Exploring the flicker of life after death

crossroads 1By Simon Davies

I died a few months ago. Literally died. Body functions ceased, heart stopped, lungs paralysed. Cast deep into a coma, I swung precariously between life and death for a month.

Yes, I know being brought back from clinical death is no big deal in the larger scheme of things. It happens to thousands of people a year. But I want to take a moment to discuss this experience, not just because the idea of resurrection is fascinating (you probably guessed that I’m alive again now), but also because there is a deeply personal privacy element involved.

Please don’t expect a structured analysis, or even a clear point to all this. Consider it more along the lines of “Tales from the Crypt”. This is just one person’s experience which I am putting out there in case anyone else resonates with it. I’m publishing it so there’s a record of the events, rather than anticipating any sense to come out of it.

Without wanting to come over all mystical, I – like many people – have always been fascinated by the bridge between life and death. What happens when your systems shut down and you cross to the “other” side? That is, if there actually is an “other” side.

Maybe it’s just a romantic notion from a lifetime of cultural references, but I always wanted to know definitively what lays beyond the realm of life. It’s an enduring question that pervades religion, film and philosophy, so it’s natural to be curious. You don’t need to be a fan of Supernatural or the Twilight Zone to be drawn in.

I can’t imagine how it would be possible to discover “hard” evidence of what happens after death, but I wanted something more concrete than reflections of a vague sense of peace.

The particular environment that interested me was “liminality“. That’s a threshold between places that has been well documented in ritual and mythology. It’s a kind of transitional no-man’s state where normal rules don’t apply and where the principles of reality can be suspended. It can be a waiting area between worlds. I always imagined that if you were to be brought back from the dead, it must be from a liminal state. But what is in that liminal world?

Earlier this year I finally had the opportunity to experience this liminality for myself, though by way of a path I wouldn’t recommend to anyone.

I was about to give a speech to a mainstream conference when I had an uncomfortable sensation like someone was trying to drive a telegraph pole up my spine. I recall having a meeting at the time with the lovely folks from the EU Fundamental Rights Agency when – I’m reliably informed – I started looking rather ill.

I remember nothing more. Apparently I tottered off and wandered around haplessly hunting for paracetamol, begging strangers for help. A massive heart attack followed and I crashed through the tables at a burger joint like some bar fight scene in an old wild west film. It was a spectacular, but undignified, way to go.

I was fortunate that some super hero citizen leaped across the the shoulders of the gawking crowd and preformed CPR. I was then delivered to hospital as a John Doe, comatose, and with  barely any bodily function. A team of a half dozen doctors worked at fever pitch as I undulated between life and death.

To put it mildly, the whole situation was touch and go. I rapidly attracted every malady from double pneumonia to the MRSA super bug. Actually MRSA was the real killer. At one point it completely enveloped my lungs, leaving them paralyzed. I started to burn up, with body temperatures approaching hyperpyrexia at over 102 degrees.

In what was a tragically lost photo opportunity, I was dramatically hooked up to banks of machinery like a scene from Battlestar Galactica with lots of super tech that routinely went “ping”. In the month that followed I had more drugs pumped into me than Keith Richards enjoyed in a decade. Days stretched into weeks as the odds of me pulling through sank to two or three hundred to one against. If I was ever to be in liminality, this was it.

Keep in mind as you read this that I have not the slightest memory of any of these events. I do, however, have a vivid flash recollection of a single image. That’s what I’d like to focus on. monet

Many people who describe their own clinical death talk about experiencing a feeling of peace and well being. I can attest to this. But while  other people talk mainly about sensations and feelings, my interest is in pursuit of the harder elements such as images and sounds. I can’t imagine how it would be possible to discover “tangible” evidence of what happens after death, but I wanted something more concrete than vague reflections of a sense of peace.

I got what I was looking for, but much less then I would have liked. That flash image is all I can recall from an entire month in a coma but it may link to an event at the same moment in the real world.

It was a beautiful and peaceful image. I was sitting at the cusp of a crossroads with my back to a remote point of view deep in conversation with a person or an entity that was outside of my line of sight.

(I should mention that the crossroads have been an enduring element of mythology for more then one thousand years. They represent a place where choices and deals can be made about this and other worlds).

The crossroads have always been expressed with dark and foreboding themes. My crossroads, on the other hand was anything but gloomy. It was blue and speckled, bright and infinitely happy.  Think, Claude Monet.

In normal events I would have disregarded this image as simply a residual shadow from my earlier memories but there is a twist.

In the image (or dream) I turned to the Point of View and saw a group of people standing nearby. They had masks and I didn’t trust them. I had a look of annoyance and irritation before turning back to whoever it was I had been in conversation with. That was the entire dream sequence.

I recalled all this within 24 hours of leaving the coma. It was the one image I could hold on to. What it meant, if anything, was beyond me.

The following day I was visited by a group of my dear friends who, during the weeks in the coma, had sat around, played my favourite tunes, joked and talked in the hope that somehow I would snap out of it. They later reported that for just one moment there was a flicker of a response from me which one friend described as a look of annoyance at their presence. That squares perfectly with the sensation in the dream. I understand other people have reported similar responses from their friends and loved ones.

I was mystified at why I would be annoyed by the presence of the most trusted people in my life. The only hypothesis I can come up with is – whether real or constructed – that deep conversation at the cross roads was critically important in my decision about whether or not to come back.

So there you have it. The most random and unstructured blog I’ve ever posted. I’d be curious to know whether others have had similar experiences.