Somewhere along in my life, about a decade and a half ago, my marriage crumbled and I was going through what is popularized as “a midlife crisis,” trying to explore new horizons and relearn what life was about living singularly again.
At the time, I was excited about my arrangements to meet an exceptional lady at a bookstore/coffeeshop (Borders) in the Warwick, Rhode Island, neighborhood. What made this particular lady most fascinating to my more inquisitive nature, was that she had intimated on our few phone conversations, as having had a life-changing event early in her youth. Mary-O, as I’ll call her, Mary-Olivia, more fully, told me she was a near death experience. She was part of my own age group, going through the stressful “single-mom” routine working as dental-hygienist by day, taking classes at night, and doing a juggling act of somehow managing to hold her family of three teenage rebellious offspring together. Among other interests I was curious to learn more about her “childhood event” and how it had altered her life spiritually keeping her family together through tough times. I thought if anything came of our acquaintance, I’d leave that for the Fates to determine.
I found Mary to be a most charming conversationalist, keeping her world tightly reigned, yet talking freely about her life. She saw herself through “spiritual eyes” as she put it, having strength enough to have combated an arduous life journey filled with much strife, but always remembering there’s more to be gained by focusing on what lies ahead. By the way she had dealt with her life-situation, she seemed ready for whatever challenges awaited, remaining protected as her NDE experience had suggested long ago.
“What do you remember happened,” I asked her, as we sat with the afternoon sun streaming through the bookstore window, I had arrived early and found a book she suggested I read, so I had time to learn a bit about her before she arrived. I was anxious to hear what she had to say in person. I needed to feel a gut reaction to the reality of her other worldly experience from Mary herself.
Writer, Ms. Mally Cox-Chapman, a Connecticut journalist, had separation of mind and body during a near fatal car accident, which later gave her a special fascination for the subject of after-life experiences as she studied the works of Moody, Atwater, Ken Ring, Dannon Brinkley, and others. In her own NDE compilation of 51 cases, Mally describes Mary O as speaking about her encounter, “difficult to read, stopping and starting her narrative in abrupt phrases, in her attempt to find suitable terms,” to make the indescribable comprehensible. For my part, I found Mary-O direct and pleased to share what she remembered. What she was telling me had the familiar ring of truth. Though I had never before talked with a near death survivor, I felt I could discern her truth from what I knew of the subject. The main thing being there was an undeniable surety in what Mary-O told me without embellishment to impress.
Before I continue relating Mary Olivia’s experience, I must first fill the reader in about a woman whom I’ve not met who turns out to be an important inspiration for this story. What I learned is that Margaret Lewis, another Rhode Island survivor, in her later years now, had once been pronounced dead at five years old. She had been diagnosed with scarlet fever, hospitalized for a contagious disease. It was two weeks before a doctor realized Margaret had been misdiagnosed. Her appendix had ruptured. At that time there were few antibiotics to diffuse the situation so she remained at death’s door for a full two weeks. It was during that time period, her reality was changed forever.
I feel a need to mention here, myself, the writer of this piece, was rushed to a nearby hospital as my appendix burst and I collapsed on a busy street, and they said I too had about an hour to live. This occurred in 1946 when I was five years old and I have carried the aftermath by a crude scar and stitches throughout my life. It has become my reminder that I continue to survive. So I can recognize a bit of the trauma Margaret went through during the following hellish months of teetering on the brink of death. However I have had no near-death experience that I can recall, so I cannot comment more objectively on what came next.
It was what she next described that I must rely on through the courtesy of Mally Cox-Chapman’s astute observations of what Margaret Lewis told her for the fine book, The Case For Heaven. Margaret:
“One night this marvelous feeling of peace came over me. I was basking in that because it was so beautiful, when suddenly I became aware that someone was holding my right hand. I looked up and my eyes traveled over a white gown. I came to the head of this beautiful woman. She was wearing like a Roman toga. She had beautiful blonde hair, which she pulled back in a chignon, and she had very very fair skin, she had like Roman features, you know, like a Roman nose, very pretty, very slender, and very young…
“…She walked along with me holding my hand. I kept looking at her… She did not talk to me or look to the left or to the right. She was the epitome of serenity. But then I became aware of a scent in the air that was becoming stronger and stronger. It was a wonderful fragrance that permeated my whole being. And when I dragged my eyes from the beautiful lady, I realized the path was banked with flowers looming over our heads…
“… as we walked on several feet I heard faint voices. As we got closer to the end of the path, the voices got a little louder, and I could actually hear what they were saying. One person said to the other, ‘but why is she bringing her here?’
