Vital Signs

Not Afraid Of Death, But Not Allowed To Die

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by Michellenea Futrell

I’m almost forty now. In the last few years I’ve thought about these events every day. I constantly feel like someone who has partial amnesia—a part of me keeps nagging at me, but as hard as I try, I can’t remember everything. It’s time for me to come to a better understanding of what happened to me, why it happened, and what do I do with it. I was twelve years old when I attempted suicide. Life at home was anything but happy. It was Nov. 17th 1975. My father had shown me his high-blood-pressure medication just two days before. He kept the bottle on the top shelf of the medicine cabinet and had said to me that he needed to get it refilled the next day, and that by far it was the most dangerous thing in the house. If one of us were to take it accidentally, it could kill us.

Sure enough, the bottle was full. I remember it took me such a long time to swallow all the pills. I was never afraid, though; only sad that I believed at that time there was no other alternative.

I went to my room and climbed into bed, thinking I would just go to sleep and never wake up; my family would finally be happy. It didn’t end up being that simple. I woke to feeling that my chest and throat were being crushed. I couldn’t breathe or yell out for help. In a desperate attempt to get relief from what was happening to me, I ran to my mother’s bedside. She was a nurse, and I thought she would be able to stop it. I couldn’t tell her what I had done, or tell her what I needed. But I remember vividly fighting for her to breathe air into my mouth. It took her a moment to realize that I was in real trouble. I fought as long as I could, and by now everyone in the house was awake and I could hear them screaming. My mother and aunt were on top of me holding me down; my head started feeling dizzy and the pain started to ease. My body felt as though it was getting lighter, lifting off the floor. I remember thinking, “This must be how it feels when you are dying.” I stopped struggling, closed my eyes, and felt myself float away into unconsciousness.

It seemed like only a moment or two passed before I opened my eyes. It was pitch black. My first thought was of the absence of pain, and how relieved I was that it was gone. I couldn’t figure out where I was. I wondered if it were so dark in this place because no light existed, or if I was unable to see. So I brought my hand up in front of my face. I could see it there, completely intact, but without flesh. I quickly scanned my whole being and realized I was different, but very much whole, and I knew everything I had always known. Looking around me I realized I was not standing on anything; there was no

ground beneath my feet, no sides or corners to walk towards in this place; it was just space that went on forever. I then noticed a tiny white light far away, like a star. I had just begun to think about how I could get to it and I started moving towards it. The closer I got, the faster I was moving, and the larger and brighter it became. I remember thinking that the light was so bright it might hurt my eyes, so I closed them real tight and braced myself for what I thought would be an impact when I ran into it. Instead there was none. It was like floating through a thin veil, and being bathed in white light.

Before I could even open my eyes, I felt this new place. I’ve searched my whole life for words to describe the amount of love and serenity there, but none exist. I had never known what real love felt like, and I sincerely do not believe that we are even capable — in our usual state of being. I opened my eyes a little at first, just to make sure it was okay. They did not hurt as I thought they would. So, wide-eyed, I began to look around me for someone, something, wondering what this place was. Wherever I was, it was the most wonderful place I had ever known, or could have ever imagined, and I never wanted to leave!

Then I heard a man, gently, softly: “You can not stay here with me.” I remember feeling desperate to locate him, but I couldn’t. I soon realized that the white light was coming from him, and he knew me. As though I had left him, and he was there to greet me and explain what was going to happen and why. I immediately responded in my mind with, “I do not want to leave here!” He chuckled at the determination in my response, like a parent of a child that has innocently requested something that he knows they are not ready for. I knew him right at that very moment. He loved me, no matter what I had ever done, no matter what I would ever do. And I knew that this love he felt for me would never change or diminish. It would stay forever constant, and not just for me, but for everyone, and for every living thing, for all time. He would never harm me; he was incapable of doing all the horrible things I had been told in Sunday school.

