Stress Management aids cancer survival

Light at the End Near-Death and End-of-Life experiences

by Chris Woollamsangel1

Catherine was dying. Her breathing sounded like a worn out motor boat. The nurse, a fifty something lady from New Zealand turned to me and asked, ’Who are the three people at the end of her bed?’ Seeing no one I asked her to describe them. She then described my father, his mother and her husband to a tee. Only a few days before when Catherine’s mother came in to visit, Catherine had broken her two-week silence to utter a single sentence: ’I’m ready to go and be with Grandpa now.’

 I thought it would be interesting to attempt to explore the unexplored

I do not claim to know anything of angels. I do once remember an interviewee on breakfast television when a person who claimed to be able to see them descried to Adrian Holmes a little Indian Gentleman who was sitting on his shoulder his guardian angel. Then last year I gave a two-hour speech on the Brain and the Mind, and the scientific studies on their interconnection and the variousresearch studies that linked them both to your good health. Whilst learning about Tibetan monks who could sit in the snow meditating by controlling their own body heat, I came across some electro-magnetic  pictures.. of angels. Catherine had felt a very real power when she visited John of God in Brazil, something confirmed by other readers who have been there. People see flashing balls of energy, and, literally, have their spirits raised. So I thought it would be interesting to attempt to explore the unexplored. After all, there are no clinical trials on the effect of Angels in cancer therapy. Sometimes you just have to believe. So I set Madeleine Kingsley on the case.

Angels, By Madeleine Kingsley

Some weeks after surgery to remove a large, benign, brain tumour my daughter collapsed whilst taking her first walk in the country. She crumpled to the ground, unconscious and terrifyingly unresponsive. It soon transpired that the pressure in her brain was sky-high where undiagnosed fluid had collected. To save her life and her sight, an emergency shunt was fitted and her recovery then proceeded apace. But as Sally later recalled that episode: I felt I was going away to somewhere light and so peaceful that I wanted to stay. she said But Dad looked so sad bending over me that I had to come back. Sally is a scientist and sceptic, a practically-minded vet, who would ordinarily dismiss anything remotely metaphysical as hocus pocus even if it happened to herself.

There are, she would say, some sickbed stories we are moved to share, and others that we tend to guard. That’s because, traditionally, talk of near-death experience, of tunnels and light, feelings of peace and painless pleasantness, sightings of archangels and loved ones long gone, are viewed askance by the medical profession and fall on uneasy ears in the material world beyond hospital gates. Janie, a high-flying, hard-headed PR is also cautious about relaying what happened when she almost died of complications following routine surgery. There aren’t many people she says who would credit, or be comfortable with my experience: I don’t want to be judged flaky for an event that

near-death experience, of tunnels and light, feelings of peace etc. are viewed askance by the medical profession

meant a lot to me. I remember being rushed down the corridor to intensive care and the houseman shouting ’I can’t find her pulse.’ Then I seemed to be looking down on my body from a high shelf as a male nurse worked on me, setting up drips and tubes. I was drawn into a field of light that grew brighter and brighter and I remember thinking that, at last, this was the solution to my disastrous marriage. No more violence, no more rowsI was out of it, free! But just as I reached the whitest core of the light, I saw the children in my mind. I recognised with absolute clarity that I couldn’t leave them and almost before the thought was formed, I was back on the bed, in my body and looking up at the solicitous face behind the mask and green gown.

