Anna Whiston-Donaldson's son died after being swept away during a flash flood. In her written memoir entitled "Rare Bird," she shares her journey of love, loss and the jagged path toward acceptance and peace. In this excerpt she shares a personal moment about enduring the pain and learning to cope.
In the meantime I begin to read everything I can on grief, death, near-death experiences, and heaven. I think we can learn from people who have been privy to sacred glimpses, through near-death experiences, of what comes after life on earth.
Most of these stories have striking similarities, and they make me look forward to heaven more than before. There’s a brilliant light and intense feelings of acceptance, well-being, and love. There are loving beings there: angels, deceased relatives, and God. There’s often a review of one’s life, which is like watching a movie, indescribably beautiful music, and intense periods of learning, work, and understanding many of the mysteries of life. Heaven doesn’t sound boring, as Jack and I had feared.
My favorite aspect of near-death experiences is that many people who have them don’t want to come back. I want Jack to be experiencing something so wonder-filled and perfect that the loving life we shared here is a flimsy imitation by comparison.
But the aspect of near-death experiences that upsets me is that so many people have been saved from the brink of dying and even well over the brink. I want to scream, “Why not Jack?” Surely he could have used a near-death experience for the good of the world! Jack was understanding and articulate. Telegenic, even. I like to write and am not too afraid to give speeches.
If Jack survived, we could have shared his heavenly experiences with our friends, neighbors, and the world. We could cowrite a book. He could start his own blog, When Jack Came Back. People would be blessed by his glimpse of heaven, their faith would be strengthened, and I’d still have my son here with me. Wouldn’t that be a good way for God to demonstrate His power and care and love? Wouldn’t that be better than a broken body and death?
Then there’s the guilt of reading about people who survived or were brought back to life after being underwater for a long time. Ten minutes, fifteen, forty-five! On the positive side, they write that they did not feel fear or panic even as their bodies struggled. On the other hand, what if I gave up too easily when I saw the raging water? What if when I immediately felt that Jack’s soul was gone, he was just on a temporary trip to heaven and we could have brought him back like so many others?
From digging into the Bible and reading about near-death experiences, I get comfort knowing more about what Jack’s experience is like in heaven. But as more days pass, earth is really starting to feel like hell without him.