came rushing in. It was a dramatic scene, just like those you see in hospital dramas on television. I had no idea what was going on because I hadn’t become a respiratory therapist yet. It seemed like everybody was pushing carts and machinery, throwing things back and forth over me. They hooked me up to all kinds of machinery, tubes, monitors and bags. Overwhelmed emotionally, I lost consciousness and later that night woke up in the hall outside my room. I floated back into the room and saw my body. I felt peaceful, more peaceful than I had ever been in this lifetime. Then I went into a tunnel where I was greeted and held by my grandmother who had been dead for 14 years. Before this I had never once thought about her surviving her death. I didn’t believe in that. But now I knew I was with her. Her love enveloped me and together we relived all our memories of each other. I could see and feel all this through her eyes and her feelings of each moment too. And I know she experienced how her actions and her love had comforted me in my childhood.
Suddenly I was back in my body, back in the circle bed. Two nurses were opening my drapes. The sunlight was startling. It hurt my eyes. I asked them to close the drapes. I tried to tell my nurses and then several doctors that I had left the bed. They told me that it was impossible and that I had been hallucinating.
About a week later, I again left my body in the circle bed. I was no longer on the critical list, but I was still debilitated and weak. I had been rotated forward onto my face. I was uncomfortable. I seemed to have been in that position for too long. I reached for the call button, but it had slipped away from where it had been clipped to the bed sheet. I started to call, then yell, then scream frantically, but my door was closed. No one came. I became hysterical. I separated from my body.
As I left my body, I again went out into the darkness, only this time I was awake and could see it happening. Looking down and off to the right, I saw myself in a bubble — in the circle bed — crying. Then I looked up and to the left, and I saw my one-year-old self in another bubble-face down in my crib — crying just as hard. I looked to the right and saw myself again in the circle bed, then to the left and saw myself as a baby. I looked back and forth about three more times, then I let go. I decided I did not want to be the thirty-two-year-old Barbara anymore; I’d go to the baby. As I moved away from my body in the circle bed, I felt as though I released myself from this lifetime. As I did, I became aware of an Energy that was wrapping itself around me and going through me, permeating me, holding up every molecule of my being.
Even though I had been an atheist for years, I felt God’s love. This love was holding me. It felt incredible. There are no words in the English language, or maybe in this reality, to explain the kind of love God emanates. God was totally accepting of everything we — God and I — reviewed in my life.
In every scene of my life review I could feel again what I had felt at various times in my life. And I could feel everything that everyone else had felt as a consequence of my presence and my actions. Some of it felt good and some of it felt awful. All of this translated into knowledge, and I learned. Oh, how I learned!
The information was flowing at an incredible speed that probably would have burned me up if it hadn’t been for the extraordinary Energy holding me. The information came in, and then love neutralized my judgments against myself. In other words, throughout every scene I viewed, information flowed through me about my perceptions and feelings, and the perceptions and feelings of every person who had shared those scenes with me. No matter how I judged myself in each interaction, being held by God was the bigger interaction. God interjected love into everything, every feeling, every bit of information about absolutely everything that went on, so that everything was all right. There was no good and no bad. There was only me — and my loved ones from this life — trying to survive… just trying to be.
I realize now that without God holding me, I would not have had the strength to experience what I did.
When it started, God and I were merging. We became one, so that I could see through God’s eyes and feel through God’s heart. Together, we witnessed how severely I had treated myself because that was the behavior shown and taught to me as a child. I realized that the only big mistake I had made in my thirty-two years of life was that I had never learned to love myself.
God let me into God’s experience of all this. I felt God’s memories of these scenes through God’s eyes. I could sense God’s divine intelligence, and it was astonishing. God loves us and wants us to wake up to our real selves, to what is important. I realized that God wants us to know that we only experience real pain if we die without living first. And the way to live is to give love to ourselves and to others. It seems that we are here to learn to give and receive love. But only when we heal enough to be real can we understand and give and receive love the way love was meant to be.
When God holds us in our life reviews and we merge into One, we remember this feeling as being limitless. God is limitless. God’s capacity to love is never-ending. God’s love for us never changes, no matter how we are. God doesn’t judge us either. During our life review, we judge ourselves by feeling the love we have created in other’s lives. We also feel the pain we have caused in other’s lives. This may be a kind of Cosmic Equalizer.
I did not see an old man with a white beard who sits in judgment of us. I only felt limitless divine love.
God only gives. God interjected love into all the scenes of my life to show me God’s reality. And the most amazing part of all is that God held nothing back. I understood all that God understood. God let me in. God shared all of God’s self with me: all the qualities of gentleness and openness, and all the gifts, including our own empowerment and peace. I never knew that much loving intelligence and freedom could exist.
