I died when my motor bike crashed into the wall and I was thrown under the wheels of the bus.
One second I was riding along, the next, a screech of brakes and then…
I was in a big open space. All around me there were people standing around, looking as bemused as I felt. I remember a young black guy in an army uniform, he was talking in a language I couldn’t understand. There was an old man with wispy white hair in an open necked shirt and old trousers, and in one hand he had pruning shears, as if he’d been gardening. There was a young woman, looking surprised, dressed in her night-dress. A little child, a girl, was wandering around everywhere, her eyes wide with amazement.
But what I remember most is how it felt. You know when you see something like, I don’t know, a sunset over the sea, or a view from a mountain across hills and fields on a sunny day? Or when a piece of music moves you to tears? That rush of sheer unadulterated joy that lasts maybe a split second and then disappears? Well, that’s what it felt like.
Except that this feeling of joy went on and on.
And somehow it felt as if we were all united in some way. When I caught someone’s eye they were smiling, really smiling, you know? I felt that I loved them all, and they loved me. I’ve only known that feeling of utter companionship with more than one person once in my life: I was eighteen and I had about six really close friends at university, and we were all out one night, and I felt, yeah, this is me, I was really at one with those people. But when I was with my friends that time, that feeling lasted only momentarily, and was gone, never to return.
There was nothing at all sexual about it, for it was like the love you might feel for your mum or dad or a pet you adore, or the love they tell me that parents feel for their children.
And I can truly tell you that I’ve never felt so happy as I did in those few moments. The black guy and the old gentleman walked towards me, and without words we all knew we were all embarking on something really special together, something wonderful and exiting. I noticed that the young woman was bending down talking to the little girl, and they were both smiling and happy too as they came towards us.
Suddenly above me was an ugly face close up against mine: I remember the smudge on the man’s spectacles, the hairs in his nose, the unshaven whisker on his chin. And the agonising pain in my chest as I felt someone bashing me hard.
“He’s back!” I heard the man’s loud voice yell.
Then all the other things: the hairy wrist with a gold watch, the slender little brown hand with a sparking ring on a finger and pink-painted nails. Noises of echoes, the ping ping of some machine, the hot smells of antiseptic and hot rubber.
Afraid? I was terrified.
How I longed to go back to be with my new friends. My eyes were streaming with tears at the thought that I’d never ever see them again. And I did so want to see them. I longed to see them more than anything.
After I recovered I wondered if it had all been a dream. For they told me that during those moments I had been technically ‘dead’ with no heartbeat. But if it had been some quirk to do with the brain shutting down, how come I’d dreamt about people I’d never in my life seen before, and seen them in such incredible panoramic detail?
Who were they?
I even thought of trying to somehow get a list of people who’d died at that moment, in case I could somehow recognise a newly deceased person amongst my lost friends. But how do you get a list like that? If they were people who’d just died, they could have been living anywhere in the world, and without even names I had no way of tracing them. I had this idea that if I could contract one of their relatives, I could reassure them so much: tell them how happy their loved one had been, that they might grieve for themselves but they had no need to grieve for the dead person at all. I wanted to give them that wonderful unbelievable news.
But even if it had been possible, no one would have believed me. They’d have thought I was raving mad.
(picture courtesy of Gerd Altmann)