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Question of the Week: Near-Death Experience.

By Posted on 58 1 m read 2.1K views

Have you ever had a near-death experience? Tell me about it.


Wednesday, Lance is back to interview Claire Cameron, author of THE LINE PAINTER. While you wait for the interview, you can “friend” both of them on MySpace.


I got this cool news on Saturday night: Pulitzer-nominated author, Dave Eggers, picked something of mine for The Best American Non-Required Reading! Very happy! Next to Neil Gaiman, Dave Eggers has the greatest author-hair I know.

Oh, and hey, I have another interview up here. This time it’s about my experience as an editor – which, for many years, was all people knew that I did because I pretty much kept my writing to myself. Anyway, it’s short. Check it out if you have the time.

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  • lance reynald
    May 21, 2007

    close calls; no dice.

    lots of fool-heartedness and mis-spent youth…

    nothing worth mentioning…


  • Colin Matthew
    May 21, 2007

    I was driving my little brother to a meeting for church. We lived in the lower valley and the church I had to drive him to was conveniently located in Lake Tahoe. After the meeting I start driving down the hill when I notice that the car I was driving wasn’t being as responsive as I would have liked it to be when I pressed on the breaks. Thinking nothing of it at first, I decided to take a shortcut through a park to avoid a few lights. At the end of this park was a steep, windy road. My younger brother and I entered the first sharp turn and as I step on the break to slow down, I realize something is wrong as the breaks are as responsive as my last boyfriend (i.e. not at all). I quickly pull the emergency break in hopes of it assisting in slowing us down; it does not and adds to my confusion of what the E-break is for. I turn left and our bodies lean right. Sharp turn right, now faster, and we lean left. At the bottom of the hill I had to think quickly: Do I continue forward and enter the intersection with the red light (turn to page 32) or do I make a sharp right turn and coast into a Burger King parking lot (turn to page 87)?

    Page 87
    We coasted to safety in the Burger King parking lot and call my mother asking her why she didn’t tell me her car had no breaks. It seems my dad has replaced the break fluid earlier that day, but something was wrong with the fluid and it ate away at the breaklines causing all the fluid to empty out, probably on our way up to Tahoe.

  • Clare Grant
    May 21, 2007

    I was white water rafting in Nepal with my family. I didn’t really know much about rafting, and imagined it would be a pootle down the river. Our second rapid, however, was a grade four called Upset, which is just asking for trouble, really.

    Anyway, my sister and I were both thrown out of the raft. I remember falling in, finding myself under the raft, battling to get out from under the raft, seeing daylight, seeing river, bobbing up, gasping a mouthful of water, going under and thinking ‘This is it… This can’t be it. That’s not fair.’ and then thinking ‘Don’t be absurd. The life jacket will keep you floating and the helmet will protect your head. Get your feet pointing downstream and everything will be fine.’

    And it was. But my aunt said that I looked so scared the second time I surfaced that she wanted to jump in to look after me. My sister was fine — they pulled her in pretty quickly, so quickly in fact, that our father hadn’t noticed she’d been gone!

  • Simon Haynes
    May 21, 2007

    Near death as in within a split second of it, yes.

    When I was a kid I climbed onto the neighbour’s roof, and I was about to use an overhead guide wire to haul myself up higher when I realised the ‘guide wire’ was a set of 4 powerlines. (Not the pole-to-house kind, this was the type they string along the roads which carry power for entire neighbourhoods.)

    Anyway, something stopped me just as I was about to grip the wires.

    I also fell of a motorbike when I was 15 (went right over the handlebars) but survived with most of my skin intact.

    Oh, I also did the same on a pushbike, twice, but although I landed on my head I just happened to be wearing a full-on crash helmet because we were pretending to be a stunt team.

    These days I’m older, wiser and cautious. I drive a high powered sports car with no handlebars to fly over.

  • Myfanwy Collins
    May 21, 2007

    No near death experiences to report, but wanted to say congratulations to you, Susan! That’s great news. Also, I’m looking forward to the interview with Claire.

  • amy
    May 21, 2007

    Congratulations, Susan! That’s terrific.

    Too bad (or maybe too good?) I have no near-death experiences to share.

  • LaurenBaratz-Logsted
    May 21, 2007

    If by “near-death” we mean it in the psych-course, clinically dead way, then no. But I have used up asll of my nine lives with close calls so now I’m on borrowed time. S’OK. It’s all borrowed.

    Cool about Eggers, cool interview, cool you.

  • *Joe*
    May 21, 2007

    Congratulations Susan! That’s great news.

    Near-death. First, I’d distinguish between close calls and experiences where the physical functions of the body come dangerously close to ceasing though I have a couple that qualify in both categories simultaneously. I’ve mentioned one here before so I’ll skip that even though it was a doozie.

    I suppose close calls only count when we are aware of the death potential. Gigantic rocks spit by the earth on a regular basis so we’ve all had near-death experiences. If you look at it one way, we’re never really far from it. Death. As you can tell I am a natural born optimist and a philosopher on this topic.

