Their Shared Near-Death Experience Formed an Unbreakable Bond

After a devastating car accident, a glimpse of the afterlife continued to remind this patient-doctor duo of their divine connection. 

Posted in , Jul 15, 2020

Jeff Olsen and Dr. Jeff O'Driscoll/ Photo credit: Robin Johnson

JEFF OLSEN: The accident happened while we were driving back to our home in Bountiful, Utah, from a visit to relatives in the southern part of the state. My wife, Tamara, was asleep beside me. Our seven-year-old son, Spencer, was in the back seat, playing with his toys. Our toddler, Griffin, slept in his car seat. The road stretched out ahead, and my eyes grew heavy. It felt as if I’d blinked for just a second.

That was all it took.

I lost control. The car rolled, windows exploding, gravel flying, as we spun over and over until I lost consciousness. I woke only for a second after we stopped. I felt horrible pain and heard Spencer crying in the backseat. Everything went black again. I was terrified. Where is my family? Are they safe?

Then, suddenly, I was calm. The pain was gone. I looked around. I was floating above our car accident. Before I could react, I felt a presence near me. It was Tamara. We were encircled in a bubble of light that was emanating complete peace. I knew then she was gone, but it was as if my grief were suspended. All I could feel was serenity. I wondered if we were on our way to heaven.

Tamara looked at me, her face serious. “Jeff, you cannot be here,” she said. “You have to go back.” How could I? She was here. Then I remembered Spencer’s cries. He was still alive. He needed me. I knew I had to make a choice. I pulled Tamara close to me. “Goodbye,” I said. I let go. Then I felt myself drifting away from Tamara and the comforting light…

DR. JEFF O’DRISCOLL: I’d just finished my rounds in the emergency room when I heard about a patient being brought in. Car accident. The older son had minor injuries. The father had serious injuries and needed surgery. The mother and toddler hadn’t made it. That’s when Rachel, an ER nurse, grabbed my arm.

“Come see this,” she said. “His wife is…here.”

I knew exactly what she meant. Rachel and I had discovered that we had something in common. After we’d known each other for a couple months, Rachel confided that sometimes she saw or heard things she couldn’t explain. Things that didn’t make any logical sense, that showed a divine hand at work—and I revealed that I did too.

I was used to keeping these experiences to myself, out of concern that my colleagues might question my credibility. But Rachel was a confidante with whom I could discuss some of the miracles we witnessed.

For me, these encounters began long before I became a medical professional. The first time it happened, I was 16. I was a rebellious kid. I was out with a few friends one night, driving too fast down narrow country roads. As we approached a sharp turn, I heard a clear voice in my head. “You need to slow down.” I braked just as another car came around the bend. We collided, but because I’d slowed down, no one was injured. Afterward I knew whose voice I’d heard. The one person I would listen to—my older brother. Stan had died five years before in a farming accident, but I’d recognize his voice anywhere.

Since then, I've had more of these experiences. They’d helped me as an ER doctor a few times. Like the time a man came in from a motorcycle accident with minor injuries. We were about to release him, but something told me he needed a CT scan. There was no medical explanation for it, but the feeling was so strong that I finally ordered one. The scan showed bleeding in his brain. My mysterious hunch—or something more—likely saved his life.

I’d gotten used to these moments and when I needed to listen to them. The man in the car accident wasn’t my patient. Other doctors were already working on him. But I knew when Rachel came to get me that I should go.

OLSEN: Suddenly, I was in a hospital. I was not yet back in my body—I was still weightless, without pain. I moved freely through the halls, observing the people around me. Somehow, I was able to see their whole lives as I looked at them. Their stories, their fears, their experiences. I felt no judgment toward any of them. I was filled with the most incredible love and oneness with each of them.

I finally reached a room and a body to which I felt no connection. The patient was in terrible shape, and doctors were rushing around him. His legs were crushed, his ab-domen a mess, his right arm had nearly been torn off. Wait, I thought. Is that me? I recognized my own face now. I was horrified. I couldn’t go back to that! Then I remembered what Tamara had said. I thought of Spencer. I couldn’t leave him alone.

I let go and chose to move toward the gurney. The heaviness was the first thing I noticed, then came the horrific pain. But the worst part was the guilt. It hit me like a tidal wave. Tamara and Griffin were gone. Even as I sensed the doctors over me, working furiously to save my life, the only thing I could think was: This was my fault.

O’DRISCOLL: Rachel and I stood in the doorway. The room was loud. A team of doctors worked to stabilize the patient. As I watched, the sounds around me faded out. I couldn’t even hear Rachel speaking next to me. I sensed a divine presence in the room. And then I noticed a light. In it was the form of a woman, floating above the patient’s bed. She had flowing, curly blonde hair and was dressed in various shades of white. Her form was almost transparent, and the look on her face was serene. She looked vibrant, otherworldly—I knew innately that this was the man’s wife. The divine presence in the room was allowing me to view her eternal soul.

She smiled at me, as if she’d known me forever. I sensed her immense gratitude toward the doctors who were working to save her husband. She looked directly at me and back at her husband, then back at me. Her eyes were intent.

Then everything slowly returned to normal. I could hear the doctors speaking, and I could hear Rachel again. “Did you see her too?” she asked. I looked again. The patient’s wife was gone. The trauma surgeon took the man to surgery.

