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In so many near-death experiences, it seems like all bliss. There are descriptions of the all-embracing, all-loving Light; there is the joy; there are the tremendous vistas of Heaven. And so it is that such exists in the afterlife. God willing, we'll be releasing a new book from Michael H. Brown on the subject this week (What You Take To Heaven).

But in that book, as well as a rigorous recent study, conducted by secular researchers, are indications that, for some -- particularly those who have strayed from belief -- the outcome and the entry into another world are not always sheer elation.

As one report on the study put it, "While certain experiences are stereotypically associated with such apparent life after death periods -- such as perceiving oneself heading toward a light -- forty-six percent of the patients who said they had awareness after death described phenomena not generally associated with 'near-death.'"

The phenomena in some cases included intense fear and paranoia, "as if they were being persecuted by someone or something."

Authored by thirty-two scientists, and conducted at more than a dozen hospitals over a period of four years, the study focused on cardiac-arrest patients who had no clinical signs of brain activity to see if there was any kind of awareness. It was not just focused those who reported full near-death experiences (which tend to be overwhelmingly positive) but on everyone who lost vital signs in a documented way. Nurses and doctors cooperated.

The big news: it verified the idea that mental activity continues even after clinical "death."

Released just last month (9/14), it was the largest, most thorough such study on the subject yet, spearheaded by researchers at the University of Southampton in the U.K. and the State University of New York at Stony Brook in the U.S.. It involved patients at seventy-five hospitals, zeroing in on cases at fifteen and including strict protocol (with even shelves installed to see if any patients who said they had risen from their bodies could describe special symbols on the top of shelves above eye level, which one did).

Forty percent of those studied reported some level of consciousness during the time when their brains should have been completely closed down. "The evidence thus far suggests that in the first few minutes after death, consciousness is not annihilated,” noted Dr. Sam Parnia, the director of resuscitation research at Stony Brook.

As the study itself stated [available in its entirety here], "Among 2,060 cardiac-arrest events, 140 survivors completed stage one interviews, while 101 of 140 patients completed stage two interviews. Forty-six percent had memories with seven major cognitive themes: fear; animals/plants; bright light; violence/persecution; deja-vu; family; recalling events post-cardiac arrest and nine percent had near-death experiences, while two percent described awareness with explicit recall of ‘seeing’ and ‘hearing’ actual events related to their resuscitation. One had a verifiable period of conscious awareness during which time cerebral function was not expected."

The study was able to rule out hallucination, illusions, or surges in neural energy as explanations for the post-death consciousness.

The focus was on the very initial stages of classic near-death episodes (those first several minutes), before any detailed encounters with the other side. Classic near-death experiences often involve a person who has been dead for a longer time or left his or her body more swiftly and completely.

Still, eight percent reported encounter with a mystical being or person or heard an unidentifiable voice. Three percent saw deceased loved ones or religious figures. Twenty-two percent felt peace or pleasantness.

Those who experienced fear or "violence" made comments such as, "Being dragged through deep water," "This whole event seemed full of violence and I am not a violent man, it was out of character," "I had to go through a ceremony and . . . the ceremony was to get burned. There were four men with me, whichever lied would die. . .. I saw men in coffins being buried upright."

This is not out of line with the many near-death encounters, when the first few moments of death can be a state of some confusion and transition, before vistas open and there is actually entry into the afterlife (or an aspect of it). In the vast majority of full-fledged near-death episodes, tremendous joy is reported and the person loses all fear of death. But as our upcoming book will show, there are also hellish experiences.

It points up the value of protection at death -- especially those tools provided by the Catholic Church, and in particular invocation of Christ and His mother "now and at the hour of our death."

[resources: After Life and The Other Side; coming soon: What We Take To Heaven]

[see also: press release from the University of Southampton and text of study]

[See also: retreat in Midwest retreat: Kansas City and Louisiana]

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