    Reactions to these experience vary for person to person. My own reactions to them have varied from experience to experience. Some teach a new caution or engender a whole new set of fears and phobias. Sometimes you’ll get a new vigor for life, hold your loved ones closer and remember to stop and smell the roses. Maybe you’ll learn Spanish or take that trip to Borneo. Sometimes it can hollow you out and sometimes it’ll fill you up. It’s a strange thing.

    I was involved in a bad car crash when I was 19 so that was one. Another time, I was in a situation where I had paramedics working on me in the back of an ambulance trying to keep my heart going so that’s two. A couple more foolish experimentations gone bad so that’s… I’m not really sure. No tunnels of light or friends telling me to go toward the light I’m sorry to report. Just a fuzzing at the edges and a receding feeling.

    But the experience that comes to mind when I hear the words near-death happened a few years ago. I was on a trip with my wife to the Grenadines. I was out snorkeling with a couple of people at a remote reef out of sight of land. I lost track of the time staring at all the pretty aquarium fishies when something that looked like a black bus swam within a few feet of me. An eight foot long Tiger Shark was nosing around me. I popped out of the water like a cork. I looked around and the boat was a speck on the horizon and the sun was going down. It took me half an hour to make it back to the boat but it was the longest thirty minutes of my life. I’d stop after a few strokes of the flippers to look down and around me with my mask. The shark shadowed me for a bit and then lost interest.

    Was I really near death? Probably not. But you couldn’t have told me that at the time. Let’s just say that I had a very high squeaky voice for a few weeks afterwards. I also prefer the mountains now.

    Or, there was the time I was stuck in the middle of a volcanic eruption – but I’ll save that story in case the topic ever comes up on Lit Park.

    I have to hold something back.

  • Ric Marion
    May 21, 2007

    Near death as in seeing the light? No.

    Got t-boned by a drunk driver, coworker who came to see me in intensive care said, later, “God really wants you to write that book.”
    “Hey, Doc, how many broken bones?”
    “Don’t know, didn’t count them, I didn’t think you’d live.”
    (34 is the number I got on the fifth day) My rib cage sounded like a bag of marbles everytime I moved.

    On the sixth day, I walked out of the hospital.

    No ill effects, just a memory from January, 1984.


  • Paula
    May 21, 2007

    I steer clear of near-death; I credit the obit-writing job. I’ve heard of a few freakish ways to die and it makes me overly cautious, I guess.

    But Colin’s story brings to mind riding in a 1960s VW bus, in the late 90s, with no heat and not great mechanical performance on some windy road adjacent to Lake Tahoe (way, way far down a cliff to our right, as I recall) in the middle of the night. If we’d been doing our hippie road trip more true to Leary, I might have had a near-deadly panic attack. It was scary enough stone cold (frozen, actually) sober.

    Looking forward to Claire’s interview. Who hasn’t wondered about the line painter once or twice while tooling down the road? Great title.

    (I’m judging the book by it’s cover there. Combined with the VW road trip bit, I feel very cliche today. Ew.)

  • Claire Cameron
    May 21, 2007

    Lance–something tells me yours is probably worth mentioning?

  • Kim Brittingham
    May 21, 2007

    *** Hi Susan! Per your request, I’m posting my Write-a-Thon bulletin here. Hope this is where you wanted it… ***

    All day long on June 9th, I’ll be typing my chubby but nimble lil’ fingers away in the 2007 WRITE-A-THON for the New York Writers Coalition.

    NYWC conducts more than 550 free creative-writing workshops annually for at-risk youth, adult residents of supportive housing, seniors and other unheard members of society.

    The NYWC and I could sure use your tax-deductible pledge.

    To show your support for this worthy organization and for the value of writing itself, visit my official pledge page at, OR, alternatively, you can go to my MySpace page at and look for the “Firstgiving” button on the right side, under my list of blog entries.

    Thanks in advance for recognizing the good works of the NYWC!


    Kim Brittingham

  • Susan Henderson
    May 21, 2007

    These are absolutely amazing stories!

    Thanks for all the congratulations. I’m working like crazy on my novel edits this morning and only listening to 70’s tunes I picked out for my book so I can get myself into the right period. Um, right now: “Afternoon Delight” by the Starland Vocal Band. Woohoo! Ooh, and now “Maggie May.” You gotta love iTunes shuffle!

    (Carolyn, would you post your write-a-thon link here, too?)

  • Betsy
    May 21, 2007

    Congrats, Susan! That’s fantastic news.

  • Robin Slick
    May 21, 2007

    Oh god, those are your seventies’ music choices? In the words of my late grandmother: OY VEY.

    Susan, we need serious time alone together with a CD player.

    I could write a book about all of my near death experiences. Some are funny (like, I used to amuse myself by swinging in the air by stretching my arms out and holding one hand on the stove handle and one hand on the refrigerator handle. One day for whatever reason I became a human conductor of electricity and I got zapped by many bolts…so much so that I couldn’t release my hands from either the stove or refrigerator and was literally shaken and stirred until I started to smell like bacon frying — luckily my mom was home and heard my screams) and some are scary (melanoma diagnosis two years ago which I caught in time and now have to spend the rest of my life with twice yearly visits to the dermatologist which make going to the gynecologist a picnic in comparison) and some are just plain stupid (drugs + alcohol)…yeah, I guess I could write a pretty funny book about all this but then I’d probably die for real so it’s a subject I’d best avoid.