When it was all over, I told Rachel what I’d seen but, other than that, kept quiet. I hoped the man would recover and be reunited with his son. I didn’t realize then that it wouldn’t be the end of our story.

OLSEN: After a few months and 18 surgeries, I finally moved to the rehab wing. One night, just days before my release, I fell into a deep sleep and had a dream that was more powerful than any I’d ever had. I was standing in a big field. The serenity I’d felt in the bubble of light on the day of the accident returned. My body was healed, and I could walk freely. I felt light and started running. I noticed a corridor appear on my left. I entered and followed it to the end. I found Griffin there, asleep in his crib. He looked perfect. Tears filled my eyes as I picked him up and held him close. I could feel his breath on my neck as I rocked him. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forgive myself, I thought.

Then I felt a divine presence behind me. It exuded pure love. It felt like the love I’d experienced for the people in the hospital the day of the accident, free of judgment. I now understood that I’d been shown a glimpse of the kind of complete love that God had for me. I felt two arms wrap around Griffin and me, enveloping us. A reassuring voice said, “There’s nothing to forgive.”

O’DRISCOLL: Rachel eventually encouraged me to share what I’d seen with this patient. I was reluctant—I’d never told patients what I’d seen before—but ultimately agreed.

As we entered his room, I saw his leg had been amputated, and I knew he was still fighting a serious infection. On top of that, he seemed emotionally exhausted.

I let Rachel do most of the talking. She told him everything. My experiencing a divine presence, then seeing his wife floating above him in the room, her appearance, her feeling of gratitude toward the doctors. Tears streamed down his cheeks.

“That sounds just like Tamara,” he said. “Thank you for telling me this. I had my own experience on the day of the accident.”

I listened as he described having an incredible out-of-body experience. As he spoke, I started to get an intense feeling that we’d been brought together and that we were meant to stay in touch. I wrote down my name and cell phone number to give to this man.

“If you ever need to talk to someone, please reach out,” I said. “I’m Jeff O’Driscoll.”

“Jeff Olsen,” he replied, shaking my hand.

OLSEN: After I was released from the hospital, I stayed at my brother’s house to continue my recovery. I didn’t forget the remarkable experience I’d had while in the rehab wing, but I felt that no matter what that divine voice had said, I’d done something that was unforgivable. The way I saw it, I had destroyed the lives of everyone in my family. Didn’t I deserve to carry this burden?

One afternoon, I got a call. It was Dr. Jeff O’Driscoll, the man who had visited me while I was in the rehab wing. I hadn’t heard from him in some time, and I hadn’t reached out to him; I’d been too overwhelmed. He told me he wanted to stop by and see how I was doing. Touched, I accepted.

As soon as Jeff walked in the door, I felt at ease. I knew I could trust him because we’d both been part of the same strange divine experience. We began talking. I shared the dream I’d had with him, and he listened quietly. I’d been keeping everything I’d encountered to myself, and it was such a relief to have someone to talk to.

When I got to the part where I mentioned the voice telling me there was nothing to forgive, Jeff stopped me.

“Jeff,” he said. “That voice? You need to find a way to listen to it.”

O’DRISCOLL: Since that day, Jeff Olsen and I have become friends. There were certain times during his recovery that I felt a nudge to reach out to him and did. It wasn’t until years later that he told me how important these moments were.

OLSEN: Months after the accident, I was faced with the daunting task of unpacking our suitcases from the accident. They had been sitting untouched after being removed from our car.

I didn’t think I could bear seeing Tamara’s things, unfolding all of Griffin's clothes. I couldn’t talk to my family about stuff like this. They already treated me as if I were fragile. Plus, it felt unfair to unload my troubles on people who’d also lost Tamara and Griffin. Just then, the phone rang. It was Jeff. “Hey,” he said. “I just wanted to check and make sure you were doing okay.” I told him what I was doing, and Jeff stayed on the phone with me, talking me through the barrage of emotions that was hitting me.

Eventually, I went back to work. I was still struggling to reconcile with myself. Some days were worse than others. Driving home from the office one evening, I felt myself slipping deeper into depression. I hate to admit this, but I thought of ending it all. Going back to that painless place I’d visited, being with Tamara and Griffin. But when I pulled up to the house, I saw a book sitting on the porch. It was from Dr. Jeff . He’d written a note saying he thought I’d like it and wanted me to read it. That book felt like a lifeline. It gave me another reason to stick around.

Jeff continued to reach out. He always seemed to show up right when I was at my lowest points, a reminder that I was not alone. Each time, it seemed to confirm that we shared a divine connection.

In the years since, Jeff has helped me make sense of what I couldn’t explain. Talking through my experience with him helped me recover and grieve—eventually I did forgive myself. As time passed, it became clearer and clearer that we’d been brought together for a reason.

O’DRISCOLL: Jeff and I have stayed close. We meet up often to talk about our lives and discuss what we’ve experienced. My friendship with Jeff helped me realize that I should share my stories, because they can help show others the hidden hand at work in our lives.

Twenty years after the accident, Jeff was preparing to move out of town. One evening, I was in my house getting ready for bed when I felt God’s presence, followed by a voice. I recognized it as Tamara’s voice, though I’d never heard her speak. “Don’t lose touch with him, Jeff ,” she said. “Don’t let anything interfere with your friendship.” Another message from heaven, reminding Jeff and me of the profound connection we share.

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