At this point God and I were merging into one Sacred Person. It felt as though I lifted off the circle bed and We went to the baby I was seeing to my upper left in the darkness. Picture the baby being in a bubble; that bubble was in the center of a cloud of thousands and thousands of bubbles. In each bubble was another scene from my life. As we moved toward the baby, it was as though we were bobbing through the bubbles. At the same time, there was a linear sequence in which we relived thirty-two years of my life. I could hear myself saying, “No wonder, no wonder.” I now believe my “no wonders” meant “No wonder you are the way you are now. Look what was done to you when you were a little girl.”
My mother had been dependent on prescription drugs, angry and abusive, and my father wasn’t home much of the time and did little to intervene. I saw all this again, but I did not see it in little bits and pieces, the way I had remembered it as an adult. I saw and experienced it just as I had lived it at the time it first happened. Not only was I me, I was also my mother, my dad, and my brother. We were all one. Just as I had felt everything my grandmother had felt, I now felt my mother’s pain and neglect from her childhood. She wasn’t trying to be mean. She didn’t know how to be loving or kind. She didn’t know how to love. She didn’t understand what life is really all about .And she was still angry from her own childhood, angry because they were poor and because her father was sick almost every day until he died when she was eleven. And then she was angry because he had left her. She didn’t know what to do with her anger so she gave it to my brother and me. Her anger boiled up all the time and then she physically abused us or she made us listen to all
her resentments. Her list went back to her early childhood. Everyone had hurt her. I don’t think that she, through her numbness and drugged state, understood how she was doing the same thing to us.
Everything came flooding back, including my father’s helplessness and confusion at stopping the insanity. I could hear myself saying, “No wonder, no wonder.” And then the benevolent Energy that was holding me held me tighter and with even more love.
We continued watching my mother in pain, always seeing doctors and always receiving prescription pain killers, sleeping pills and tranquilizers. My only feeling during this time was loneliness. I saw myself down on my knees by the side of my bed, praying for a doctor to help my mother. I saw how I had given up “myself” in order to survive. I forgot that I was a child. I became my mother’s mother. I suddenly knew that my mother had had the same thing happen to her in her childhood. She took care of her father, and as a child she gave herself up to take care of him. As children, she and I both became anything and everything others needed. As my life review continued, I also saw my mother’s Soul, how painful her life was, how lost she was. And I saw my father and how he put blinders on himself to avoid his grief over my mother’s pain and to survive. In my life review, I saw that they were good people caught in helplessness. I saw their beauty, their humanity and their needs that had gone unattended to in their own childhoods. I loved them and understood them. We may have been trapped, but we were still Souls connected in our dance of life by an Energy source that had created us.
This was when I first realized that we do not end at our skin. We are all in this big churning mass of consciousness. We are each a part of this consciousness we call God. And we are not just human. We are Spirit. We were Spirit before we came into this lifetime. We are all struggling Spirits now, trying to get “being human ”right. And when we leave here, we will be pure Spirit again.
As my life review continued, I got married and had my own children and saw that I was on the edge of repeating the cycle that I had experienced as a child. I was on prescription drugs. I was in the hospital. I was becoming like my mother. And at the same time, this Loving Energy we call God was holding me and let me into Its experience of all this. I felt God’s memories of these scenes through God’s eyes, just as I had through my grandmother’s eyes.
As my life unfolded, I witnessed how severely I had treated myself because that was the behavior shown and taught to me as a child. I realized that the only big mistake I had made in my life was that I had never learned to love myself. And then I was back here, in this reality.
I came home after a month. I weighed eighty-three pounds and the body cast weighed thirty pounds. I insisted on seeing a psychiatrist ,hoping he would understand what I had experienced. The doctor I saw didn’t understand. No one understood NDEs back then, so I realized that I couldn’t talk about it. I spent six months in the body cast, thinking about my NDE but not talking about it. Once I was out of the cast and went through some physical therapy to regain my strength, I decided to put the NDE away and follow my heart.
First, I volunteered to work in the emergency room of the hospital where I had been a patient. I was excited that first morning. I put on my volunteer uniform, wishing my pounding headache would subside. My first few hours standing in the corridor of the emergency room, doing what little I was asked to do, was agonizing because of this headache. Then an old woman was brought in on a gurney from an ambulance. She was shivering. I knew she was dying but I didn’t know how I knew. A nurse asked me to go over to the warmer and get a few blankets for her. She pointed to what looked like a refrigerator and turned out to be a warmer filled with blankets. I took two over to the shivering woman and spread them over her, one at a time, using my hands to smooth them. Then, to my surprise, something strange started to hap-pen. I felt my headache moving down through my shoulders, draining into my hands and out of my palms, only the sensation wasn’t one of pain anymore. It was more like a tingling. I looked at the old woman and she was smiling right into my eyes. She said, “Oh, my dear, I feel a little better.” I took her hand in mine and sat down next to her, just content to hold her hand. A few minutes later, she said, “The pain medication is working. I’m out of pain and not so afraid anymore.” (My headache was gone too). I sat there for the longest time. Occasionally a nurse or the emergency room doctor walked by and they smiled but they didn’t ask me to do any more until much later when the woman was taken to a room.