“‘I don’t know. She knows better.’
“A few seconds later, at the end of the path, it became very foggy. I could not see who these people were. She took my hand and placed it over to her left, a couple of feet from them all. All of a sudden I became stone deaf… She said to me, ‘I’m sorry, Margaret, but you have to go back now. It’s not your time.'”
These are the recollections as Margaret remembered them. This extraordinary experience (as can be imagined) left a profound impression on the child. Who were these beautiful angelic beings she had found in an alternate existence? But equal to that was the overpowering fragrance of the beautiful flowers and of the immense bouquet they formed which bordered either side of the path. More important, why was she made to leave? It took Margaret a year to recover in the hospital and she had time to reflect on her otherworldly experience often.
As the child she was at the time, Peggy tried animatedly to explain her experience to her mother, stumbling over her words. “That’s from the medicine they’re giving you, Peggy,” the practical side of mother rationalized. Peggy even confessed to her cousin who laughed, calling her a “wacko” and taunted her as a “nutjob.” The young girl learned quickly to keep quiet about it. Yet there had to be a way to express it!
However, it wasn’t until the 1980’s that Peggy, now Margaret Lewis, was forced to slow down physically from an accident that left her with a broken rib. She decided on an exercise in “recuperative therapy” by attempting to recapture that path with the flowers through artistic expression. Her thoughts became vivid as she worked a canvas lucidly reproducing the scene she remembered. When she had the painting completed to her satisfaction, she showed her newly drawn impression to her internist, an opinion she had learned to trust. He’d expressed interest in her “vision” and appreciated hearing Margaret’s surreal description, intrigued by the sincere believability her story held. In appreciation of his interest, Margaret proudly gave a copy of her art for his offices. He was astonished with the beauty of her talent for recapturing the “otherworldiness” in her painting, a surprise to both of them. He honored this striking depiction of “a heavenly path” by having the picture framed. It eventually found its place hanging prominently among ten other wall-paintings in his well-appointed office.
“I guess that’s where I come into it,” Mary Olivia told me as we sipped coffee at Borders. “For whatever you want-to call it; Fate, Destiny Karma, synchronicity, coincidence. At the time I happened to be going to my current internist whose diagnosis regarding my present illness was not positive. I wasn’t happy with his prognosis, so, desperately reaching out for a second opinion, I’d come across another internist after hearing he was known to keep an open-minded, more holistic, viewpoint. I had never been to his offices. The moment I was shown in, my eyes were immediately attracted toward a particular painting on the far wall, I barely noticed the doctor or much of the other art hanging there. I was so fully taken by that particular painting. The piece was eerily similar to the same foot path I had been taken to. I could vividly imagine that overwhelming sense of flowery intoxication and the indescribable magnificence of color against the sky… I closed my eyes and thought of the man who walked alongside me.
That I’m certain. He was male, but I have no memory of what he looked like. I grasped his large hand immediately feeling the warmth and sure strength it held. He wore a white garment; its texture a slightly rough weave and definitely real as the loose sleeve brushed my cheek, while we held hands walking at a casual pace. The man spoke softly and kindly, one friend to another. As he did I began to notice the incredible bright vegetation surrounding me-especially the incredible variance and mixed permeation of flowers lushly reaching toward one another from both sides of the pathway.”
A slight synchronicity comes to me as I write this. Margaret ruptured her appendix at age five, my appendix burst when I was five. Mary Olivia’s NDE came as result of overlapping cases of rheumatic and scarlet fever. She was also five. Is it in that age group that we follow this special privilege with a guardian leading us, and are brought to a higher spiritual plane?
