Vital Signs

Death Before Dying: … A Love Experience

Article Index

By Andy Petro

This is the full text of the article. A condensed version was published in VS issue 25#1 

1. Foreword

andypetro.jpgIt is the summer of 1955 and a few days before my graduation at Redford Union High School in Redford Township, Michigan, that I experience an unusual, frightening, and incredible event. This event always lives in my memory. The memory of this event is not only crystal clear, but it remains intact, exactly as it happened, to this very moment. Every thought, every word, every image, every action and every feeling is unchanged, and it abides in my body and memory unchanged. I have spent years trying to forget it, but I always remember it, and I always remember it as if it actually happened today. I’ve never experienced any other event with the clarity, exactness or emotional impact as my drowning and my death…

2. Death by Drowning: The Story

My classmates and I are so happy because the end is in sight. In a few days we will finally graduate from high school and get on with our lives. I have a scholarship to an engineering university in Northern Michigan. I am filled with joy and excitement. June is exceptionally warm this year and our class decides to have a picnic at a near by lake. It is our final class gathering before graduation, and we are all anxious to go. .

My mother doesn’t want me to go. She says that the water is still too cold and she specifically doesn’t want me to go swimming. Since I am one of the class officers, I know that I have to go and that I have to go swimming with my friends. So I hide my swimming trunks in my lunch bag and I leave for a good time. .

We arrive at the lake and it is truly a great day for a beach picnic. The sun is shinning, the sky is a beautiful shade of blue, pretty cotton cloud balls dot the sky, and there is a slight breeze blowing. Everyone changes into their swimming suits and we begin the party with some beach games prior to lunch. We eat lunch and then some of my friends swim out to a floating dock, about one hundred yards off shore. Once they get to the dock, they begin waving and yelling for me to join them. I walk down to the water and step in ankle deep, and immediately jump back out. It is really cold! Way too cold for me! I like to swim in warm, almost bathtub temperature water. But, they keep on waving and yelling at me, they really want me to swim out … everyone is watching … I have to go. The water is much too cold for me to ease in slowly, so I run into the water from about twenty feet off shore, and with a big, blood-curdling scream, I hit the water in a gigantic belly flop. Wow! This water really is cold! I’d better start swimming as fast as possible to get warm, and I do. I am starting to warm up as I get into my swimming rhythm.

Then about half way to the dock I begin to feel cramping pains in my stomach and groin. I can hear my mother’s voice, “Andy, don’t go into the water right after you eat, you might get cramps.” But the cramps aren’t that bad, and besides I’m almost half way there … I can make it.

Now with every stroke the pain increases, it’s getting harder and harder for me to kick my legs.

I can’t kick my legs any more, the pain is really intense … I can’t keep my body straight … my knees are buckling up into my stomach. I’m scared! My arms are moving, but I’m not going anywhere … I’m starting to bob up and down. Oh hell, I’m swallowing too much water … it’s in my nose, down my windpipe, in my lungs … I’m going under … I am completely underwater now!

I’ve got to get to the surface for some air. Why is it taking me so long to get to my head out of the water? I am stroking as hard as I can. I need to break through to the surface for some air, and I need it now!

Finally, my head breaks the surface of the water! I am coughing, choking and trying to scream for help, but no sound comes out. I need to breathe now, but I’m sucking in more water than air, my lungs are filling up with water … they feel like they’re going to bust. Frantically, I look across the surface of the water for the raft … there it is, but it’s still quite far away … I’ll never make it! Hey, why is everybody just standing around? No, wait, a couple of guys are waving at me … don’t they realize that I am drowning! There I finally said it, I am drowning! I am going to die!

No one is coming to help me! I can’t keep my head above the water! Down I go again … this time deeper than before! Hell, I’ve got to get more air! I’ve got to get my head out of this damn water!

Why can’t I move my arms? Oh God, they feel like lead pipes, it’s so hard to move them, I sinking like a rock. The pain, the excruciating pain is in my chest and arms now! I’ve never thought there could be pain like this. I need air! I need air! I’ve got to get my head out of the water!

