What happens when we die?


Photo: Darla دارلا Hueske, Flickr

When Patricia Pearson's father died in 2008, her sister had a very profound experience. In the middle of the night, she felt a presence cupping her head and comforting her. When she woke up the next morning, she learned her father had died, suddenly and unexpectedly in his sleep. Pearson, an award-winning journalist who isn't religious but was intrigued by the spiritual side of life, believed her sister. When she shared the story with others, they didn't. This experience compelled Pearson to explore the spiritual side of what happens when we die. Share shares her research in a new book, Opening Heaven's Door: What the Dying May be Trying to Tell Us About Where They're Going. Recently, she stopped by CBC Radio's Tapestry to talk about it. You can listen to their conversation in the audio player below:

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Pearson was troubled by the disbelief and skepticism from by her colleagues and acquaintances when it came to her sister's experience. Pearson believes that we are unfairly dismissive of the spiritual in a way that we aren't about other subjective human experiences like love or anger. We also, outside "doctrinal traditions like a church or a synagogue," tend to resort to scientific language when it comes to spiritual experiences, dismissing them as a moment that involved a lack of oxygen or a hallucination or an overactive imagination.

"We have an ease of presumptuous around the spiritual that, I find, almost borders on bigotry." she said to Tapestry host Mary Hynes. "We can't fully afford them the profundity the people who have them experience."

Pearson did years of research, talking to people who've had these experiences, from experts on death and dying, to hospice workers and more. And her findings are startling: research shows that, in Europe and North America, 20 per cent of people who have had a near death experience, and almost half of those who lose loved ones experience something spiritual or unexplainable.

Pearson still doesn't have the answer to how, exactly, these spiritual events occur and what they mean, but she's certain about one thing: regardless why these events happen, we should talk about them, respect them, and accept them -- even if you don't believe.

"Across the board, with a near death experience, people come away with the understanding that we're all one, that we're completely in unity, that all religions are from the same god, that the only thing that matters is love and compassion."

Who can argue with a lesson like that?