by Lisa Smartt
"...the NDE may act like a benign virus, and by exposing yourself to it, you can catch it; that is, you can experience some of the same benefits as do those who actually have the NDE themselves."
Dr. Kenneth Ring Lessons from the Light p.5
As many of you know, I am the co-founder with Raymond Moody of The University of Heaven and The Final Words Project, an informal investigation into people’s last words. If you had told me ten years ago that I would be working with Raymond Moody to research final words, near-death, shared-death and after-death experiences, I would have looked at you cross-eyed. What? Who? Huh?
Now let me give you a quick before and after:
Before: You know that person on an airplane who is pale white and clutching at the safety belt...and the plane has not even taken off yet? That was me a decade ago before doing this research.
After: Surprised by my own comfort in the clouds, I know that when my time is here, I will be ushered to a place of peace and familiar safety. If I am in an airplane when it happens, I will be even closer to the heavens.
Before I began final words research, I spent most of my time on a plane white-knuckling my way through the friendly skies. Matter of fact, I white-knuckled my way through much of my life. However, then six years ago, after the death of my father, I immersed myself in better understanding what happens when we die through gathering and analyzing people’s final words. That work led me to read everything I could about near-death experiences.
I caught the virus. And yes, reader, rejoice: It is contagious as Kenneth Ring tells us. The accounts of near-death experiencers and the remarkable words of the dying taught me more about life than anything I have ever done or known. And gratefully and miraculously, it released me of so much fear.
For six years, I have immersed myself in the study of people’s final words and have heard hundreds of accounts. From this research, certain themes emerged that deeply affected and shaped my personal as well as intellectual understanding.
(I don’t have enough time and space now to relate accounts of near-death experiences and final words from which these conclusions are based. The University of Heaven will be sharing many of these with you and there are great books, including Dr. Ring’s Lessons from the Light that offer detailed accounts.There is also The Final Words Project blog and website that shares many of these compelling reports.)
However, here is a brief look at the themes that have significantly transformed me on a cellular level. They are more than concepts to me, as they have deeply “infected” my life and my spirit, bringing greater fearlessness to all I do:
Something endures. It is impossible to read the hundreds of near, shared and after-death accounts and the analyses of researchers without concluding that consciousness does, indeed, survive. What consciousness is or how its survival manifests are questions that remain unanswered for me.
However, some of the answers may be contained in the writings of mystics and philosophers across time, extending far into Ancient Greece and Egypt. Spiritual literature, medical inquiry and recently our linguistics research validate the initial findings of Raymond’s groundbreaking Life After Life. We have not yet fully defined what consciousness is or what exactly it means that it continues, but clearly something endures or realigns after death.
The final words of those at the threshold at times describe beautiful landscapes, doors opening to expansive new worlds and the welcoming arms of deceased beloveds. It is not unusual to hear exclamations such as, “It’s mom!” or “My husband is here!” or “It’s so beautiful there. I am not afraid anymore!”
Shared-death experiences and certain kinds of after-death communications contradict the notion that the experiences of the dying are merely hallucinations. Clearly there are many unanswered questions, but where I once thought death was the slamming of a door, I have come to think that death represents a new portal or a new way of opening.
Seize the moment. While consciousness may have no end, clearly our physical identities do. This is it as Lisa Smartt, so I may as well just live who I am fully and seize the moment. Death can occur any time in any way although there does seem to be some kind of pre-destiny to how long we live and how we die. After a car accident, Jason described to me how he watched his friend turn his head to speak to an unseen conversant, “Okay, okay. I understand now. Okay. It’s my time now. All right. Okay, okay. I’m ready.”
The Spanish gypsies have a term “duende” which refers to the spirit or soul as it expresses itself through artistry, especially in Flamenco. And duende often emerges from the awareness that death is staring at us, as close as our grandmother’s furrowed brow. To dance, to sing, to make art, to celebrate every moment a la Zorba the Greek, makes more and more sense as one studies death and dying. Yes, this life is short and every minute is our gift.
Embrace your purpose. In so many accounts and in the final words of those I have collected over the years, we learn that those who come close to dying often are sent back to living as their purpose has not yet been fulfilled.
From the reports of near-death experiencers and the final words of the dying, it appears, indeed, we each have a clear calling and during our short time here, we must fulfill it. For those who come close to crossing over, many often will receive the clear message, “Your work is not yet done.” And then they are swiftly “returned to their bodies” often with a much clearer sense of their mission.
On the other hand, people’s last words often refer to their time being done—and their work completed. The notion of the work or mission or purpose emerges over and over again in NDE accounts and last words as well as in sacred texts around the world. This sense of purpose and fulfillment is at the core of living a fearless life, for when we claim our purpose, no matter how small or large, it is easier to face judgments and obstacles when the knowledge of our higher calling is motivating our actions.
Choose love, not fear. The importance of love emerges also at the threshold. The great religious texts tell us that love and forgiveness are at the center of a good life and so do near-death experiences and final words. Many times I have heard family members and friends share that suddenly their beloved asks for forgiveness for past trespasses or a parent who never expressed affection says , “ I have loved you, always loved you. So sorry I did not tell you sooner.”
Equally compelling is that small window of time right before someone dies called terminal lucidity or the Sunset Day, in which even the unresponsive, silent or unintelligible may have a flash of lucidity and speak clearly to loved ones, sometimes for the first time in months. Of all the words spoken during this short period of lucidity, very few if any are negative or mean-spirited. Generally, the words that loved ones share with their friends and families are conciliatory, loving, reassuring or guiding.
However, as clearly as we learn the primacy of love at the threshold, we also know that being loving in the course of daily life can be a challenge. As one NDEer shared, “ In the face of my Creator, I knew that love was all that mattered and that our lives were just about learning to love. I took this lesson with me everywhere I went, until my first time driving after the NDE on the LA freeway. When one driver terrified me by swerving in front of me, my finger rose as I yelled at him…” Clearly it’s not always easy to practice unconditional love in the hot haze of rude drivers and smoggy, crowded freeways. For this reason, love is a lifetime study.
Learning never ends. Another theme that occurs frequently is that life is a series of lessons and that we are in a continual process of evolving as souls. Some describe seeing large libraries or areas of study during their NDES. Spiritual texts refer to Akashic Records or other forums for acquired knowledge over the centuries. For those who have had past-life regressions or experiences, there is a distinct sense for them that the soul evolves over time as is also the experience of some NDEers. We are here to grow in what we know and how we love. Earth is our classroom. If life is about lessons, then what is there to fear? We are learning together, even --if not especially--in our most difficult moments.
In the six years that I have immersed myself in the research of final words and that of the people you will meet through The University of Heaven, I have been infected with the benign virus. It is a virus that, ironically, has allowed me to shed much of my dis-ease and feel greater ease in living…and flying, for that matter.
I very much look forward to sharing with you the infectious insights and inspiration of the near-death experience through the remarkable accounts and research of our upcoming guests.
Lisa Smartt, MA is the author of Words at the Threshold, Veil and Cante Bardo. She co-founded the Final Words Project and The University of Heaven with Raymond Moody. She is a linguist and long-time educator, specializing in teaching composition to adults. Lisa is also a public speaker, offering workshops about language and consciousness to hospices, universities and conferences.