My search for understanding began when I was told my mom was dying. I remember sitting across from her and asking her if she were scared. Hell, I was horrified. How was I going to be able to sit by and watch my best friend whither away?
I’d wake up in the middle of the night gasping for air. I tried to wrap my brain around the fact that she was going to disappear. At work, I’d sit at my desk and get the urge to call — just to hear her voice. I’d ask her questions because I could.
I was amazed at her courage all the way until the end. And FYI, the end came way too quickly. I’ll never forget the last time I saw her.
Mom’s body was motionless. Her breath was completely gone.
I took one last look at her in the soft morning light and walked out the door. As I left, one of the hardest facts I’ve ever been forced to accept occurred: I had to be okay with two complete strangers taking her body away. The two men sent by the mortuary carried her down the stairs, put her on a stretcher, then into the van — and off they drove.
There was an instant, silent void in Mom’s home. All of her belongings stood where she left them. My sister and I looked at each other and had no clue what to say.
As the days and weeks progressed, I thought deeply about what I saw as she was dying. Coming from a completely Westernized/Christian upbringing, I was taught that a person’s soul dies along with their body. That when a person dies, their soul sleeps until the Second Coming of Christ.
And if by chance I did come across a “ghost” or a “spirit,” it was the devil trying to deceive.
While I’m not a practicing Seventh Day Adventist these days, I still criticize myself for my willingness to question. Or to push aside the things I’ve observed to the contrary of what I was taught.
However, the searcher I am has always inspired me to push the envelope. This includes the study of the Eastern world. Prior to my mom’s death, I had been told by her hospice nurses that their experiences (in watching numerous people die) has led them to believe the soul immediately lives on. It is common for deceased relatives and friends to visit the dying in an effort to inspire them to leave their bodies.
And then it happened…
Mom expressed to me that she saw my deceased dad in the room two days before she officially died. And then, when I was sitting next to her on her bed, I saw something profound occur. Her body constricted in the strangest way (about three times), and I swore her soul was swept away. She continued to breathe, but something was different. It was as though her “light” went out.
A handful of weeks later, I went for a hike with a couple of friends on the grounds of a Vedanta Society Monastery. Before leaving I saw a sign that read, “Discussion on Death and Dying.” The next day a swami from San Diego was going to share what happens when a person dies.
The Vedanta Society holds a philosophy that rooted in Hinduism, but believes that there is something to learn from most world religious.
Upon seeing the sign, I knew I needed to go.
What I learned from a Swami About Death & Dying
The swami began by describing what the Hindu conception of the soul is.
“It’s like a hard drive,” he said. Each and every human being comes into this world with a “hard drive” full of information and experiences. One person comes into the world with the ability to play the piano like Mozart, another has a penchant for philosophy, another for writing, and another for science.
According the the Swami, these talents are not there by accident. They are implanted by the universe (God) and are the result of past lives and experiences. (While I am not certain I believe in past lives, it does seem to make sense. This concept may explain why sometimes we feel as though we have done or said something before. Or why some people are born geniuses or prodigies).
He continued… “When a person dies, they leave their bodies and they are free. Their ‘hard drives’ and intelligence lives on and returns to God when a person dies.”
The Swami then described the process of leaving the body. It reminded me exactly of what I saw when my mom died.
First, a dying person is visited by a deceased relative or friend who guides them into the next life.
Second, when a person agrees to leave their body, they rise above their bodies and can see them from above. They can also see their loved ones, friends, and anyone else in the room.
Third, the soul of the dying usually has a hard time leaving and returning to the Universe (God). He explained, “usually a body keeps breathing, even after a soul has departed from his or her body. They suffer at the thought of leaving their physical bodies, friends and family members behind. This is why it is important you don’t show too much grief as your loved one is dying. Let them leave in peace.”
Finally, the soul leaves (this can take a number of days) the location in which the person died and returns to the Universe (God).
I was amazed that the Swami’s description fit very closely with what I saw when my mom died.
1. Mom told me she saw my deceased dad in the room two days before she died.
2. She began having intense conversations with an unseen force about 24 hours before she took her last breath. The conversations were off and on for about five hours.
3. About 14 hours before she was clinically dead, I sat next to her and I was convinced she had left her body. After that occurred, she didn’t respond to anyone, didn’t talk to the unseen force anymore, or grimace in pain when her body was adjusted.
4. Her body worked like a machine, as she continued to breath into the early morning hours.
Not only did the Swami’s description appear to be what I saw, it correlates the the concept of near death experiences. An increasing number of everyday people are sharing their experiences of visiting heaven and/or hovering over their bodies while clinically dead. When brought back to life, they have amazing memories of the things they saw and heard.
A perfect example of this is Dr. Eben Alexander, who went form being an atheist scientist/doctor to a believer in an afterlife. He was so blown away by his near death experience that he completely refocused his life’s purpose.
It’s been almost eight months since my mom died. I’m still not sure what to believe.
Has her soul lived on? Did I actually SEE what I think I did? Should the Eastern world’s concept of death and dying be examined more closely?
I’ve concluded the answer is definitely “yes.”
In the name of hospice nurses, family members, and friends who have witnessed similar things — in the name of perfectly brilliant men, women, and children who have experienced near death experiences — the answer is a resounding… “yes.”