.How curious that we suppress a mass of information that, however unusual, could offer consolation to the dying and the bereaved. It also offers - if you are open to the idea optimism of life beyond the last breath.  To Dr Peter Fenwick, a London neuro-psychiatrist with a special research interest in Near Death experience (NDE), anecdotes like those above are credible, significant and similar to the numerous unusual experiences he has logged. He says that one in 10 of us will have some such experience to tell, and those who do are not necessarily at all religious. Dr Fenwick’s interest in the NDE field was piqued by a patient he treated over three years, for a chronic anxiety state. This man one in 10 of us will have some such experience to tellsuffered a cardiac arrest during a heart procedure and, unbeknown to his medical team, witnessed the whole horrific process of his touch-and-go resuscitation as part of an NDE. Back on the ward, he freaked out and rushed from the hospital after the consultant visited to explain that the procedure had not gone as planned and would have to be repeated the following day

 In l987 Dr Fenwick broke silence on this previously, pretty-much taboo topic in a TV film, Glimpse of Death, for the science series QED. After the broadcast he received 2000 letters from those who identified with the NDE phenomenon. Many of them says Dr Fenwick were along the lines of Thank you so much for the programme. Finally I’ve realised I’m not mad 500 of the correspondents then completed questionnaires, from which Dr Fenwick concluded that These experiences tend to occur he says in extraordinary life situations, when a person is very frightened, during serious illness, when the heart stops or someone is caught up in an accident. These stories have their standard form, like the boy who goes down a tunnel into heavenly light or a perfect English garden. People may undergo a life review or meet a dead relative who says ’It’s not your time yet’  In our series, three quarters of respondents were sent back to the world, whilst the remaining quarter could either choose, or decided for themselves to return. Most who expressly decided to return reported, that like Janie, they had unfinished tasks to deal with, or loved ones they would not leave behind.

There’s another whole raft of experiences recorded, mainly by nurses and relatives of the dying,You sometimes get the impression of late relatives who have come to take the sick person through the dying process known as end-of-life experiences. When someone has reached a stage of cancer, where hospice nurses recognise that he or she will die in the next week, then a whole set of phenomenon may start occurring, says Dr Fenwick. You may have the experience of a relative who has already died entering the room and sitting in a chair by the patient. That patient may indeed still be able to talk about the visitation. You sometimes get the impression of late relatives who have come to take the sick person through the dying process. This of course is enormously consoling, because the message is that the process is actually going to be OK, and the patient looked out for throughout. Sometimes the patient can go a little way into the process with a relative and return, reporting a place of light and love.

Other phenomena take the form of time-of-death coincidences in which someone who has just passed away appears to another person they have known very well, breaking the news of their demise, but also conveying that they are going to be fine. Dr Fenwick recalls the case of a son "You might characterise it as the soul leaving the body. appearing to his mother after a suicide by drowning: She found it very reassuring to be told that she need worry about him no longer. These visitations have no geographical boundaries someone dying in London may appear in Australia. But those actually sitting by the bedside of a fading relative report other extraordinary and unexplained occurrences like the room flooding with light, a mist, or some vibration leaving the body at the time of death .Others talk of a teardrop rising out of the body, suggesting to Dr Fenwick that ’something very interesting happens at the time of death, with the teardrop representing love and light. You might characterise it as the soul leaving the body. Occasionally even a nurse will see a stranger who is not present in the flesh, slipping into the room of her terminal patient.

It’s intriguing that these phenomena persist in our age of dwindling piety and faith, many centuries after they were first reported. A late 13TH century fresco by the Italian artist Giotto depicts St Francis of Assisi having a deathbed vision of angels come to bear him away. In another frame he appears to a fellow prelate elsewhere in Italy announcing his departure and being told by his monastic brother, who is also frail, ’Wait for me.’ 

As a true scientist says Dr Fenwick, You look at the data and, though it has not made me more religious in the churchgoing sense, it certainly enhances one’s awareness of phenomena in the world. It also raises the question about what happens when we die, in a form that for me makes a huge I think it terribly important that nurses caring for those at the end of life learn about these phenomena."difference. What the data shows has changed my model of thinking, but I’ve long given up the idea that just because I have shifted, other scientists will too.  Dr Fenwick however, is in the vanguard of change, having initiated a study in two hospices where these experiences will be taught as part of regular palliative care courses: I think it terribly important that nurses caring for those at the end of life and also members of the general public learn about these phenomena. It would change our whole society if people understood and believed that death is not the most frightening thing.