As Mary-O explained to me, “It was forty years later. It was a very strange feeling that my experience would be “given back” in the form of a painting through a doctor I was consulting.” Mary-Olivia and Margaret met through the connection of their mutual internist to “get a feel for one another” and further discuss their experiences.
My meeting Mary-Olivia a few years later and now a further decade later writing the account you’re reading, perhaps is the way I was chosen to perpetuate more verification of life beyond the usual senses.
“For me,” Mary said, “It was like forty years dropped away like nothing, and it was like verifying what the man promised. He’d said he’d always be with me.”
She remembered being a weak, sickly child; Rhode Island doctors at the time, didn’t agree on a rosy picture for Mary’s recovery. Hard to imagine Mary-Olivia was once a disease-wracked child. The woman I met had a refreshing openness to her demeanor, an unquenchable vitality as we casually talked over our coffee. Her abject sincerity was difficult to question. She said, “When I was with the man I did everything I could to stay there. I pleaded, I begged, but there was nothing I could do. Suddenly I was back in my sickbed dealing with an overwhelming sense of loss. But the man, I’ll never forget.”
“You keep calling him the man,” I said. “Apparently you’ve never attached an identity to him. Do you remember anything about what he looked like, Mary?” I wanted to know if she attached any religious significance to her male companion which would be in keeping with those of a religious background.
I never did get a clear description of this “man.” Mary was vague, she hadn’t really seen his face as he was so tall. She avoided calling him Jesus or any other such personage. He was simply the man. She spoke in excitement, sometimes interrupting herself for something she’d earlier missed, and off on a related tangent. Yet through all there was remarkable consistency and sincerity in the impression of the images she perceived. “It came to me that I knew what that thrown-around misplaced word love really means, as my entire being was swallowed in this connection between the man and I knew this was what pure love was about.”
“Pure love, huh?” I repeated. If I said it with a sense of doubt, my intention was only to get her to clarify what she meant.
Undaunted, Mary gave me her best explanation, “It was like being inside a huge transparent balloon or maybe a shiny soap bubble, cloud-like soft. It energized you with a warm cozy feeling of being exactly where you’re supposed to be and not wanting to miss a single instant of this total acceptance. It was like the closest you could ever be with someone, you know?”
I don’t suppose one can really ever really know unless one undergoes something of the intensity or what these fine ladies went through. Margaret Lewis, had an opportunity to make her views clear to Mary-O when they had an opportunity to meet. “It’s very strange that I was the instrument that gave you back your experience. Yet,” she said after thoughtful reflection, “maybe not so strange after all. That could be the reason the lady brought me there so I could remember and someday pass it on by painting it.”
I see it as verification of a phenomenal event these two ladies shared on the first step of the journey beyond life. They both were children with life-threatening illnesses, neither of which was aware of the other. Both felt they were exactly where they should be on that garden path. There was no desire in the least to return to their sick little child’s body.
In Margaret’s case it seems the female entity who guided her, was pleased when she asked her question of the flowers being real. Perhaps this “angel” did bring little Peggy there so she might remember the walk and be inspired to someday paint her impression of it. Was it planned that Mary Olivia would be guided to that doctor’s office some forty years later so she too might see that the “man” had remembered his promise? Perhaps the greatest testimony to this story’s conclusion is that the internist that treated Mary Olivia was certain at the time that her condition was indeed untreatable. “I’ll always be with you” the man had once told her. To Mary-Olivia, he made good on his promise.
When I last met Mary O., after meeting with her several times, she was well and as vibrant as any personable female I’ve known. Her illness had somehow abated contrary to what the doctors had believed, and by diet, exercise, and positivity she was fit, and once again filled with faith for the future, influenced by a Higher Power which she’s sure will continue to watch over her for the rest of her stay here.
There’s an old adage which advises that people come together for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. The former is true for Mary-O and I. Her experience touched me in a way I’ll not forget, and though our lives followed separate directions, she taught me we eventually reach similar paths to follow and treasure along the way.
The Case for Heaven: Near Death Experiences as Evidence of the Afterlife copyright 1995 by Mally Cox-Chapman, G.P. Putnam and sons.