Please don’t misunderstand, he was not ambivalent about my wrongdoing. He was simply like a parent who loves his child unconditionally. He knew the reasoning behind my acts, right or wrong, and he still loved me. He is also quite capable of being disappointed and firm when need be — as I would experience much later in my life.

He followed with a promise to me: “It is not time for you to be here with me, but some day you will come back and can stay then.” I remember beginning to feel very afraid that he

was going to send me away, and I never wanted to go back to my family if it meant leaving him and this place. I remember I began to plead with him to let me stay, like any child does in a desperate attempt to convince its parent to give in to its wishes. His final words to me came firmly, but lovingly: “It’s time!”

I was turned and sent from that place on the breath of the last word he spoke. The way was lit; and beneath me were black lines that were separate at first, like those on a road. But as I began to move faster over them they soon blended together. I remember seeing holes in the ground that we fill at death with our loved ones, and I thought of my family. But all the graves were empty. Then I just knew that life goes on. None of us really die. I felt so much comfort, knowing that all my loved ones would not just cease to exist: they too would go to where I had been.

I know that it was at this time that I saw so much more, and it was explained to me. But I can’t bring back the moment it was taught. I can feel it; it’s there in that part of me. But I can’t in this state wrap my mind around it. I just know it to be more real and truthful than anything else in my entire life. And it gives me so much peace now.

When I came back, the first thing I felt was the ease it took to draw this deep breath of air into my chest. I opened my eyes to a bright light above my head, and a cold surface pressing against my back. There were people everywhere around me, but they seemed surprised. They all started to work franticly on tubes and machines, yelling at one another to do this or get that. A man leaned over me asking me to tell him my name, if I knew where I was. He was blocking my view of the light above my head; I was wondering if that were the light I’d seen. After noticing the metal rim around the light, I finally said my first name and told him: “the hospital”. He smiled and told me what a good girl I was, and everything was going to be all right. He looked away and told someone to go tell the family I was awake, and that he would be out to talk to them soon. He just kept telling me it was all right now and I could rest. I wanted so much to go back to sleep and wake up where I had just come from.

When I did wake again, I was in another room. This time I was covered in warm blankets, my mother at my side. She stood and looked at me, and I could see the anger in her face. She asked me what in the hell was I thinking? I told her what I’d seen when I was asleep. She gritted her teeth at me and said that I almost didn’t wake up. At one point they told her they

couldn’t do any more for me. Did I understand what I had done? She followed it with, “When I get you home you have an ass-whipping coming.” That was the defining moment for my life for many years to come. There were no hugs; no “I love you”; just anger and disappointment.

I spent the next four-and-a-half years filled with doctors, countless hospitals, and mental institutions for repeated suicide attempts. None producing the result I wanted. I felt hurt, angry, rejected. I had no fear of death; I looked at each day as an opportunity to possibly succeed in what I had failed in doing the day before. I got involved with drugs and alcohol, and if they didn’t kill me, they gave me enough courage to play games that might do so. People gave up on me, and accepted that some day I would succeed. Days turned into years, and the only thing I succeeded in doing was hurting or destroying relationships with those that truly loved and cared. Although not directly responsible, my actions created reactions, and my best friend ended up dead. I walked away from many opportunities that could have meant a better life for my children and myself even now.

There were times over the years that I would dream, and this same Angel descended towards me from the light, and smiled at me as though to let me know I was still loved and it was going to be okay. I finally stopped trying to go back when I came to the conclusion after so many failures, that God was simply not going to let me die. And believe me, by all rights I shouldn’t be here.