Oh God, I’m sinking deeper and deeper. I can’t move my arms any more, the pain is unbearable, every muscle in my body is screaming out with pain. Pain! Pain! And more pain! I can’t stand it any more! I’m still sinking, and it’s getting darker and darker … now it’s black, I can’t see anything! Oh my God, I can’t see! Am I blind?

My ears, there’s pain in my ears. It feels like someone is sticking an ice pick in them! The ringing is deafening, it feels like my brain is going to explode! I’m still falling into this black hole, and it’s freezing down here. My whole body is trembling with freezing cold, with freezing pain … Oh God, where in the hell am I going?

I am still slowly sinking into this freezing black hole, it’s lasting forever … wait … I feel something. They’re slimy and cold! They must be the weeds at the bottom of the lake. I’m getting tangled in the weeds. I’m struggling with the weeds, God they feel horrible, and it’s like I’ve fallen into a freezing snake pit! I’m still dropping down!

I stop sinking! I’m at the bottom. I reach down with my frozen hands to try and push myself up, but they’re being sucked into the mud at the lake bottom. My hands are stuck in the mud and I can’t get them out. Oh God, help me! I’m terrified!

I’m in a state of complete panic! Ice cold, black, unbearable panic!

I’m tired, so very, very tired! Every muscle, every cell of my body is filled with excruciating pain! It’s unbearable, truly unbearable! But I have to continue to struggle … I have to stay alive … I’m so afraid to die! God please help me? Please help me now! I don’t want to die!

I have to get out of the water … I need air. Oh God, how I need a breath of air! Please God, just one breath, that’s all I ask?

I can’t stand the pain, the fear, the cold, the ringing, and the blackness … but I can’t die! “Try Andy, damn it, try! You can’t give up! You can’t give up now!”

But, I’m so tired … so sore … so much blackness, so much ice-cold pain. I need a rest! Just for a minute! I need to stop struggling for just a minute.

Then, almost magically, I hear a voice say, “OK, Andy, you can rest, if you promise to return to the struggle? You can’t die now. Do you promise?” And I respond to myself, “Yes, I promise.”

I’m a chunk of black, frozen, excruciating, panic and terror. I stop struggling. I let go …

The second, the very instant, the exact moment that I let go … I am hurled into a black tunnel. “What’s in the hell is happening?” I scream to myself!

The freezing cold is gone! I AM WARM! The pain is gone! I FEEL WONDERFUL! The ringing in my ears and head is gone! I CAN HEAR THE SILENCE! The blackness is gone! I CAN SEE A LIGHT!

I look back and I can see my body in the weeds at the bottom of the lake! “Is that really my body?” “How can I see it through the blackness?”

I look up and I can see a Light! It’s bright, so very bright. It looks like a thousand suns all exploding at the same time! I am staring into the Light, but it doesn’t hurt my eyes! No pain, there is no more pain! There is no more terror, no more panic, no more fear. I feel warm and I feel loved. Is this crazy or what?

I am rushing toward the Light, and for some unknown reason I have no fear, and I love the Light. Oh what a wonderful, beautiful, enchanting, warm and loving Light. I’m getting closer and closer, it’s as if I’m being drawn into the Light by a gentle, giant magnet. Closer and closer…

“What now?” “Where am I?” I’m inside an immense sphere! And the inside of the sphere is like an enormous, unending movie screen. Everything is going on at once, all around me … left, right, up, down … wherever I look I see my life. I cannot only see it, but I can also hear, feel and experience every event in all of my lives … past, present and future. There is no beginning! There is no end! I can observe all of the moments of my lives all at the same time, all around me. Strange, there is no fear or judgments; it’s just my life’s experiences as they are occurring. What incredible feelings, I can relive every thought, word, and action whenever I focus on any one of them. What a wonderful, fantastic, incredible experience being in the Eternal Now!

Now I’m back in the tunnel again, speeding toward the Light! I can actually feel the brightness, the warmth, the love … Oh God what a truly wondrous feeling! I’m getting closer and closer to the Light. It’s so very bright, so very warm, and so very loving. I’m getting closer and closer…

I am in the Light! Oh God, I am actually in the Light. I am the Light! I see the Light and now it appears to have a human-like form. I’ve never seen it before, but, somehow, I recognize it. The Light speaks to me. The Light says, “Andy, do not be afraid.” Then the light says, “Andy, I love you. Andy, we love you.”