    Anyway, congrats on the Eggers book! What do you have in there?

  • daryl
    May 21, 2007

    LIFE is a near death experience, and don’t you forget it! Every moment we are on the verge of leaving this place, and well, I think that just having that awareness makes life more precious.

    Once, during my 10 year period of devotion to Swami Chidvilasananda my meditation experiences became so vivid and my awareness of the thin line between this life and the next seemed twangable like a guitar string. I stood on a street corner, it was dark and raining, while waiting for a bus. As a truck came speeding down the road I had the realization that if I simply chose to I could step in front of that truck and let this life pass by. It was the clearest moments realization I ever had of how simple life is. And that the pain of death is nothing more than walking from one room into the next.

    I also remember choosing not to take that step into the speeding truck’s path because of the attachment I had to my guru and my son. I still wanted to hang out here with them. Now they both are physically absent from my present time but I hope to spend more time with them again.

    Oh, and Susan, I’m in with Robin. You need some coaching on 70’s music! Congrats on Monsieur Eggers graciousness… and oh, I am going to be such a big seller because my hair is becoming more Gaiman and Egger like daily! hahahahaha!

  • David Niall Wilson
    May 21, 2007

    Rather than rewrite it in abbreviated form, I thought I’d share something as my answer…

    A while back I was in a book called PERSONAL DEMONS where we were supposed to share a moment that frightened us…I wrote about the river, The Embarass (funny it would have that name, but it’s pronounced AM BER AH SS and it’s Native American).

    Anyway…I posted the essay to the web…

    The Embarass


  • Susan Henderson
    May 21, 2007

    But dear Robin and Daryl, this is very much an Andy Gibb/Marilyn McCoo and the Solid Gold Dancers type setting I’m writing. The soundtrack has to fit the book and match the blue-purple shag carpeting.

  • gail siegel
    May 21, 2007

    SUSAN!!! That is so FANTASTIC about the non required reading. Everything is starting to pop for you.

    One of my first published pieces was about my husband’s near death experience during surgery. I’ll paste it in later. Right now I’m on the train using my blackberry. No white light for him either but it was a genuine clinical near death moment. Paddled back to life several times. I’ve not had one myself.

    These pieces have been fascinating to read.

  • Juliet
    May 21, 2007

    Susan, the word “congratulations” is far too simple for the delight I feel for you, and the hope of great success I’d send your way.

    I’ve had more than one near death experience… and far too many days when I was only too happy to wrap my arms and legs around death and let it carry me away.

    Fortunately, death had its rejectometer on “high” where I was concerned, because here I am. (Or, as my ex put it, “you just don’t die, do you?”)

    Gladly, not.

    Not to be cryptic, but there is a huge difference between knowing that you are about to take your own life and the incredible fear and trembling that comes with knowing that the person in front of you has every intention of taking it for you.

    In the end? I’ll choose life.

  • Gail Siegel
    May 21, 2007

    This was one of my first print credits, from years back, in the journal SALAMADER. It’s my husband’s near-death experience. I’m sure this wasn’t the final edit, but it’s what I’ve got laying around the office….

    Catch and Release

    This is how death approaches. You enter a hospital for surgery – nothing experimental. It’s a safe procedure, practically routine. It’s a lengthy operation, but you’re under expert care. You slip into anesthesia like a warm lake. You are numbed and unconscious when they cut into your belly, rearranging the contents like a tackle box, untangling and snipping arteries and veins like twisted fishing line.
    Hours pass and they staple you together. You’re nearly home free. The anesthetist, or perhaps a resident, pulls out your breathing tube. It’s a long, plastic tube, with an unpolished edge. He grasps firmly, and tugs. It catches on the pink folds of your throat – a hook finding a stray boot. He yanks harder, and your soft tissue parts – raw flesh opening under a blade. He reels in his lines, oblivious to hidden wounds, and wheels you away.
    You’re in Recovery now, and blood seeps from the razored lining of your neck. First, it pools in your throat, then sloshes through your lungs. While specialists snap off their gloves, untie masks, toss scrubs into bins, you are gasping for breath. You’re a fish out of water while, in the next room, the chief surgeon smiles and jokes with your wife.

    But the blood, the blood, it’s a torrent now, you can’t think how to breathe. You seem to be dreaming when neurons go dim. There’s no beaming light, just swirling lurid colors, like death’s neon signs. You came up in the 60’s, with psychedelic posters lit by black lights. The funeral you’d plan has a dixieland band, no harp-hauling angels mourning on clouds.
    You’re leaving this life – then you get turned around. Someone sees you’re not breathing. Up your nose goes a scope, up your nose goes a tube. It’s in with the tube, and out with the tube. It’s in and out; then out and in. But your throat’s the Red Sea and they can’t part the waters. There’s no Dr. Moses; there’s no magic staff.
    Now your gurney’s the site of a bad tv scene – a dozen medics crowd around in a huddle, watching your vital signs peak on a screen. Your pulse describes the fin of a shark. They grow hushed when the shark stops swimming and drowns. They paddle your chest; now they’ve got you surrounded. There are docs at your side, and docs at your feet. The doc at your head wields a mean scalpel, and authority, too. He goes at your throat and slices it wide.
    It’s tracheotomy time, then the ventilator pumps. The lake trout you’ve become flips back in the water, dives deep. You’re dreaming his most exotic dreams – of coral reefs and waves, of flippers and goggles, a wetsuit and tank. They’re scuba gear dreams, neon tetra dreams. Dreams of wiggling in whirlpools and darting through seas.

