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Speaking of her own shared death experience, Stephanie, a woman in Washington, D.C., whose husband died of aggressive cancer, recalled traveling with him into an incredibly bright, white light. She said, “There was no pain, no hurt. It was peaceful,” adding, “It felt as if I were going back to something I already knew.” But her own clergy shut down any conversation, and “that deflated me terribly,” she said. Finally, an oncologist told her that he’d had a similar experience. He told her this, however, after closing the office door and stating he would never share his experience with anyone else.

I believe that these hushed discussions could be the very things we need to help both the dying and the bereaved. Listening to and examining stories of individuals who have had shared death experiences can offer us another framework in which to process and accept death.

Consider the story of Carl, a California man whose father died of heart failure in Massachusetts. He experienced an overpowering sensation of being next to his father, saying “I could feel it in my bones and my cells that my dad was there with me.” While the experience did not end his grief, it changed his perspective. “I miss my dad,” he told me, adding, “and I wish I could call him up and be with him and spend time with him. I grieved and was sad, but it doesn’t feel like a tragedy. It feels like he is in the place he needs to be.”

Indeed, of the nearly 1,000 cases I have studied, 87% of the people interviewed report that their experience has convinced them that there is a benevolent afterlife. Nearly 70% said their shared death experience has positively affected their grief, and more than 50% said that it has removed their own fears around death and dying.

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