Oh God, It knows me! The Light knows my name! I can’t believe it! The Light actually knows me! The Light called me “Andy!”

I am in the Light. The Light is in me. I can see me in the unending Light. Nevertheless, I am still Andy. I’m everywhere and I am here. I can see me as a person and I can see me in the infinite, warm, and loving Light. I become the Light. The Light is a form that I have never seen, but it is not new to me, somehow I know it. The Light has a voice that I have never heard, but it is not strange to me. The Light has a smile that is indescribable beautiful, and I recognize it. The Light has an infectious laugh, and we laugh together. The Light has all of the answers in the universe … and I don’t have any questions, because I know everything that the Light knows.

The Light knows everything that I have ever done or will do, and the Light loves me because … I’m Andy. The Light loves me because of who I am! No fear! No judgments! No punishment! Just warmth! Just love! Just joy! Just happiness! Just this loving, ever loving Light!

I’m home! I feel the unbelievable warmth, love, joy, and completeness of the Light! It is so very, very wonderful being in the Light. I’m truly home! I am home forever!

Then the Light says, “Andy, you must go back!” And I say to the Light, “No, I’m not going back, I’m not leaving … I’m never ever going back!” The Light says for a second time, “Andy, you must go back.” I repeat my first response, “No, I’m not going back … ever!” Then the Light says the third time, “Andy, you must go back!” The next instant, the very next moment, without any pause or delay of even the smallest amount of time, I am back! I open my eyes and tears are rolling down my cheeks. The Light is gone! Oh God, the Light is gone! I am back on the beach. I am so sad. I can’t describe the mournfulness. The Light is gone. I am back on the beach. How sad … how very, very sad I am.

I am lying on my stomach, on top of the sand, with one of my friends pushing the water out of my lungs. I’m coughing out the water, but the pain returns. This time the pain is different. This time the pain never goes away. It’s the pain of not being in the Light.

How can I explain the Light to my family and friends? They will think that I am crazy. I’ll be sent away to the room with rubber walls! No! There is no way in the world I could ever tell anyone about the Light! I truly must be crazy!

Everyone is standing around me in a big circle. They are all glad that I’m still alive. One of my friends says, “Andy, you don’t seem very happy about being dragged from the bottom of the lake, are you still in a daze, or what? How was it? Where you afraid?” I answer with a lie. I say that I can’t remember anything. I tell them that the entire episode is a complete blank. I have to lie to my friends, I have to lie to my family, and I have to lie to myself. I can’t tell anyone about the Light. They would never understand. Even I don’t understand.

After a few minutes I tell my friends that I have to go back into the water for a swim. I tell them that I don’t want to be afraid of the water for the rest of my life. So, I jump back into the cold water and swim out a little way, and then return. Everyone thinks that I am so brave. The truth is I am so sad.

Maybe it was just a dream or something like that. Maybe I am crazy. Oh well, I’ll probably forget all about it in a few days.

Oh well, I’ll probably forget all about it in a few months.

Oh well, I’ll probably forget all about it in a few years.

Oh well, I’ll probably forget all about it in a few decades.

It’s been over fifty years since my death, and I have forgotten thousands of experiences. Thousands of others have faded and dimmed with the passing of time. Many traumatic ones have been embellished or disremember. I have only one life and death experience that has remained clear and unchanged over time and this is it. The moment that I entered the Light, to become one with the Light, is a moment that has no parallel in my life! It is a true experience of inexpressible love. It is a love that can never be adequately described with words. A love that can only be experienced, the ever-loving Light … I am in the Light, I am the Light, and the Light is God.

3. Afterward … Looking Back

I have relived this “event” almost daily since I died and returned to Earth after my friends pulled by body from the bottom of the lake and brought me to the sandy beach. The first twenty years I relived it in fear. I thought that I was the only one in the world who had ever this experienced this “event”. I had no knowledge of what this experience was or what it meant. I had no one to turn to … no one to share my unexplainable fear! It was a very frightful time for me.

