People who work in a funeral home become accustomed to dealing with issues that the average person often doesn’t experience. Those involved in a funeral often have unanswered questions about the rituals of death, the meaning of life and the concept of life after death. Along those lines, the question of near-death experiences (NDE) often comes up at Schoedinger Funeral and Cremation Services.
Near Death Experiences
An NDE occurs when a person is clinically dead, meaning he or she has no heartbeat and isn’t breathing. Subsequently revived, the individual may report seeing angels, a light at the end of the tunnel, a feeling of peace and love and similar perceptions.
Although the reports of many people are very similar, from a scientific perspective, the question is whether people are reporting an experience that mimics what they’ve read somewhere. Another issue is whether there are biological reasons for these perceptions, such as the release of certain chemicals in the brain.
One of the striking features of NDE recountings is the similarity of reports. This includes not only modern reports but reports documented as far back as ancient Greece.
The classic descriptions all include a sense of floating outside the body and seeing what was happening from that outside viewpoint, going to a beautiful place — often populated by angels or spiritual beings — meeting God, feeling your life pass in review, meeting loved ones who have died, feeling connected to all of creation and being bathed in a transcendent love. Finally, people describe a sense of being called, often reluctantly, back into their body.
Some medical conditions mimic the experiences of an NDE. Sleepwalking can produce interrupted sleep patterns that are similar to an out-of-body experience.
One study found that stimulating a particular area of the brain resulted in patient reports of an out of body experience. People who have Parkinson’s disease, which causes alterations in brain chemicals, have reported seeing ghosts, monsters and angels.
Science has tried to explain the biological basis for NDEs. Studies in rats found that when the heart stops beating, brain activity spikes. Research has confirmed that changes in the level of oxygen and blood sugars can stimulate brain activity similar to that which occurs near death. Brain chemicals like dopamine can produce feelings of euphoria.
For many, an NDE is a transformative experience. It is not uncommon for a person to completely change their lives after experiencing this.
The reports of medical and scientific professionals who have directly experienced an NDE are particularly interesting, as these individuals are taught to approach all experiences from a rational, evidence-based viewpoint. Two such books are “Proof of Heaven,” by Eben Alexander, and “To Heaven and Back,” by Mary C. Neal, both of whom are physicians.
When it comes to NDEs, there are no answers. Perhaps someday we will find them, but in the meantime, the questions are fascinating. At Schoedinger, we respect our clients’ views on the spiritual aspects of NDEs, whatever the scientific findings.