The experience happened in 1985. I can get panicky with my face in the water, so two of us decided to find a shallow place to walk across the Rio Grande rather than swim from Big Bend National Park to Mexico. The water was crystal clear, the sun was bright, and I could easily see the river stones on the river bed. I took a step in a foot of water; then another step in another foot of water; then a third step in what looked like another foot of water to me. The shock of finding myself beneath the water surface sent my brain into stupid mode. So, instead of swimming to save myself, I decided to do the opposite of what had landed me in this predicament. I took one step backward. It never occurred to me that I was never going to be able to step backward out of a hole.
While I was underneath the surface I never held my breath, never panicked about not being able to breathe, and never felt pain. All of a sudden, I found myself in the greatest peace and without anxiety in my recalled experience. I felt comfortable and neither hot nor cold, despite the river being icy cold. I saw black but felt like I was in an immense space. I know that with the bright sunshine and crystal clear water, that sunlight would have been getting through my eyelids such that I should not have seen pure dark. The thought in my mind was that I was going to relax into this ‘warm darkness’. I decided to just go into it and stop the struggle. I have no idea how I came up with the phrase ‘warm darkness’, but the phrase came up again many years later.
The girl with me, who was standing just beside the hole, reached down and pulled me up. The pain of water in my chest wasn’t too horrid and I was glad I was too busy coughing up the water to answer any questions.
I have a vague memory that I think might be a false memory. I was in two places at once. I was in the ‘warm darkness’ and about 20 feet up on the Texas side of the river watching my boyfriend jump into the river from the Mexico side to come after me. I only add this part of the story, which might be completely false, since other people might have had an ‘I’m in two places’ experience and/or an ‘I don’t know if I made this memory up or not,’ experience. (NDERF Note: We have many NDErs who report bilocation, so if her boyfriend did jump into the river, it is not a false memory.)
The experience seemed to last several minutes but it must have been just seconds because I did not have to be resuscitated.
Years later, I read an article about what people look like when they are drowning. The experience isn’t a Hollywood-style drama. The description sounded like what it felt like and what I must have looked like. I probably was bobbing calmly in the water, before I got to the ‘warm darkness’.
In 2004 and through late March 2005, the Terri Schiavo story was prominent in the news. Terri had been ‘brain dead’ and on life support for a long time. Her husband wanted to stop the feeding tube and her parents did not. The husband won the court battle and Terri’s feeding tube was pulled.
In mid-1990s to April 1, 2005, I had another experience. I have posted this story on the Internet before, maybe in the NDERF forum.
AXY started living with chronic pain early in his young adult life. It turned out to be a bone cancer called Ewings Sarcoma. Cancer treatments extended his life several years but the bone trauma affected his hip and other bones in some way that caused him to finish his life in constant pain. AXY had been an unlikeable teenager in a lot of ways but my niece married him against her parent’s wishes. Both of them were too young to be married. As AXY learned to fight cancer, live with chronic pain, work a marriage, bring two daughters into the world, and raise those daughters well, he turned into a person that seemed to be surrounded with so much peace that he could calm an entire crowded room by walking in the door.
AXY’s pain grew worse over the years until he was finally unable to work. My brother, AXY’s father-in-law, bought a property that included two houses, so that the family of four with only one low-ish income and many medical bills could live well.
In December 2004, we were all told that AXY’s cancer had returned and he would be going back into treatment. The end-of-life story below was told directly to me by SXX four hours after AXY passed.
In late March 2005, AXY was in the hospital. This was during the time Terri Schiavo’s body was slowly starving to death. SXX went by daily on her lunch break from work to visit AXY. The doctors declared that AXY was terminal. The doctors said that the house needed to be set-up so it was wheel-chair ready so AXY to allow him mobility over the next six months. AXY looked fine and felt fairly well. He just figured that his treatments were better in the hospital and he didn’t seem to realize that he could no longer walk.
Lunchtime Communication Between AXY and SXX Sunday March 27, 2005:
• AXY – They didn’t take me for a treatment this morning.
• SXX – There are no more treatments for you. That’s why you are going on Hospice Care at home.
• AXY – You mean they are just going to let me die?
• SXX – Yes. That’s what Hospice means. They can’t do anything more for you. I didn’t realize you were not understanding the conversation we had with the doctor.
Lunchtime Communication Between AXY and SXX Monday March 28, 2005:
• AXY – I saw it then woke from my nap. It was beautiful.
• SXX – Did not know what to say
Lunchtime Communication Between AXY and SXX Tuesday March 29, 2005:
• AXY – There is a group. We are waiting for Terri Schiavo to go and then we’re going to go.
I felt like I was going to fall over when SXX told me this part.
• SXX – OK.
Lunchtime Communication Between AXY and SXX Wednesday March 30, 2005:
• AXY – Call all my family in Arkansas and tell them to be prepared to come to Dallas this week. I’ll be leaving very soon and I want to tell everyone goodbye.