    You’re floating awake and it comes to you then, your recovery scheme. You will learn to tie flies; you will learn to cast lines; you will wear rubber waders and an angler’s tan vest. You will fish from a dock; you will fish from a bank. You will catch and release and you’ll catch and release. To cheat death, to cheat death, and cheat death.

  • Carolyn Burns Bass
    May 21, 2007

    Susan, here’s to being the literary debutante of the season.

    No near death experiences for me, but I gave one to the female MC of my novel THE NEXUS.

    * * * Thank you, Susan, for the invitation to give Breath & Shadow. this exposure at LitPark. I hope the LitPark gang will follow the link and explore Breath & Shadow. Posted below is my pledge letter for participating in the write-a-thon running now at Breath & Shadow. * * *

    I’ve been asked to participate in a write-a-thon sponsored by Breath & Shadow, an online journal of literature by people with disabilities. The staff has invited their — and the readers’ — favorite writers to write a piece to be published in an upcoming issue of the journal. I’m very excited about this opportunity to write for Breath & Shadow and honored to have been selected to participate. The write-a-thon, as its name suggests, is a fundraiser.

    What you may not know about me is that I have a hearing impairment. My hearing loss is the result of nerve damage caused by chronic ear infections as a child and sustained exposure to loud sound (live music, I’m afraid to say). Although I get by just fine with my hearing loss, there is much of the hearing world that I miss. I don’t hear crickets chirp anymore. I can’t hear the buzzer of my coffee pot, my kitchen timer, or many alarm clocks. I set my cellphone to vibrate and wear it on my body.

    You know how with walk-a-thons you pledge a person a certain dollar amount per mile or kilometer? This write-a-thon works the same way. I will be writing a short story of no more than 500 words.

    If I get at least five people to support me with a pledge, Breath & Shadow will publish my write-a-thon piece. The pledge amount is variable and won’t be collected until after my work is published in the fall. A standard pledge is 2 cents or 5 cents per word for a 500-word piece — which comes out to a $10 or $25 donation. Of course, you can always pledge less (one cent per word) or for more (a dime or a quarter per word). Any amount of support is welcome. Remember, I have a word limit of 500 words.

    Breath & Shadow is a nonprofit publication; subscriptions are free. It’s the only magazine that prints the writing of people with all kinds of disabilities and is edited and written only by people with disabilities. It’s made a real difference in the life of disabled people to have their work about disability taken seriously and published in a quality journal.

    The journal is a project of ROSC, a tax-exempt charity. They will be happy to send you a receipt for your donation, if you like.

    If you would like to sponsor me, please email me at Carolyn [at] and tell me how much you’re pledging. Also, when my work is published, Breath & Shadow will post the names of the people who sponsored me, so please let me know if it’s okay to post your name or if you’d like to be listed as “anonymous.

    Thanks and hugs all around.

  • lance reynald
    May 21, 2007

    Claire- let’s just say that me and the powers that be have had a few arguments about the matter…close calls, daredevilish stupidity, testing of limits and vision quests aside…I question the validity of white light and visitations self induced for kicks… 😉
    apparently those powers expect me to contribute something before they’ll actually punch my ticket.

    everyone- good comment thread today!

    wondertwin- do we need to have that shuffle chat again? The story and the characters do indeed pick the music, fully formed characters have their dirty secrets…if all the characters were as cool as we all want to project they’d lack real dimension…and might be pretty boring… I’d say go ahead and queue up some Peaches and Herb or Dionne Warwick while you’re at it.


  • Jody Reale
    May 21, 2007

    Wow, Susan, what a roll you’re on, and good for you.
    No near-death experiences to speak of, unless you count the time I ate enough Laffy Taffy to kill a whole mule train, which doesn’t really count.

  • Noria
    May 21, 2007

    Yay, Sue! I call these bits of good news “cookies,” like the Universe is giving me a cookie — a little treat to sustain me through the self-doubt. Great interview, too.

    No clinical NDEs for me, but I was hit head-on by a pickup truck, and in that instant before I was hit, I thought, “Here we go! This is it!” and my life really did flash before my eyes.

  • James Spring
    May 21, 2007

    Congratulations on your inclusion in The Best American Non-Required Reading. I buy that thing every year, and find it superior to the standard Best list – which only further demonstrates what I’ve been telling people all along… that Susan Henderson is better than the best.

    Re: the close calls stuff… I wouldn’t even know where to begin.

