The Wisdom of Near-Death Experiences: How
understanding NDEs can help us live more fully
Watkins Publishing £10.99
Church Times Bookshop £9.90 (Use code
IT HAS been known for many years that some people who have
"died" and been resuscitated report strange memories; they talk of
being outside their bodies, of travelling through a tunnel towards
a bright light, of seeing long-dead relatives, or finding
themselves in a beautiful garden.
It is also not uncommon for those caring for the dying to notice
a patient appearing, right at the end, to be aware of others in the
room whom no one else can see.
Penny Sartori is a nurse who developed an interest in near-death
experiences (NDEs) and devised a Ph.D. research project to study
them, which then led on to the writing of this book. For her
research, she interviewed terminally ill patients and survivors of
resuscitation, and collected a wide range of accounts of these
subjective but profound experiences. She noted how those who
reported NDEs lost their fear of death.
Although she devotes a section to the explanations offered by
medical science, her interest is not primarily in explaining NDEs.
Neither does she side with those who say NDEs afford a glimpse of
heaven (and, in a minority of cases, hell) and are thus proof of an
The purpose of her work is to suggest that by acknowledging the
spiritual as well as the medical aspects of dying, the medical
profession might better understand the process and nature of death.
The result might be improved care for the terminally ill, and
enhanced support for their carers.
Sartori's book is not limited to clinical description and
analysis. She takes readers on a personal journey, which started
with a particular hospital death that came to be for her a
We have been conditioned, she says, to think of death as a sad
and fearful thing. Yet those who undergo a temporary death talk of
experiencing a deep peace and harmony that enables them to review
the past and gain a new perspective on life.
The book leaves many questions frustratingly unanswered, or, to
put it another way, by implication, Sartori opens up many potential
avenues of new research. It is a challenging book for the medical
profession, over-focused, perhaps, on the technology that prolongs
life. It is also a challenging book for Christians, suggesting
that, by concentrating on the afterlife, the importance of the
process of dying might be underestimated.
Ted Harrison is a former BBC religious-affairs