It’s not experiencing the phenomena that’s crazy according to Dr Fenwick, but failing to studying what is going on including such after-death experiences as clocks stopping, a robin coming to the window as the person dies and for several days thereafter, and a strong sense that the deceased is still in the room immediately after death, though a day or two later, that powerful presence disappears. Some people even see an apparition of the person who has died returning to visit them at home. Researcher Julie Rhys found that some 30 per cent of bereaved spouses ’saw’ their loved one after he or she had died.  In their book on post-death communication Hello from Heaven, authors Bill and Judy Guggenheim rate the percentage of those sighting people who are already dead at some 80 per cent. We just don’t talk about these things with friends on the telephone says Dr Fenwick. But the logical significance of these findings must be that an afterlife is more than wishful thinking. These are not just hallucinations, because they are often accompanied by touch and by the particular scent of that person. In the next 10 years Dr Fenwick adds, I would like to see nursing staff and hospices come to understand the spiritual process of dying, as they now understand so much more about the physical process. I would also like greater awareness in the community for people to realise that there is a real process to dying. I’d like courses for the dying, and courses to raise awareness among kids that death need no longer be seen as a scary thing. If you are actually collected by your dead loved one, then you are clearly going to be Ok after leaving this world. There is no need, then, to worry about annihilation, because that doesn’t seem to fit the facts.
angels3 Dr Diane Corcoran has for the past 20 years lectured on the implications of Near Death Experience in patient care and the management of grief and bereavement. A health care consultant and former US military nurse, who rose to Chief Administration in Frankfurt Army Medical Centre during Operation Desert Storm, Dr Corcoran is also President Emeritus of The International Association of Near Death Studies. Like Dr Fenwick, she too has concluded that the nothingness that renders thoughts of death so frightening is an improbable prospect. Not that she was immediately convinced: I wasn’t inclined to believe the first story of NDE I ever heard.  Back in l969, when I was in Vietnam, I was very scientific and logical, so that was my frame of reference. I had no name for the experience described to me by a young solder who had suffered amputation following a blast injury. I had no clue what to say when he chronicled this profound mystery, the happiness and awe that suffused him. I didn’t understand it clinically or psychologically. As a brand new nurse, however, I was at least smart enough to listen and thereafter I tried to listen harder for other patients with such stories to tell.

Over the years what she heard transformed Dr Corcoran’s practice of caring for people, helping them to die and their families to embrace what was happening, so that they could assist the transition rather than holding the person back.  But somehow Dr Corcoran managed to combine an understanding of this very spiritual transitional experience, with her career in the very rigid and structured military. There must have been people, especially in the early years, who thought I was out of my mind, but I just refused to let the subject go. As time passed and I became more senior, it became more believable to others because I was speaking as a nurse with a PhD from a very normal, grounded field and management experience. I recently lectured to nurses, doctors and social workers in a military hospital. The resident psychologist approached me to ask why she had never heard about these phenomena before. She felt that her lack of knowledge and inability to work with this area was criminal. You can only drop the seed adds Dr Corcoran, so that physician and nursing It’s also essential that people reporting what they have experienced are not wrongly categorised as having a mental health problem.colleagues begin to think more about how they might talk to people who are dying an area that has been for far too long a closed-door syndrome in clinical practice. It’s also essential that people reporting what they have experienced are not wrongly categorised as having a mental health problem.  I believe in the reality of what they say that these near death experiencers have had an exceptional spiritual experience that we can’t measure. We must put in place the support systems to reassure people that it’s ok to talk about what they’ve sensed, seen and heard, so that they won’t shut down, but can grow in understanding and make what’s occurred part of their life.  These experiences can change people at a profound, spiritual level that can be difficult not only for them, but those closest to them one mother, for instance, observed in bewilderment that her little boy had been six before the NDE and woken up seeming 36. A sergeant approached me, very distressed because, quite typically, he thought he was going crazy, as after his NDE, life in the military no longer seemed feasible. He had lost all sense of the macho and was desperate to talk.  A very wealthy businessman, a household name, in fact, was so altered by his NDE that he also quite typically lost his interest in money and the stock market. He wanted to be by the beach and write. This shift of priorities was extremely hard for his wife and family to take on board. Like so many people whose stories we hear, this man had walked away from his hospital bed with a different take on life.