    Besides, I’m still trying to make you people like me…

  • Kimberly
    May 21, 2007

    The closest I got was when my appendix nearly burst.

    It wasn’t that the ER doc sent me home a mere four hours before with “just gas” that did made my life flash before my eyes (although HE would have had a near-death experience if I ever were ever to run into him again) but I vividly remember when they sent in a priest to give me the last rights. He started in and just I burst into tears. I wasn’t ready to die: I was only 19 and still a virgin!

    Fortunately, I breezed through the surgery with flying colors and promptly got laid before anything else bad could possibly happen!

  • Terry Bain
    May 21, 2007

    Near death, yes. Experience, no. I have no memory of flying over the handlebars of my bicycle, headlong downhill, and was knocked out for some time, received a concussion and probably should have gone immediately to hospital, but instead spent the rest of the vacation picking grit out of my eye. Also broke my collar bone, but I didn’t find that out for several days.

  • Jordan E. Rosenfeld
    May 21, 2007

    Susan–how smart of Eggers to recognize you! Congrats indeed.

    And Gail–gorgeous writing!!

    At first I thought, I haven’t had an NDE…but then I remembered this one:

    I was 10. On Shelter Island, driving with my Opa and some weird German friend of his, sucking on these little coated chocolate things…when slooooop–the candy was vacuumed sucked right into the opening of my throat. I am grateful that we were on a pastoral little island road and not on the flippin’ interstate, for at once I began clutching my throat, making the universal sign of “I can’t breathe!” My Opa expertly pulled over the car, got me out and performed a Heimlich maneuver. The chocolate ball went flying adn I was left with sore ribs and a deeper admiration for the man who was, after all, shorter than me …

    My father didn’t offer the sympathy (by phone) that I felt I deserved, however. Funny what we remember, eh?

  • Susan Henderson
    May 21, 2007

    I once performed the Heimlich Manuever and it didn’t go at all as I expected. I used to take care of these three kids every day after school. One of those days, we were all sitting on the couch together reading something about a teeny tiny woman. I guess I was really into the story because the little boy, who was sitting on my lap, started to turn blue and I don’t know how long it took me to notice. Those kinds of things haunt you. Anyway, he did that universal sign and I started right in with the Heimlich Maneuver and it didn’t work. Finally, I flipped him over by his feet and started popping him on the back and carrying him to the neighbor’s all at once. His sisters (one had just had one of many surgeries on her brain because she had brain cancer) started yelling, “Stop it, you’re hurting my brother!” and tried to pull him out of my arms. (Later, I told them I loved them like crazy that they did that, though, at the time it made things a lot harder.) Before I got out of the house, he coughed up the dried pickle skin he’d found between the couch cushion. I ran to the neighbor’s anyway and collapsed, crying.

    These are incredible stories, by the way. James, I know you have some good ones. If you won’t tell them here, you can tell them to me next time you’re in NY. (Sure wish Bob Arter and Scotty Southwick would stop by. They have the scariest near-death stories I’ve ever heard!)

  • daryl
    May 21, 2007

    Well Susan, you are a braver soul than I! I’ll be listening to quality 70’s music in abundance to protect you from that divil’disco!

  • Susan Henderson
    May 21, 2007

    Ha! Good luck, Daryl. You’re talking to the girl who’s a Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite freak, you know.

    Ooh, and hey, lookie what I just found on YouTube – my favorite group bar-none in high school (and my favorite group, except for Public Enemy, during college): Trouble Funk. Wheeee! No classic rock for this one.

  • Roy Kesey
    May 21, 2007

    Sure, a couple, but that’s not the point. The point is, BANRR! Woo-hoo! Congratulations, Sue, that’s awesome.

  • Bob Arter
    May 21, 2007

    Good things are coming your way, Sue. It’s not an accident.

  • Richard Lewis
    May 22, 2007

    My father died of a brain tumor some years ago, in his bed at his house with us there.

    He was a pastor and missionary all his life. I had my relationship problems with him, but he was the sort of Godly guy who never met a person he didn’t like. The day before he died, he was still highly alert but couldn’t move or talk. Three of us children and our brother-in-law, an Australian doctor, were in the room when he suddenly rose up on one side and pointed to the far wall with a trembling arm. He said in hoarse voice that made my skin prickle “I see Jesus.” Then he fell back, his face absolutely beatific. Radiant, even.

    Of course, as my brother in law later told me, “I guess it’s a good thing he didn’t see the Other Guy.”

  • Ellen Meister
    May 22, 2007

    Congrats on the Eggers pick! That’s HUGE!!!

    My one “near death” experience was so similar to Clare Grant’s it’s not worth detailing. Only difference is mine was less exotic, as I was white water rafting in Pennsylvania and not Nepal. 🙂

  • Stephanie Friedman
    May 22, 2007

    Well, I don’t have a story that’s as dramatic as some of the ones already posted, but I did experience something that felt like a near-death experience to me when I was going through it at age 7.