• SXX – OK.
And she did just that. Nobody argued.
Thursday March 31, 2005 – About 9:00 a.m. as I recall:
• The news announced that Terri Schiavo had died.
Lunchtime Communication Between AXY and SXX Thursday March 31, 2005:
• AXY – Did Terri pass this morning?
• SXX – Yes. They announced it on the news.
I interrupted to clarify. AXY did ask if Terri had passed rather than tell SXX that Terri had passed. SXX said that AXY seemed to think Terri had passed but wasn’t sure.
• AXY – Call everyone in Arkansas and tell them to start driving. I’m leaving the hospital tonight.
• Doctor – No AXY, you can’t leave tonight. Your house is being set up to keep you comfortable there so I’m keeping you here until the house is ready.
• AXY – I am leaving this body tonight. I am not going to that house.
• Doctor – You have several good months ahead to finish things that need doing. You look fine and you feel OK at the moment; that should show you.
• AXY – You are a nice man, but I will die tonight.
• Doctor – Until the cancer takes over your lungs, you will stay. Let me have you x-rayed so you can see your lungs for yourself.
The X-rays happened. SXX did not hear conversations between AXY and the x-ray technician but she bets it was a good one. The doctor saw the x-rays and told SXX to Get AXY’s family to Dallas now because he might only have a few hours left.
Thursday Afternoon March 31, 2005:
AXYs apparent wellness started the downhill slide. AXY began to look and sound very ill, as those close to death by cancer are expected to look and sound. AXY finished his good-byes with his children first. They were 7 and 4 years old. AXY and SXX did not want the children to remember AXY looking very sick and in extreme pain so SXX’s sister kept the children in the waiting room the rest of the night. AXY said his goodbyes with his parents and friends.
AXY had some serious conversations with SXX. He made her repeat back all of his ‘orders’ several times:
• AXY – Death was doing them part but your life would go on. You will find another father for the children. You will not live in grief and sorrow for even a day. The 7-year-old’s soccer practice is coming up on Saturday and shall not be skipped.
Thursday Early Evening March 31, 2005:
All the goodbyes were done and AXY was growing bored and frustrated about still being alive. He asked everyone to come into the room to sing together and he forbade tears.
Thursday Later Evening March 31, 2005:
AXY was getting very sick and only partially in control of the morphine dose. He was taking as little as possible so that he could watch his own passing.
• AXY – Who are the Silvery Lighted People in the room?
• SXX – I don’t know. I can’t see them.
• AXY – They know me but I don’t know who they are. I feel like I know them but I don’t recognize their faces or know their names. I feel like they are waiting for me.
• SXX – Yes, they are waiting for you.
• AXY – Now there are more of them and I see Jesus in the back of the crowd.
• SXX – You can join them soon.
Friday Morning April 1, 2005:
The day after Terri Schiavo passed and April Fool’s Day on top of that. AXY was in agonizing pain and tired of failing to die. He was ready to go. AXY was allowed to give himself a lethal dose of morphine. Although maybe illegal, but I think it probably happens all the time. I bent my head and prayed. All of a sudden there was this WARM DARKNESS. I almost fell over again, recalling my ‘warm darkness’ in the Rio Grande.
• Me – Do you mean it was warm and dark in the room?
• SXX – No. The sun was shining into the window as it was about 7:00 a.m. The air conditioning was running so the room was cool. I just had this great sense of peace, greater than ever before in all my life.
• Me – I kept my mouth shut. It didn’t seem right to tell her about my own ‘warm darkness’ experience.
• SXX – JXX was carrying the 4-year-old, HXX, from the hospital to the car. HXX was melting down and screaming that she wanted to see her Daddy. All of a sudden HXX stopped screaming, started giggling, then sang a song. JXX was a little freaked out and asked HXX about the instant change in behavior. HXX replied, ‘Daddy and I got to sing that last song together. He will be watching us but we won’t be able to see him. We will get a new Daddy to be right here where we can see him. I will be OK.’
HXX is a practical and honest child who was not prone to imaginative stories or lies. She is in high school now and she remembers the incident the same way her mother described it.
Saturday Morning April 2, 2005, told by SXX after the funeral:
• SXX – The girls were in the front yard and it was time to leave for soccer practice. I went to the front door and was about to call the girls to get into the car but I hesitated. My husband had just died the day before and I hadn’t even buried him yet. AXY’s idea of life going immediately on was crazy. I was going to turn around and go wallow in my bed. Well – – – – I swear there was ZERO wind. AXY had frequently talked about hanging some chimes on the front porch but he never got around to doing it. Somebody had hung some new chimes just for AXY, when they were getting the house ready for AXY’s home-hospice period. The second I decided I was going to skip soccer practice to go wallow in my bed instead, those chimes went nuts – – — wind-free nuts. Out loud I said, ‘We’re going to soccer AXY, we’re going right now.’