The myriad of  ND accounts that Dr Corcoran has heard include a sense of nurturing womb-like darkness, of angels, or angel-like figures, the colour purple, of light, landscape and above all dead loved ones. She is particularly impressed by the testimony of children, who have described seeing people they could not possible identify as relatives. One small, American, boy, recovering from grave illness said that he had seen a man who was married to Sarah, and lived in England where his house had burned down. He had lots of detail, but no prior knowledge of this branch of his family, which his mother subsequently checked out. She worked out that without doubt the child had encountered his great-grandfather. This kind of fact-tally is not evidence in the pure scientific manner. reflects Dr Corcoran, There’s no real methodology to it, and yet, there’s a truth about it that that leaves you feeling you had better pay sit up and pay attention.

Perhaps the medical world is starting to pay heed: last year’s US Near Death Studies conference was held, not in some small town hall, but in the world-renowned MD Anderson Cancer Hospital, well attended by doctors, nurses, researchers and clergy. Here in England Margaret diPetro, a therapist of   30 years standing, a qualified psychotherapist and a Reiki Master is passionate about engaging If you go east, it’s just automatic to be offered both conventional and complementary hospital treatment.... here complementary is the last resort’s so sad and so dishonourable the medical profession in the complementary support work to which she’s given her whole working life.  My dream of leaving a footprint on this earth she says would be to take what I do into hospitals so that the mind and spirit would receive support along with the body.  If you go east, it’s just automatic to be offered both conventional and complementary hospital treatment. But here, many people have come to me as a last ditch stand, dying of cancer, or AIDS so desperate and without hope because they have been told that there is nothing more conventional medicine can do for them. I am not against orthodox medicine quite the contrary but I think it’s so sad and so dishonourable that a person should have to feel that way, because doctors have run out of options for the body. If you treat someone holistically, if you treat the mind even if only to relieve a tiny part of the stress, or if you try to formulate a path whereby the person can organise their spirit before they die, you can at least give them back a wee bit more power.

 Having worked a good deal with doctors, Margaret is familiar with their scepticism, and their strict adherence to the physical-only pathway. They will regularly say ’Well can you show me a meridian? Or they will ask ’If I did an autopsy would I see a chakra?’ In their misconception of what energy vortexes and energy pathways are, many doctors construe humans as just literally blood and flesh, with no mind or spirituality about us. They see us as two-dimensional, whereas for me, the physical is just a tiny part.

Margaret’s great forte is energy work, and healing. She practises therapeutic touch both here and in the Swiss school and clinic of her colleague Hanes Jacob. She has a great sensitivity for picking up what she calls ’dross energy’ or blocks for the soul. As a teacher of mediumship too, she is uniquely placed to make meaning of the experiences brought to her Yorkshire consulting room, these past three decades. I’m no longer a Catholic she says gently but I am very spiritual, and I do believe that there is life after death: I had a very good friend, a Jewish lady, very intelligent but totally without faith in any after life. When she was in her eighties, and dying I said to her ’Bertha, if, when you pop your clogs, you find there is something over there, you have got to come back and tell me.’ Two years ago, she did, whilst I was sitting for a medium friend of mine. Bertha was just cracking her sides, because for her, this was so unexpected. She explained to me that energy over there was not as it is in this life, but more an energy of the intelligence, a freedom of intellect and the mind. And for "I am sure wherever we are going is much better"me, that totally corresponded with my view. Why should we live on in another mirror image of this world? From the information she, and others, have brought, I am sure wherever we are going is much better. And it was very relevant that she disclosed recent information about me personally that nobody would have known. That, for me, was evidence of life after death.