    The street I lived on was a dead end onto boggy woods with a stream that started out of a drainage pipe (which explains the irridescent swirls on the surface of the water I so admired — hey, it was northeastern New Jersey, so it’s not like I had a lot of nature options). One day I rode my bike down there and went wading. I went further and further along until I got to where the banks were very high and the water very shallow. That’s when I started to sink in the mud. The harder I tried to extricate myself, the deeper I sunk. Up to my ankles, my knees, my thighs. I had just read a book on the LeBrea Tar Pits, and the picture of the struggling mastadon with the raging sabre-toothed tiger on its back, both sinking to their doom, kept running through my mind. I’m going to die, I kept thinking, I’m going to sink and be preserved here like a fossil. Just as I was up to my waist in mud, who should happen by Jeffrey Obershaven, the neighborhood bully, and his henchmen. They had a good laugh at my expense, pointing and hooting at my mud-encased, weeping form, and then went off to torture squirrels or whatever it is evil children do in suburban woods to enjoy themselves. I was finally able to grasp a tree root that was sticking out of the bank and haul myself up to safety. When I got home, my mother’s main concerns were 1) that I was tracking mud into the house, 2) that I had probably ruined my clothes, and 3) that I had left my bike in the woods where somebody could steal it. Man, I thought, I bet that if a wooly mammoth made it out of LeBrea and went home to its mother, she would have been a lot nicer.

  • Gail Siegel
    May 22, 2007

    Richard, I love that story.

  • Susan Henderson
    May 22, 2007

    Just popping in to say I’m reading all of these comments and think you’re great, interesting people (especially Gail, of course, because she’s like a sister to me). Thank you for your stories. I’m working like crazy on my book edits. You can’t see the floor for the balled-up paper.

  • dennis mahagin
    May 22, 2007

    You could take the opening line from Dan Chaon’s excellent novel, entitled You Remind Me Of Me, and apply it to my Near Death Experience, which happened in a Las Vegas hospital in the year 2003.

    This excerpt really says it all:

    Jonah was dead for a brief time before the paramedics brought him back to life. He never talks about it, but it’s on his mind sometimes, and he finds himself thinking that maybe it’s the central fact of the rest of his life, maybe it’s what set his future into motion.

    All I can add, is that I’m very grateful, and glad, and also hopeful– for a “future.”


  • Gail Siegel
    May 22, 2007

    Balled up paper! A new trend in home floor decor!

    Love to you, you editing machine, you.

  • amy
    May 22, 2007

    I haven’t, but my mom once did:

    I was 4 and she took me with her to get her ears pierced. I remember there being a ton of blood for some odd reason…this was back in the 70’s, so maybe that’s what happened when you pierced your ears: ton o’ blood.

    Anyway, as we were walking out of the store, she suddenly shoved me aside and fell onto the sidewalk, hitting her head. I remember screaming, walking around, saying over and over, “My mommy’s dead! My mommy’s dead!” I remember an older lady peering into my face, but not saying anything.

    Then the ambulance arrived and they were able to wake her up. She said she felt fine and refused to go to the hospital. Afterwards, we ate ice cream in a drugstore.

    Years later, when I was 15, we were talking about life and death for some reason. My mom casually said, “You know, I died once.”

    “Oh really?” I said.

    “Yes,” she said. “That time I got my ears pierced and fainted. Do you remember? I fell and hit my head. And while I was unconscious, I remember being somewhere very dark. I couldn’t see anything, but I felt other people around me. I distinctly remember feeling my grandmother next to me. I couldn’t see her, but I knew she was there.

    “And I felt very, very peaceful. And light, like a ton of bricks had been lifted off of me. I wasn’t afraid, I was just filled with peace and wanted to stay there forever.

    “As soon as I thought that: I want to stay here forever, a voice inside my head said: YOU CAN’T. IT’S NOT YOUR TIME, YOU HAVE TO GO BACK.

    “And I begged to stay, but it just firmly said again: You can’t, it’s not your time.

    “And then I heard you screaming: My mommy’s dead, my mommy’s dead. And there were paramedics all around me.”

    I’ve talked to other people who’ve had near death experiences or know someone who has, and I’ve read stories of other people’s near death experiences. They’re strikingly all very similar.

    So I’m not sure what happens to us when we die, but I like to think this is what happens…even if the scientists are right, and it’s just a chemical reaction in the brain.

    Though I kind of find it odd, sometimes: Human beings are all so unique, with so many different life experiences and memories, and yet supposedly we all have this one chemical reaction in the brain at death…yet such a profoundly similar experience.

  • Sarah Bain
    May 23, 2007

    Well, here then is my debut posting, my first time going public with this story. How can I resist, Susan, since it seems to be about the subject I spend most of my time on.