But then, twenty years later, after reading Dr. Raymond Moody’s book, Life After Life, I came to accept that my experience really did happen to me – exactly as I remember it – and it was called a “Near Death Experience” (NDE). And now that the “fear” is gone, the remembering is a continuous source of joy for me, and for many people that I have shared my experience with.

I have identified a number of distinct remembrances and experiences from my journey that stand out on their own merit; and if taken as a collective whole, they paint a beautiful mosaic of my drowning, my death, and my return.

  1. A continuous stream of consciousness ... I never lost consciousness, from the moment I “let go” (stuck in the mud at the bottom of the lake) until I found myself coughing water out of my lungs on the beach. I’ve been “unconscious” a number of times since my NDE and I know what it feels like to be unconscious … so I know that I was completely conscious during the entire NDE happening. I was completely aware of every incident that I experienced as well as the environment in which all of the evens took place.
  2. Instantaneous transitions ... all of the transitions: from complete terror to complete bliss, from the freezing cold, darkness of death to a warm, loving Light; and then back from the Light to the beach were instantaneous. Other than the sensation of movement in the tunnel all of the secondary transitions were also instantaneous. I was in the sphere … I was back in the tunnel … I was in the Light … I did not move into any of these transitions. They were instantaneous! I perceived no “time delays” of any magnitude during my “travel” into the Light and back to Earth.
  3. Terror to peace ... considering the absolute fear, terror and freezing cold that I was experiencing the moment before I “let go”, it is remarkable that in the very next instant I was completely at peace and “as warm as toast”. From the moment I saw the Light, the terror that I was just consumed by was completely "irrelevant"! I still remembered it, of course, but it was just that … a memory. It became clear to me that being in the Light was worth any amount of pain and terror to get there, because once you get to the Light the previous pain vanishes from importance.
  4. Physical body sensations ...from the moment that I was propelled into the tunnel, and during the entire NDE, all sensations that I experienced were "recognizable physical, body sensations" in my new body. I instantly felt warmth throughout my body, like walking into a warm room after being out in an ice cold, snow storm. I could feel the brightness of the light at the back of my retinas, and I was amazed that I didn’t feel any pain from a light that was a thousand times brighter than the Sun; I didn’t even have to squint! I was immediately aware of the absence of the painful ringing in my ears. It was as if someone turned off a screeching fire alarm, and it was so wonderful to have that terrible sound stop. So, during the entire NDE all of my external sensations were “felt” just as if I were still in a body like the one I left at the bottom of the lake. (Note: I had an injury to my right eye during my birth and my vision in that eye was never correctable to greater than seeing shadows. So I spent my life time as a mono-vision person. In the light I could see with both eyes and for the first time experienced vision from both eyes!)
  5. Life review ... this was the most amazing phenomenon that I have ever experience. I was completely surrounded by my countless lives. I could feel, taste, smell, hear, and view each experience; and relive each and every event exactly as I remembered it in “real life”. All of my life’s feelings were re-lived exactly as they originally occurred. And everywhere I looked there was another “life experience” connected to another life experience, connected to another life experience … seamlessly presented through an invisible, undetectable connection. I saw myself as a baby, a young man, a woman, an old person, and with all of the people that I met in my many life journeys. I relived the joy of past friendships and loves. I cried when I felt the pain and sorrow of terror. Everything was happening at the same time, but I could experience each event that I concentrated on in the time frame in which it occurred. It was a fantastic, wonderful, and enlightening experience and somehow, deep within me, I knew that I was in, what I now call, the “Eternal Now”.
  6. No judgment, guilt, blame, or shame ... since I was a Roman Catholic teenager at the time of my NDE, I had enough guilt built up in my internal belief systems for the entire universe. One of the first things that I became aware of in my life review was that there were no feelings of guilt, of judgment, of punishment, of blame, or of shame in any event that I re-experienced; or at any other time in my communication with the Light. It became apparent to me that my various life actions were not “right or wrong”, but were merely choices. They were choices that either “worked” or didn’t work for me or those connected to me. They were choices that fostered love and joy or fear and pain … but in the long run, they were all just choices.
  7. Being One with the light, but still being Me ... the first three things that I heard the Light say to me were:
       ”Andy don't be afraid”,
       ”Andy, I love you”, and
       ”Andy we love you”,