So in times of great need or distress, when in pain or in process of dying, can people from this world put one foot in the world beyond? Margaret believes so.  My understanding is that when we die, the emotional (or etheric) body slips away first into a twilight space, where it’s like a non-world. As a psychologist I believe this can also happen to people who are healthy enough of body, but are very stressed and so not healthy in the mind. So I think we have this side of us that is actually moveable the non-tangible mind which (as opposed to the physical brain) cannot actually be destroyed and persists after death. I believe this side, which is picked up in mediumship, is not Auntie Mabel or Uncle Fred as such, but an essence of mind that recalls being Auntie and Uncle and comes forward. My thought is that we are omnipresent and that we have many capacities like the wheel of life.  As in this world we are made up of many different parts somebody’s lover, somebody’s mother, somebody’s sister - so in a completely different, but spiritual way, our soul, and who we are is made up of many different essences.

Margaret’s friend Bertha ’survived’ death, despite her unbelief. But Margaret intriguingly speculates that some people, who have had imprinted from infancy, that once we die we are but dust, could be limited by these barriers of the mind. Your spirit won’t necessarily become Einstein, just because you’ve popped your clogs. It seems to me that it will still be in the same state of understanding, so it may be that an afterlife is not for everyone in that sense though it is possible that even in that state something may prompt the spirit to evolve.
Margaret is used to being sought out by people who have had unexplained spiritual experiences through trauma or near death. Quite a few come to me because their stories have been poo-poohed by doctors and loved ones. They come for reassurance that they are normal, and seeking some insight. One particular woman came following a very serious car crash in which her Mercedes crumpled against a stone wall. It took hours for the fire Brigade to cut her free, during which time she screamed to the Archangel Michael for aid. She heard the ambulance crew agreeing that it was too late, that she was gone. They took her to hospital and left her on a gurney in a side room, before taking her to the morgue because it was so busy. Although she couldn’t open her eyes, this woman was aware of nurses coming and going, of much clattering and noise. Eventually with extreme effort, she was able to flicker her eyelids, and luckily a very observant nurse whisked her into the emergency room. Here she recalled feeling up on the ceiling watching her body being pummelled as the nurse who had found her urged the crew Come on! Let’s do it for her. She remembers panicking that they wouldn’t succeed, and then falling out of her body into a magnetic, warming light. As she walked into its vortex she could see shadowy people around her, but although she called to them, they just walked past. She very much wanted to be in the light, though it dawned on her that this was her dying. As she continued into the brightest epicentre, she suddenly heard her brother shouting her name. He was bi-polar and she often took the role of his carer. She turned and ran from the light, was aware of falling and the next minute looking up from her bed into a sea of anxious faces.

angel2Although she seemed physically to recover this woman was left depressed by her experience, by a sense of alienation and inability to focus on her very high-key teaching job.  The first time I saw her Margaret recalls I had the sense of half of her hanging out, because her aura, instead of being nice and bright and close to her, had a lump like a lava lamp hanging out to the side. I explained to her that, from what she was telling me, a part of her was not quite back where it needed to be, as a result of the shock sustained. I then did something unusual and quite controversial with her energy field. The woman immediately afterwards, but when she recovered enough to sip a glass of water said I can’t believe the difference now. It’s almost as if I was in the middle of two places, with a foot in neither. This woman, previously so scientific and rational in her thinking then found a completely new perspective in her life. She took Reiki up to master degree and now lives in America. She could relate better to her brother who had attempted suicide many times and make her peace with his eventual death, because of how she now understood her life.
Can we look forward to the opening of brand new hospital units dedicated to post NDE counselling and spiritual medicine? Margaret diPetro believes that there is currently a great void of care in this field, but that the benefits of nurturing the human spirit and all its mystery would, indeed, be huge.

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