    I was in the hospital in 2003, middle of the night, alone in the room, and I was bleeding. I was also in labor at the time, nine hours from delivering Grace, our stillborn daughter, and I knew she was already dead but she was still inside of me and I was holding on to her and I didn’t want to give her up. What I didn’t know then was that I was bleeding too much and suddenly I could see myself above myself. I was looking down at me, there in the bed and I was trying to decide what to do because I knew I was alive but I didn’t want to be alive because Grace was dead but I didn’t want to be dead because Carver and Sophia were alive and I was scared and I was alone and I suddenly had the sense that I didn’t really get to decide but I couldn’t figure out how to get back down or up or anything at all. And I couldn’t make sense of it because it all seemed too much like a cliché, and I couldn’t leave Terry alone to take care of Carver and Sophia and suddenly, it was like someone just pushed me and I fell back into myself and I woke up and pushed the button for the nurse who came running in (which is strange because they NEVER came running in) and she took one look at me and checked to see if I was dilated further and she seemed to be panicking which had some strange calming effect on me except that I was shivering and couldn’t get warm. Then Terry appeared from somewhere and my mom came in the room and my friend who’d driven all day to get to me and my midwife and they all stood around in a circle watching me and then everything stopped. Just stopped. Everyone went back to sleep, and I just laid there for the rest of the night with silent tears sliding down my face trying to decide if I wanted to live or die, live or die, and I was never quite able to figure out which one to choose because next thing I knew it was time to push and I had to deliver Grace who had already stopped breathing two days earlier, and I just wanted someone to turn off the lights.

  • Susan Henderson
    May 23, 2007

    I love what I’m learning about all of you with this question. Thank you for your stories.

    Sarah, I’m glad you’re here. Guys, if you haven’t already guessed, Sarah is my webmaster Terry Bain’s wife so this is his story, too. Love you both.

  • Gail Siegel
    May 23, 2007

    Wow. Sarah and Amy, thanks for letting us in on these stories.

  • Laura Benedict
    May 23, 2007

    Always late to the party….

    I started to write this out and realized, after several paragraphs, that it was getting way too long. Let’s just say my near death experience involved a 16 year-old me, alone in a river gorge about 10 miles from any other human being except for a very scary man wearing what looked suspiciously like a prison jumpsuit, and a pack of cigarettes and my boyfriend’s ’72 Cutlass.

    Dave Eggers has great taste. Congrats, Susan!

  • Jody Reale
    May 23, 2007

    Sarah Bain, I want to read your stuff more often.

  • billie
    May 23, 2007

    Giving birth to my first child. I had pre-eclampsia and had been on bed rest for a month, then had to be induced a month early. After the birth, he was fine and full-sized, but my blood pressure crashed. Weird – everyone had left the room momentarily and I was resting, then noticed the blood pressure monitor numbers falling. It got down so low I realized suddenly it was Not A Good Thing, but I was too weak to move or speak. I recall thinking I was dying and that I’d never know my son. By chance someone walked back into the room and saw the monitor. They called a code and chaos ensued.

    I do have a memory of watching it all from the sidelines – not so much from above. And then deciding to get back in my body.

    But no white light, no people beckoning.

    The very odd thing is my son does not know this story, but went through a phase that lasted several years where he was afraid of me dying. He is over the worst of it, but requires regular check-ins by cell phone when I’m away.

  • Mark Bastable
    May 24, 2007

    Daryl suggests that life is a near-death experience. That’s an idea I explore a in my current WIP, from which this is a snippet.


    Flesh has no idea how unlikely life is. If you knew you could not risk as you do.

    Every day Pablo stood within kissing distance of death, as sleek boxes of rushing metal bore down and swerved, avoiding him by inches. The cars stampeded around the curve from the Fulham Palace Road like bison, gaining speed and heading directly towards Pablo and fifty other pedestrians standing at the top of King Street. Two or three dozen cars, as many drivers, aimed head-on at the defenceless commuters by the lights. And not one of those pedestrians moved. Not one shrieked or turned tail or even closed their eyes and held their breath. They were not afraid, because they believed that every one of those twenty or thirty drivers – those strangers, with their unknown infirmities of mind and body, with their madnesses and angers and unresolved despairs – every one of those human beings whose cars were accelerating towards the sidewalk would turn the wheel and follow the road. So the pedestrians just stood there and risked their lives when it would take only a slight misjudgement or a momentary malice to kill them.

    Pablo drove Natalie’s car through the rain from Cornwall as she slept in the passenger seat. I was riding Pablo’s vision – the splashy chevronned curves, the dark tree-tunnelled runs, the shushing villages hunched in their shawls against the kerb. And as Pablo slowed on blind black corners, as he minded the white lines and appreciated the roadsigns, I needled. It would be faster if we took the corners sharp, easier if we rode the centre of the crow’s-wing tarmac, more fun if we hit the humped bridges with our foot down. Do it, I told him, slavering – do it!

    He would not do it. He couldn’t. The broken band of white along the road was inviolable. The random ridge at the edge of the road was not negotiable. The indifferent darkness demanded thrown switches on the dashboard, and Pablo met those demands. I rustled around in Pablo’s brain, and I found my father’s voice. “The least you can do is be punctual. Pablo. What if we were all half an hour late?”

    What if we all refused to wash? What if we all stole chilis? What if every one of us straddled the white line in the wet, serpentine night and put his foot down?

    More deeply, more implicitly than you believe in God or Hell or Truth, you believe that no approaching driver will see that it’s quicker to cut across the pavement; you trust that the guy behind you on the platform won’t push you into the path of the oncoming train. No one roars around the curve straddling the line and everyone assumes no one else will.

