She never thought about life after life—until she glimpsed it herself.
Posted in , Jan 25, 2022
When my husband drove me home from the hospital, I asked for a moment to myself. He went out to the garage, and I walked into the living room. I stood there in a daze, fear and desperation welling up inside me. I can’t believe this is happening, I thought.
I’d gone to the hospital three days before for what had seemed to be a kidney infection. I thought I’d just be prescribed some antibiotics and sent home. Then the doctor came in with my test results, her face somber. She reached out and touched my arm.
“I am so sorry, Susan,” she said. “You have Stage IV non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.”
As my doctor talked me through my diagnosis, my mind raced. It was the most advanced stage with the lowest survival rate. I was only 55 years old. I had lived a healthy, active life. I was happily married, I had a 20-year-old daughter, my own business…. It was hard for me to process that I was so sick.
I stayed the next few days at the hospital for a series of tests and procedures—PET scans, a bone marrow biopsy and blood transfusions. Doctors hoped chemotherapy would be enough to put the cancer into remission, but the chances were low. My prognosis wasn’t good when I was released.
I’d never thought about dying, or whether there was an afterlife. It had seemed too far away to worry about. Plus, I wasn’t a spiritual person. But now, standing in my living room, I was terrified. Was death the end? Was this life all we were given?
I walked over to the French doors that led to our backyard and opened them to get some fresh air. As I stepped outside, my senses heightened, as if I was seeing this familiar scene with new eyes. The green trees on the hills behind our home were saturated with color. They seemed to vibrate with vitality. Mesmerized, I watched the leaves dance in the breeze, refracting light like hundreds of tiny gems. A flock of swallows glided on a thermal against the backdrop of a brilliant blue sky and shining clouds. I took a deep breath and smelled the ocean not far away, the rich soil from our backyard and the rosemary that grew along-side the house. I savored the scents as the sunshine warmed my skin.
Then something shifted. Any separation between myself and the rest of the world vanished. I was part of it all. I was the trees, the sky, the hills, and they were me. It felt like my body and was gone yet my consciousness remained. I was connected to something bigger than myself, something that ran through all of creation. A beauty and peace that was of this world, and yet not. For the first time since my diagnosis, I felt calm. This is what it’s like to die, I thought. I wasn’t scared. I had been shown something incredible. Proof that there was something more. A glimpse of what it felt like to transition from earthly life to the afterlife.
Unsure of how to put what I’d experienced into words, I kept it to myself until a couple of weeks later, when my daughter came to visit. My hair was falling out from the chemo, and she offered to give me a cut. We sat on the back porch as she worked, clumps of my hair falling around me. I looked out at the trees, the sky, the hills, thinking about my vision. I couldn’t keep it to myself if it might bring some comfort to my daughter.
“I had the strangest experience out here,” I said to her. I described the whole thing. She listened quietly. When I was done, she looked at me with wonder in her eyes and squeezed my hand.
“Wow, Mom,” she said. “That is beautiful. Hold on to that.”
I did. During the toughest parts of my chemo treatments, when I was exhausted and nauseous, I’d think back to that vision and tap into the serenity it had brought me. It gave me the strength to go on.
Then, three months into treatment, there was a setback. I was taking injections in my right arm to boost my white blood cell count. I developed an infection at the injection site, which led to blood poisoning. I was admitted to the hospital with sepsis.
I lay in bed at home the night I was released, desperately ill and dejected. It was the worst pain I’d felt up until that point. Sleep was impossible. I usually would’ve taken a deep breath and reflected on my vision, but in that moment, I couldn’t keep my mind on anything but the pain.
As I turned over, my right arm stuck out of the bed for a moment, and I felt something warm and soft. Something supporting my arm. A pink mist hovered at my bedside. I could see its soft dusty rose color in the darkness. It slowly rolled closer. The mist touched my hand and moved up my arm. My entire body relaxed. All the pain I felt, physically and spiritually, was gone. I was weightless, overcome with a sense of tranquility. I recognized this as a different kind of vision, one of reassurance. I lay back down on my pillow, the comforting mist nearby, and drifted off to sleep.
I soon recovered from my blood poisoning and finished my course of treatment. After seven months of chemo, my cancer went into remission. I never experienced anything like my two visions again.
Today, 16 years later, I live with the knowledge that my cancer could return, but I don’t dwell on it. I have the peace I need to keep living this life to the fullest, because a glimpse of what awaits let me know that we are given so much more.
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