After that first experience at that hospital, I had many opportunities to be with and touch dying people. Either I searched them out, or the staff asked me to. During my breaks I would go to the rooms of dying people I had met in the emergency room. I felt real when I worked there. And everyone else was real, too. In settings where life and death are on the edge every moment, only the truth is spoken.
My personal life, however, was at the opposite end of the spectrum. My husband, my friends and most family members were caught up in their own games. No one seemed to be communicating honestly. It seemed that what was shown to me in my life review now made me recognize how manipulative our relationships were. We never were able to honestly talk about what we wanted or needed from one another. The most painful part for me was watching the disrespect of each others feelings. I cannot deny that I too had once been a part of it, part of the denial and numbness. We used materialism as a way to substitute for authentic living. But now I was different. It wasn’t their fault I had changed. The only place I felt real besides the hospital was on a college campus. I realized that I needed to go back to school in order to qualify for some type of health care career.
I graduated a few years later as a respiratory therapist. I loved working in the emergency room and the ICU, where, once again, my patients were telling me about their experiences as they were dying. And those who returned to their bodies told me about their NDEs. I started to write about what I was hearing, calling my topic “the emotional needs of critical-care patients.” Surprisingly, I was invited to speak at professional conferences and was published in respiratory therapy journals. The emotional needs of critical care patients was a hot new topic in healthcare during the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Finally, I became a researcher and could start looking for the answers that I so longed to find. Because I was undertaking my research at a university medical school, all kinds of new knowledge became available to me. Now at last I could frame and re-frame not only the hundreds of experiences I was studying, but also my own.
I learned in my life review that the only thing that is real is love, and the only way to share love is by being real. Being real happens when we acknowledge our feelings, the feelings of others and continually share our truth. When we feel our feelings and are real, we share our truth out of love. Then our relationship with God and our self is healthy. This relationship is always here and can continue to grow in our lives if we allow it to. This sacred relationship continues to interpret for us what we are doing here, what life may be all about.
When we die, if we re-experience our lives from everyone else’s perspective as well as our own, there are only feelings, perceptions and knowledge. We really cannot judge or blame others, because we suddenly understand where we and everyone else is coming from. We only judge here in this earthly reality. When I was with God, I was just learning. The knowledge of what had happened was pouring into me, and I was repeatedly saying my “no wonders!” I came to believe that God doesn’t judge but wants us to learn so we won’t make the same mistakes again. My experiences showed me that God wants us to stop being fearful and instead, to extend love. Suddenly, I was catapulted out of time and embraced by this whole different way of thinking and being. Just as rapidly, I was back here, wanting to break new ground. I had had a great opportunity, and now I wanted to share it.
Many times over the years since then I have shared this different way of thinking and being with my transitioning clients, friends and relatives that want to experience it, too. I have assisted many in creating their own life reviews while they are still here, using a tape recorder or camcorder.
In fact, what I learned and experienced for myself during my own life review — that a Divine Energy connects all of us — has since orchestrated all of my relationships. Moreover, not only have I witnessed this Spiritual energy on each occasion that I have attended someone during the dying process, but almost every hospice worker I’ve met during the many talks I have given has also confirmed God’s loving energy being present during their own clients’ deaths. I’ve even heard similar remarks from medical staff and relatives regarding births.
To this day, I still feel connected to this Energy through my heart. Within my heart, there is a constant prayer. This prayer forms the background music of every experience I have. When we are connected to God’s loving energy, It is the single most powerful force in the universe.
When Charles and I started working with Jyoti and Russ, the four of us kept asking,“ What moves us up?” or “What throws the switch? ”Finally, Charles, with his knowledge of the 12 Steps, suggested, “It’s the power of humility.” He defined humility as “the openness and willingness to learn more about self, others and if we choose, the God of our understanding.” And, of course, as a therapist/healer/Near-Death Experiencer I knew that without that openness and willingness to learn we can’t heal and transcend to a life filled with the Energy of our Sacred Person, a life lived from our natural Soul. My first “Aha experience” (or sudden insight) in the writing of the humility book ran through me.
We don’t have to die or almost die to wake up again to our Soul and to feel the Energy I am referring to above. Experiencing my grand-mother holding me in the tunnel created a flood of memories of her love. Each time I thought about her afterwards, each time I tell my story now, I sense that wonderful feeling again of my grandmother’s love. Her love moved into me and I felt my Soul. Love does that.
Barbara Whitfield, female
Was 32 years old when the NDE occurred
Cause of a clinical death: internal bleeding, shock