    You risk your life each minute, assured that every dumb sack of bones around you has agreed to that bargain; you’re convinced that every other soul sees the world the way that you do.

    That’s the least true thing I’ve ever heard.

  • Susan Henderson
    May 24, 2007

    Mark, I’ve been hearing some buzz about your work-in-progress, and now I understand why.

    Thanks again, everyone, for being here. You’ll all be linked at midnight.

  • Gail Siegel
    May 24, 2007

    Thanks, Jordan. And Mark, I like that a lot. I think about that whenever I’m at a corner in the city waiting for the light to change.

  • A.S. King
    May 24, 2007

    I was present for my mother’s light & tunnel experience when I was a teenager, which forever colored my beliefs about near-death.

    But me? other than being at gunpoint a few times, which is only near-near-death, I got nothin’ for ya.

    Great interview!! And congrats on the Eggers pick!! WOO HOO!!

  • Jim Nichols
    May 26, 2007

    Hi Sue and everybody. Glad I stumbled in, it’s been the most interesting spot of reading I’ve had in some time. Congratulations, Sue!

    When my wife and I were in our mid-twenties and living together in So. Portland, ME, we rented the upstairs of an old Captain’s house near the Voke school where I was taking classes. From the living room you could look out at Casco Bay, and one night we were doing just that, kneeling on the old hardwood floor, watching through an open window as a thunderstorm snapped and boomed over the water. I think we might have maybe smoked an illicit substance to heighten the experience; anyway, as the storm moved closer it didn’t occur to us to worry. We just knelt there rapt. But then there was an instant of lost time, and we found ourselves sitting on the floor on the other side of the room, a smell of ozone in the air and the strangest disconnected feeling in our heads. I remember my fingers and toes were curled tightly, and my jaw felt achy. But that was it. The next day we went outside to look and there were scorch marks on the side of the house and you could see where the bolt had traveled from the peak of the roof down through the wall (and us!) and on into the ground.

  • Bob Arter
    May 27, 2007

    I died two years ago. Temporarily.

    And there was this.

  • Susan Henderson
    May 27, 2007

    A.S. – Gun point A FEW TIMES?! And no story?? (Or maybe it’s a novel and I’ll have to read it that way.)

    Jim Nichols! I’m happy to see you here!

    Bob – I was awfully scared when you went down for the count. You’re my hero, you know. And one mighty writer.

  • donna
    April 22, 2008

    My ex partner used to strangle me, one day he did it and i felt myself coming out of my body and I felt the most amazing feeling of love and peace, i cdnt feel what he was doing anymore and i loved him and everyone , it was the most amazing feeling, amazing. Ileft him 13 years ago, bless you all.

  • Murat
    May 6, 2008

    In 1996, I lost my mother to an ovarian cancer. Three days before she died, I woke up in the morning with tears running down my cheeks. I had cried during a dream. In my dream, I saw my mother in a beautiful meadow, with a evergreen forest behind her. The whole place was flooded with a wonderful golden light. My mother, although she looked terrible due to illness, looked in the dream very young and very healthy. She was all smile and happy to be where she was. I was so happy and amazed to see her in good health and suddenly back to life that I cried.

    She was waving me good bye. I had the message, or the feeling, that she was telling me not to worry, that she was leaving, that she would be fine. I asked her where she was going, and she kept saying not to worry. Then I woke up. As I was in bed in my room wiping the tears off my face, the door of my room suddenly opened. My mom, who could barely walk by herself and whose brain had been tampered by the cancer, walked in, leaned on me and embraced me, as strong as she could. Then she walked back to her room and lay in bed. Following this wonderful event, I decided not to say anything to my father, believing that my mother was about to die, anytime during that day.

    In the afternoon, though, I had coffee with my father in the kitchen. My mother was in bed. As we were having coffee, my father suddenly tells me that he woke up that morning… crying. That he had seen my mother in a wonderful place: a meadow, huge trees in the background, waving him good bye. Exactly the same dream I had had that very same morning. I was stunned. I told him that I, too, had seen her in my dream.

    My mother passed away three days later. We buried her the next day. The following day, a woman came to visit us. She used to come to help for cleaning and cooking when my mother was alive. Actually, she was the only one who came to help (close relatives, that my father and mother had helped out so many times, were nowhere to be seen when my mother’s health started to decline, although they were staying two minutes away… on foot. But this is another matter).

    Anyway, my mother was very grateful that this woman would spend time to help. This woman came home and told us that three days before my mother died, she had a dream. At our bewilderment, it was the exact same dream that my father and I had.

    I don’t know about coincidences. My father and I had endured for the last eight months considerable stress due to my mom’s illness. And I can understand that, perhaps, this dream could have been just a burn out effect. But this “third party”, I can’t explain.

    I believe it was great. I just knew, somehow, that my mom would be OK where she would go. I also know, that close relatives who didn’t help, who turned away their head, who didn’t basically care about her, didn’t get any “message”.

    Now, I would love to know if my mother had a near-death-experience three days before she passed away, and if she did, have my father, this woman and myself, been part of it?


    Murat Karaali

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