Your Strange and Beautiful Stories of Near-Death Experiences
After I wrote a book about heaven, people started telling me about their own close encounters
Faith, critics say, is belief without evidence. Nowhere is this truer than when we talk about heaven. An overwhelming number of human beings believe in the hereafter. Not one has indisputable proof.
But many have stories. Some are their own. Some are passed down. Some have been read. Some have been repeated. The best ones give you chills. But they all give you pause. And this much I can tell you:
There are more than you think.
As the writer of The Five People You Meet in Heaven, I have heard a great deal of stories about the afterlife. And with that book’s sequel, The Next Person You Meet in Heaven, now published, I am hearing them again.
It’s not like I’m a cleric. I have no religious training. But I did something 15 years ago that I am doing again now: putting out my own view of heaven, what it might look like, how it might work.
And when you do that, you get stories in return.
This doesn’t surprise me. My first imagining of heaven also came from someone else’s story — my beloved Uncle Eddie, a barrel-chested, white-whiskered World War II vet. He would sit around the holiday dinner table and tell a tale of a fateful night, a night he was whisked into an operating room for surgery. Sometime during the procedure, he claimed, his soul lifted from his body and floated above the table. He looked down on the doctors and his earthly form. And he saw, huddled nearby, all his dead relatives waiting for him to join them.
“Oh my God, Uncle Ed, what did you do?” we would squeal.
“Do?” he’d respond. “I told them, ‘Get the hell out of here. I’m not ready for any of you yet.’”
And they flew away. Went back to where they came from. And he descended back into his body and lived years longer.
That was my first afterlife exposure. It made such an impression that, decades later, it became the basis of The Five People novel, in which a grizzled war veteran named Eddie is the main character.
Oftentimes, we are so overwhelmed by the experience that we don’t share these stories for fear of being dismissed as ultra-religious or just plain nutty.
I took my uncle’s memory of people waiting for you upon your death and extrapolated it: What if the folks waiting weren’t all family members? What if some were just people with whom you’d had a brief encounter, swerving from a potential car accident, being the last person in their elevator, some seemingly innocuous interaction that, in the afterlife, was shown to you to be hugely significant in what happened during your lifetime?
What if heaven began with all that being explained to you so that you started your hereafter with a full understanding of your “here”?
When that book came out, people flocked to the idea. They wrote about who their five people would be. In some cases, they told me they had already met them.
Some readers claimed to have died briefly — an accident, a surgery — and found themselves sitting with their mothers, feeling them stroke their hair in a familiar fashion.
Others claimed to have had brief conversations in which their dead spouses or dead parents gave advice on something troubling and then told them they had to “go back.”
Some mentioned the proverbial white light. Many mentioned Jesus. Nearly all described being at peace.
I remember one man in particular who hadn’t died himself but sat beside his wife as she breathed her last. Just after her eyes closed, they popped open one more time, and she uttered the word “home.”
This, by coincidence, was the same word I used near the end of Five People, when Eddie accepts his eternal rest. Home. The man I refer to grabbed my arm when he met me and said, his eyes bulging, “How did you know? How did you know?”
The thing is, we don’t know. But we believe. Or we go through something and then we believe. Oftentimes, we are so overwhelmed by the experience — or so unsure of what happened—that we don’t share these stories with many people for fear of being dismissed as ultra-religious or just plain nutty.
But there should be no shame in talking about heaven. And no hesitancy in sharing a life-after-death experience. They are not meant to convert. We can quite likely learn from them. And if they are not all the same, well, that doesn’t disprove anything — except the idea that heaven has to be the same for every soul on earth.
With The Next Person You Meet in Heaven, I’ve given my second take on what may happen next, that after you meet five people who changed your life, you become one of five for someone else.
I’ve also asked Medium readers to share stories of experiences they might have had, about what comes after our time on earth. Medium’s editors read dozens of stories that ran the range from moving to amusing, heart-warming to eery.
We hope you will enjoy these stories as much as we did. After all, faith may be defined as belief without evidence, but belief can be enhanced by experience, and experience is shared by stories.
Read an excerpt from Albom’s forthcoming book The Next Person You Meet in Heaven