Then an experience occurred in my early thirties, which came out of nowhere. I was in the third year of extensive counseling for the abuse I had suffered as a child. The sessions had been emotionally brutal for me and I was feeling like I could not go on, having to relive that pain over and over indefinitely. I was sitting there one day, thinking that no matter how much I wanted to be the parent my two small sons deserved, I was simply too screwed up and they would be better off if I’d die and they could be spared having to deal with their mother for the rest of their lives. I was sitting there across from the counselor, listening to her tell me about how I had come so far and had survived so much. I was a great mother to my sons. I had spared them the pain I knew. I felt my head get heavier and fall backwards. There was this roaring sound as I was lifted out of my chair and pulled very quickly towards the place in the dark where I had been as a child. Finally I came to a stop, and tried to get bearings as to where I was and what had just happened. I quickly realized I was not alone. Millions of others were there, all moving together like one single force. I could not see them, but I knew they were there. The movement was steady and continuous, like a line of people just walking

around in circles. I was separate from them though. Then I saw the light I had seen as a child, behind and slightly higher from them. I knew he was there, watching and waiting. Like before, I was curious and would begin a thought, and suddenly know the answer.

The others could not enter; their existence was between these two separate planes. They knew all there was to know of each plane. How they wanted so much to change what they had done, and couldn’t. They were fully aware of all truths and the purpose of life, of the pain their choices had created while here on Earth, against themselves and others. They were aware of the great suffering they had caused. My heart ached for them. But why was I there?

I suddenly saw my sons before me, and instantly I felt this indescribable pain. My mind became acutely aware of the pain and suffering born out of my choice of self-destruction. For my sons, for those who knew me, and for those I would never meet. I knew then this would be my existence, this place of knowing my real worth, how my actions were like stones tossed into a pond. They rippled out, crossing over the entire surface of the earth, forever affecting and changing the face of it. I will see and feel everything I had ever done and could have been. In this place I will know the truth of all things, and be unable to change, or be a part of, any of it.

I don’t know if the Biblical hell exists, but I can tell you the suffering here was worse then any description I had ever been given. To me this was hell enough. Created out of our own selfish choices. God had no need to create a place to torture us for the waste and destruction we had committed. We had enough to torture ourselves with.

The pace of those there began to move more quickly. Like they knew I was there. I felt like I had stayed too long, and now was becoming a part of this place. I wanted to leave, and half expected just the thought would free me from it. In panic, I looked back towards the light and I knew I was being given a choice. I could stay, but I would have to exist knowing what I had created. If I chose to return to Earth, I was not to ever attempt my own destruction, that in doing so, I am committing the ultimate crime against self, against the purpose of this life, against the wisdom of God.

God was teaching me a lesson about my carelessness, about the impact I have on all of life, that he was the creator, but I above all else had the power of choice to govern my life, my final destiny. As soon as I believed through my entire self, my own worth, my responsibility to life, to all those I exist here with, and finally that I would never attempt such a selfish act as my own death, I was released from the place. I returned to find my counselor in a panic,

she had already run to get help and had just returned. She told me latter she thought I had died.


Both times that I returned from the other world I explained in detail what I had experienced to the first people I saw. As a little girl I was told that the whole event was never to be spoken of. This time, the counselor told me of others who had given accounts of some of the same things I’d described, but she could not explain why it happened to me, under the circumstances.

I can tell you that this last experience changed the course of my life. How I see myself, how I perceive life, mine and that which exists around me. I find myself honoring the totality of my life to this date, good and bad. It took every moment for me to know what I know and be able to do good with it. That life is a gift. I am here inasmuch as I have been given the opportunity to experience, and to grow. And with that, to always make my best effort to give the best of myself to all those I can in the span of my lifetime. To understand and accept that I cannot escape fallibility, nor can anyone else. Because in it I learn the difference between good and evil, right and wrong, and finally, love and hatred. That when I know the difference, my choice will define life.

I don’t know what those souls in the dark place had done to be there, or what will happen to them eventually, if anything. In my own judgment, I know that I already have and will commit enough pain in this lifetime that I too should be convicted to that place. But I also know that God knows me, as well as all of my life choices, and the consequences they created. And still he has promised me that I would return to him someday, in the light!

Michellenea Futrell raises her family and runs a small business in southern Illinois.

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