    and as I heard them I was aware that I was being "absorbed" into the Light, became One with the Light. But, at the same time never lost my "Andy-ness"! WOW, that was a phenomenon that can only be truly experiences in the timeless space encompassed within the Light! The Light was surrounded by countless, smaller bright Lights. And as I gazed on them I recognized them as billions of other souls (what I now call “pieces of God”) that were there to celebrate my returning into the Light with them.
  8. The Light is unrecognizable, but familiar ... even though I was sensing all of the attributes of the Light for the first time, somehow I was also remembering them. They were unknown and familiar at the same time. The Light had a face that I had never saw before, but yet, somehow I recognize it … I knew it. The Light had a voice that was neither male nor female, one that I never heard before, but somehow I remembered it. The Light had a laugh and a smile that I viewed for the first time, but somehow I recalled it. Every attribute of the Light filled me with memories of love and joy!
  9. The Light is a funny friend ... I truly enjoyed being in the Light because the Light has a sense of humor, a sense of humor about the entire universe and all existence. I know that the Light was that “friend” that I was looking for during my short lifetime up to my NDE, because we laughed together and truly enjoyed being in each other's presence … in other words, we were true friends! The Light told me that true friends share an “unconditional love” and an “oneness” that knows no bounds.
  10. Being at home ... in the light everything was strange –but at the same time, it was recognizable. I began to remember the exact details of everything that came into my awareness. I was conscious of the fact that nothing that I was experiencing was totally new; all the experiences brought back memories of familiarity ... of a home coming after being away for a long, long, long time.
  11. Complete universal knowledge ... I had Instantaneous knowledge of everything that was, is, or ever will be; I had no questions to ask because I knew everything that the Light knew … I was aware of all of the questions and all of the answers!
  12. Unconditional love ... not only was the love I felt from the Light (and all the other pieces of Light) unconditional and non-judging, but it was very "personal" ... it was directed to me, to "Andy", and I immediately loved myself unconditionally too. I lost any sense of "right and wrong" ... my lives just contained events, some filled me with joy and other with sorrow, but none of them were right or wrong!
  13. Defiance … refusing to return ... I wasn’t afraid to tell the Light "No, I don't want to go back!" That kind of response could only be spoken in the presence of an unconditionally, loving being!
  14. Instantaneous return ... again, just as when I "let go" and went into the tunnel and Light, I returned to the beach instantaneously; I have no recollection of anything that happened to my body at the bottom of the lake during my experience in the tunnel, sphere, or Light. I don't remember being found, pulled from the mud, brought to the surface, carried to the beach, turned over and pushed on ... nothing … not until the Light finished say "Andy you have to go back" (for the third time) and I found myself on the beach, completely conscious of my surroundings and coughing water out of my lungs.
  15. Overwhelming sadness ... the sadness of being back on Earth, away from the Light was almost unbearable, even though I had no understanding of what I just experienced (it would be 20 years before I knew what really happened that wonderful day was a NDE.) I have never felt that level of sadness again.
  16. Always remembering ... you don't know how hard I tried to forget! A few years later I went into a seminary but left before my vows, and then enlisted in the Marine Corps. While in the Marines I had a number of "close calls with death" and my recollection of them is fuzzy. But this experience never changes, its always there, and each time I remember my heart is filled with Joy, a Joy that came from the Light and now comes from within Me, because the Light and I are ONE.
  17. No fear of death ... I think about this many times … death that is, and I have absolutely no fear of death. In fact, I've had many, many "close calls" with death since my NDE, and I am always ready to go. The good news is that it won't be too long now, there are just a few more things I have to experience before I return to the Light.
  18. Ready and happy to die again ... I chose to have a "happy death" next time. I will breathe my last breath and "let go" again, only this time I won’t return to Earth … this time I will remain to the Eternal Now – a place fills me with the joy of being ONE in the Light.

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