When it comes to near-death experience stories, there are many unscientific writings based on the writers’ own agendas rather than actual evidence. However, there is also a growing body of legitimate research around near-death experience (NDE) reports, and peer-reviewed scientific journals have published a number of medical studies on the subject.
In this article, we’ll explore common elements of near-death experience stories, what it means when a near-death experience can be verified, and five credible near-death experience short stories. Plus, download a free NDE Cheat Sheet that outlines the top 5 things to remember about near-death experiences.
Common Elements in Stories of Near Death Experiences
For a near-death experience to occur, one must have limited brain function, yet still have a sensory experience—without full use of their physical senses. In the United States alone, about 9 million people have reported experiencing an NDE.
The patients’ reports reveal a pattern of several recurring elements. These elements include:
- out-of-body experience
- accurate visual perception (while out of the body)
- accurate auditory perception (while out of the body)
- feelings of peace and painlessness
- light phenomena (encounter with loving white light)
- life review
- being in another world
- encountering other beings
- tunnel experience
For a quick and sharable overview of near-death experiences, download a free Top 5 Things to Remember about NDEs fact sheet.
Three Ways to Verify a Report of a Near Death Experience Story
In some cases, where patients undergo clinical death and then return to physical life, they report that they maintained consciousness during the clinical death (despite the absence of brain function). Since this clinical death often happens in a hospital setting with professional medical oversight, thousands of these near-death experiences have been sufficiently well-documented for scientific study.
- Veridical reported data
- Visual perception of blind
- Personal information about deceased individuals
Each of these kinds of evidence is verifiable by independent researchers after the fact, and all of them are exceedingly difficult (if not impossible) to explain by merely physical or physiological theories (such as hallucinations, anoxia, narcotics, etc.).
Veridical Reported Data and Visual Perception of Blind
Frequently during near-death experiences, some transphysical component leaves the body but does not go immediately to an other-worldly domain. Instead, it remains in the resuscitation room or somewhat near the body.
Some of these reports have highly unusual or unique characteristics which are not part of ordinary resuscitation or hospital procedures. Additionally, some patients blind from birth report visual data accurately about their experiences during clinical death.
As such, the details of these near-death experience stories can be verified by hospital staff and others who were present at the time. When the claims of an NDE have been verified, the account is deemed “veridical.” Virtually every peer-reviewed study reports multiple instances of such veridical data.
Personal Information about Deceased Individuals
Similarly, many NDEers meet deceased relatives who they had never met in their own lifetime. They are only able to identify the relative later in a photo or by describing them to a living relative who knew the deceased.
Five Stories of Near Death Experiences
Near Death Experience Story One: Finding Dentures
In a 2001 study by renowned cardiologist Pim van Lommel, a man who had been in a deep coma later told a nurse that he recognized her. He told her that he saw where she had placed his dentures during resuscitation efforts, and then described the cart where she placed them. They were there, precisely as he described it.
Near Death Experience Story Two: A Child Meets Relatives
One man who had an NDE as a child recalled the experience of meeting dead relatives:
“There were some presences there. There were some ladies… I didn’t know them at the time… They were so loving and so wonderful, and I just didn’t want to come back… I didn’t see any pictures of them until I was an adult, but then I said, ‘Oh, yeah.’… They were my great-grandmothers who had died years before I was born.”
Near Death Experience Story Three: Life-Review
Often, people relay their near-death experiences as a review of their life. Though life review experiences cannot be deemed scientifically veridical, they are worth noting. They can have a profound effect on the NDEer and sometimes cause them to re-examine their life and morals. Below is a doctor’s description of the life review of an NDE patient:
When he realized that collision was imminent, the patient said that time seemed to slow down as he hit his brakes and went into an uncontrolled slide. Then he seemed to pop out of his body. While in this state, he had a life review which consisted of brief pictures—flashes— of his life. . . His car struck the truck and the truck bed crashed through the window, causing multiple injuries to his head and chest. Medical reports show that he was in a coma and nearly died. Yet he had a vivid sensation of leaving his physical body and entering into darkness. . . He had the feeling of moving up through a dark tunnel toward a point of light. Suddenly a being “filled with love and light” appeared to him. Now he had a second life review [or life review proper], one guided by the being of light. He felt bathed in love and compassion as he reviewed the moral choices he had made in his lifetime. He suddenly understood that he was an important part of the universe and that his life had a purpose.
Near Death Experience Story Four: Traveling through Walls
Some NDEers report stories of veridical out-of-body experiences, including traveling through walls to the waiting room where they see their relatives and friends. One patient reported traveling through a wall and seeing her young daughter wearing mismatched plaids, which was highly unusual. Another woman traveled through a wall and overheard her brother-in-law in the hospital waiting room talking to a business associate in a very derogatory manner; she was able to report this back to him later.
Near Death Experience Story Five: A Blind Woman Has Sight Restored
As mentioned above, some blind people report being able to see during their NDE. Psychiatrist Brian Weiss tells the story of a blind, elderly woman:
“[She] suffered a cardiac arrest during her stay in the hospital where I [Weiss] was the chairman of the psychiatry department. She was unconscious as the resuscitation team tried to revive her. According to her later report, she floated out of her body and stood near the window, watching [the resuscitation]. She observed, without any pain whatsoever, as they thumped on her chest and pumped air into her lungs. During the resuscitation, a pen fell out of her doctor’s pocket and rolled near the same window where her out-of-body spirit was standing and watching. The doctor eventually walked over, picked up the pen, and put it back in his pocket. He then rejoined the frantic effort to save her. They succeeded.
“A few days later, she told her doctor that she had observed the resuscitation team at work during her cardiac arrest. ‘No,’ he soothingly reassured her. ‘You were probably hallucinating because of the anoxia [lack of oxygen to the brain]. This can happen when the heart stops beating.
’But I saw your pen roll over to the window,’ she replied. Then she described the pen and other details of the resuscitation. The doctor was shocked. His patient had not only been comatose during the resuscitation, but she had also been blind for many years.”
What Can These Near-Death Experience Stories Tell Us about Consciousness, the Afterlife, and God?
The above studies of near-death experiences give considerable probative evidence of transphysical consciousness after bodily death, which is not explained by current physicalist explanations and is unlikely to be presented by future ones. Nor can it be explained by the medical world, this challenges certain ideas of consciousness.
“These features and the occurrence of heightened mental functioning when the brain is severely impaired, such as under general anesthesia and in cardiac arrest, challenge the common assumption in neuroscience that consciousness is solely the product of brain processes, or that the mind is merely the subjective concomitant of neurological events.” —Dr. Bruce Greyson of the University of Virginia School of Medicine
For the Catholic, the preponderance of evidence for a positive, loving experience after bodily death, gives us an ultimate context in which to interpret happiness and suffering. We no longer need to limit happiness to our physical existence and our bodily lifespan but can explore transcendent and eternal happiness both now and in our eternal future.
There is a growing body of legitimate research around near-death experience reports, and peer-reviewed scientific journals have published a number of actual medical studies on the subject. Verified NDE stories provide evidence that the soul does indeed continue beyond death.
To learn more about what near-death experience stories can teach us about God and heaven (and hell, too) see our post, “NDE: The Definitive Guide to Near Death Experiences.” For a quick and sharable overview of near-death experiences, download our cheat sheet, Top 5 Things to Remember about NDEs.
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Can Catholics Believe in Near Death Experiences: An in-depth look into near-death experiences and where they fit into the Catholic Faith.
Christian Revelation, Heaven, and Near Death Experiences: By looking at patients' accounts of the afterlife, we may be able to infer clues about the afterlife. What parallels can we draw between NDEs and heaven?