Remembrance – Near Death Experience and Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s idea of the white light

During the time of the COVID-19 virus isolations and restrictions, I listened again to a recording of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross talking about the experience of death. I had heard her quite a few times in the 1970’s and 1980’s when she was very involved in the first Holistic Health Program that she had located in California, USA.  At that time she was very much into trying to have people understand what she called “Shanti Nilaya.” Shanti Nilaya (meaning in Sanskrit, ‘Place to Die in Peace’) was Kübler-Ross’s belief in communicating with the dead. At that time, she had lots of methods and ideas, many of which contravened modern scientific medicine and psychology.

This was just about in the mid phase of the first COVID-19 restrictions, when people were starting to think more about what they were eating, coming in contact with, and how many people they were seeing. In fact, I started to see fewer people in person, and more increasingly by digital communications. I tried to take notice of all the limitations that COVID-19 put on us as human beings. Then a patient told me a story.

She was remembering of the birth of her son, born about 50 years earlier. He had been delivered, somewhat traumatically, by forceps, by a very well-respected doctor.  She remembered suddenly hearing a kafuffle in the delivery room, a distant sense of there being an emergency. She heard words like “she needs blood” and “she is bleeding out”. She had retained part of the placenta because the baby was extracted quickly by forceps. She remembered the nurses saying something like “…you will be ok… with six new litres of blood in your body you will be very fit and fine”. She felt that she was moving towards a clear white light.

In hearing my patient’s story, I remembered Elisabeth Kübler-Ross talking about the moment of death.  What she said was that what would appear to the person who was dying was a white light, that confronts a person and yet is peaceful and calm, and a in fact a very attractive sensation. Kübler-Ross said that you can choose to go forward in time or to go back again; towards the light or away from it.  Now, when my patient told her story I connected it to Kübler-Ross’s ideas. My patient was facing death, and as Elisabeth Kübler-Ross said she became aware of this peaceful white clear light, which seemed to attract her such that she was willing to leave this life in a way. Then she remembered suddenly and very consciously realising that she had a new baby waiting for her and another child at home also waiting for her. She consciously found herself choosing to leave that beautiful white light and come back to life.

Two weeks later up at the clothesline hanging out the nappies, she was thinking about the light at the end of that tunnel.  It seems comfortable, warm, inviting, and reassuring. She had come to feel that death is now knowable and she no longer feared it, as one might fear the unknown.