I recently finished Raymond Moody’s new book, Glimpses of Eternity: Sharing a Loved One’s Passage from This Life to the Next. I had looked forward to reading this ever since reading and watching some of the advance material. Just as Moody brought near-death experiences (NDEs) to public awareness 35 years ago, he now said he would bring a new and extremely important phenomenon into view, one that puts to rest the skeptical objections to the NDE.
He calls these shared death experiences. They are where a person (sometimes several people) seems to actually share in the crossing over of a loved one. People began sharing their personal stories of these with him even before he published Life After Life. And as time went on, he became even more interested in these shared death experiences than in near-death experiences. Over time he has asked audiences all over the world if they have had such shared death experiences, and he implies he has collected quite a number, although he never tells us how many.
He outlines in Chapter 4 the elements of a shared death experience. He says that no one in his records has had all of the elements, but since the elements and their sequence have a consistency, he assembles a composite experience, which I have condensed here:
A woman is sitting by the bedside of her dying husband, holding his hand. She feels a charge of energy pass through her and realizes her husband has died. She then sees a glowing white mist come up from his head or chest area, rise up, and dissipate. She hears beautiful, otherworldly music, unlike anything she has ever heard.
She then finds that she has actually left her body and is floating above her husband’s hospital bed. Next to her floats her husband, also outside of his body, and smiling with joy. As they hover together, they are suddenly surrounded by countless scenes from their life together. She even sees scenes from his life before they met, including from his other romantic relationships. But she finds nothing embarrassing. Later, she is able to verify people and events that she saw and had no prior knowledge of.
They begin to move toward the corner of the room, which is no longer a right angle. The geometry of the room has changed, in ways hard to describe. A tube opens up near the ceiling, a portal to another realm. Together, they enter this tube and move rapidly up it. They emerge into a heavenly realm with a stunning natural landscape. As they move through this landscape, she reaches a point at which she realizes she cannot go further and must return. She says goodbye, feeling happy for her husband’s new existence. She finds herself back in her body. She thought she would feel sad and depressed at his death but instead, in light of the remarkable experience she has just had, finds herself strangely elated.
This book really stretched my picture of reality, I must say. I expected to read about a variation on NDEs—basically, shared NDEs. But that doesn’t seem to be what these are, for the simple reason that no one is near death. One person dies and doesn’t come back. The other person is perfectly healthy; not near death at all. It seems to be a new phenomenon. It clearly overlaps NDE in that there are many elements in common. But there are also some new elements, like the mist rising from the body and the room changing its geometry.
It so stretched my picture of things that even I found myself wondering if the stories were really true. I knew that this same objection had been raised to NDEs when Moody’s first book came out, and that turned out to be groundless. And these accounts had that same ring of veracity to them; you get the sense that people are just reporting something amazing that happened to them, not making anything up. Yet still my doubts nagged at me. One thing that didn’t help is that of the examples Moody provides that are already in the literature—some from the 19th century—none of them have the more impressive features, like being out of the body together and having the life review together.
I finally wrote Dr. Jeffrey Long, author of Evidence of the Afterlife, and founder of the NDERF website that has collected over 2,000 NDEs. I asked him if he has come across such accounts himself. He said, “We have received a number of shared death experiences over the years, and they can be as detailed as Raymond is reporting. For several decades, Raymond asked audiences that he talked to if they would share their shared death experiences with him. Thus he ended up with many.”
The stories in the book are pure gold. They are utterly amazing. However, I did have many quibbles with the book itself. It felt too lightweight and popularized for me personally. Moody never tells us details that for me are important—for instance, are these accounts written by the people themselves, transcribed from audio recordings, fleshed out from notes he took, or just his recollection of what they said? How many does he have? What percentage of his accounts have what features (for instance, the shared life review)? I get the impression that the early stages—mist rising from body, unearthly music, change in room’s geometry—are fairly common, while the later, really spectacular stages—shared out-of-body experience, shared life review, entering tunnel, etc.—are much more rare. But he didn’t address that question.
Moody even takes what I saw as a number of swipes at the scientific side of researching such experiences. For instance, near the end he says, “Experiences like these unfold over time and reveal what they reveal. There are researchers out there who will attempt to hurry these revelations with scientific studies. I wish them well. I am more patient than that. For me, I will bathe in the astonishment of these experiences for some time before coming to any solid conclusions of my own. They will tell me about themselves in due time” (p. 166). These down-his-nose comments toward the scientific research, especially when I felt his book needed more scientific rigor, seemed unbecoming to me.
One last complaint: While I was reading the book, the print is so large, and the format so story-based that I said to myself, “I feel like I just bought an issue of Guideposts”—the inspirational magazine. A couple of days later I looked at the spine to find it that it was actually published by Guideposts. This contributed to that “lightweight” feeling that did not seem befitting of such a heavyweight phenomenon.
All that being said, I feel Moody has done an invaluable service by bringing these experiences to light. One wonders how on earth they have stayed hidden for so long. And it makes you wonder what other important phenomenon are still hidden.
Why do I feel that shared near death experiences are important? Of course, we don’t really know if the living person is having a shared experience with the deceased love one, as we can’t exactly ask the deceased. This does raise the question of whether they might just be imagination. However, there does seem to be evidential information in some of these, such as when the living person verifies things he or she experienced in the life review and had no prior knowledge of. Or when the dying person on his deathbed says with surprise that a certain person has come to get him from the other side, someone he thought was alive, but whose recent death, it turns out, had been purposefully kept from him. Also, remember that many of these experiences involve more than one living person, sometimes several people, and the experiences of these different people seem to dovetail.
I think the fact that these experiences have common features is also important. If they are just imagination, why would Moody’s set of seven recurring features be there?
I think the main significance for me, though, is found in the close similarity with NDEs. Because of the features they share in common, NDEs and shared death experiences seem to be windows onto the same basic process, only seen from a somewhat different angle. As an analogy, before my wife and I moved into our current house, we looked it up on Google Earth. This allowed us to see it from two views—an aerial view and a street-level view. The two views showed us different features, but it was obvious that we were seeing the same house.
Here at my first encounter with this new phenomenon, that is its gut-level impact on me. It feels like in near-death experiences and shared death experiences we are getting two independent views of the same dying process. Which raises the question, Why would two different experiences just happen to depict the same process? The fact that they do strengthens the feeling that the dying process they depict is the dying process as it actually is.
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Postscript: After this review was posted by my friend David Sunfellow on his website NHNE Pulse, Raymond Moody’s wife Cheryl wrote a response that I found very helpful. I am very grateful she took the time to write it as it does answer some of my questions. She said:
“We want to thank you for the kind and honest review of Glimpses of Eternity. All of the stories in Glimpses were told directly to Raymond, recorded by him, or written down by the person who experienced them, then given to Raymond for the book. We have literally hundreds more. I guess in total we have well over a thousand of these very profound stories of people who seem to share or co-live the dying experience. Many years of research and thought went in to this book, we are glad you liked it. Many thanks, Cheryl Moody(wife of Dr Raymond Moody)”