As regular readers of this site would know, I think the topic of end-of-life experiences (ELEs) deserves a lot more attention than it has so far received, as there is a plethora of fascinating reports out there that have largely been ignored (see for example my posts on both George Harrison’s and Steve Job’s passing). I devoted a chapter to the topic in my own book on research into the afterlife question, but was recently happy to discover another new book out there that also discusses it in an intelligent manner: Opening Heaven’s Door: Investigating Stories of Life, Death, and What Comes After, by award-winning writer/journalist Patrica Pearson:
What happens when we die? People have been guessing since humans first began to think. Spirituality and religion provided the answers in the past, but in the age of science we’re thrown back into the dark. If science cannot ‘prove’ there is life – or something – after death, then it doesn’t exist. And yet ordinary people continue to experience unexplained phenomena when a friend or family member dies. These are normal people, even sceptics like Patricia Pearson. Prompted by her family’s surprising experiences around the deaths of her father and her sister, Pearson set out on an open-minded journey of inquiry as a journalist. She discovered that far more people were having uncanny and transcendent experiences than generally let on: roughly half the bereaved population, plus all those who observe the dying (nurses, hospice workers, soldiers, etc.). With many years of examination into current grief research under her belt, she concludes that we cannot simply deprive people the legitimacy of these experiences until there is more solid evidence that ‘we inhabit a purely material and mechanistic universe’. Pearson points to new scientific explanations around how dying is experienced, giving these luminous moments credence and understanding. As she says, ‘The dying may finally be able to convey to us what they are feeling, and where they glimpse themselves to be going.’ Opening Heaven’s Door recounts deeply affecting stories of messages from the dying and the dead in a fascinating work of investigative journalism, pointing to new scientific explanations that give these luminous moments the importance felt by those who experience them.
Pearson recently gave a wonderful radio interview exploring the topic, and how the modern world reacts to personal anecdotes about ELEs, which I highly recommend – you can listen to it here (I tried to embed it but unfortunately it autoplays).
For those with the vague feeling that you’ve heard Patricia Pearson’s thoughts on this subject before, it might be because we posted a TEDx Talk she gave last year in which Pearson describes her own personal experience, and how it pushed her to research the topic in more depth – here’s a repost of the video for those who don’t have time to listen to the 53 minute radio interview above:
(thanks to Kat for the heads-up)