About the Author

Nancy Evans Bush

It was a break between presentations at the 2006 IANDS conference, and I was chatting in one of many small groups crowding the hallway outside the auditorium of the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Suddenly a young Japanese man burst through the crowd, rushing toward my group. He grabbed my hand.

“You saved my life!”

I did not know him, but he was passionate, shaking, gripping my hand in both of his. “You saved my life! I must say thank you!”

And he bolted away, disappearing into the swirl of people. I have not seen him since. I still do not know his name, nor what it was that he believed had saved his life.

Was it an unusual incident? Decidedly unusual. But surprising? Not entirely.

The Incident of the Young Man came in the later years of my thirty-year crusade on behalf of the countless, unnamed people whose own near-death experiences had been ignored in favor of the wonderful stories of light and love. Almost no researcher it seemed, wanted anything to do with the frightening or empty NDEs. For all those years, I had been one of the rare exceptions.

When I fell into a “temporary” management job at a start-up nonprofit organization in 1982, I was coming from a background in secondary school teaching, health care research, and public administration. I had never heard the term “near-death experience.” But the start-up sounded interesting and was close to my home; the work itself seemed low-key, the office volunteers friendly.

It took only a few weeks as office manager of the fledgling International Association for Near-Death Studies, IANDS, for me to realize there was a name for a bizarre and terrifying experience I’d had twenty years earlier, an event I had never spoken of to anyone. Somebody else knew about mysteries like that! The problem was, my near-death experience had been one of cosmic abandonment and annihilation. Where to find information about  such things when all attention was on the wonderful, light-filled experiences, with only a rumor about another kind? There was no bibliography, no specialist to ask, no place to look for a shred of obvious information to help understand something like a disturbing, even horrifying NDE.

Eventually it dawned on me that as I was the person in the IANDS office, the one with best access to the phone calls and mail and the University of Connecticut library, perhaps I should begin piecing together whatever scraps of information might be assembled. That was the turnaround, and I’ve never looked back.

It was the beginning of encounters with hundreds of near-death experiencers and their stories—of anguished letters from the mothers of very young children who told troubling tales after a near-drowning; of people who awoke from surgery terrified to live and even more afraid to die; of the letter from a 93-year-old woman in Montana, reverently telling of the angel who appeared at her bedside in 1916, “acknowledging this to humans for the very first time.” There were hilarious stories and tragic ones, bewildered people and frightened ones. And every once in a while, there was a letter or phone call that said, “You aren’t telling the whole truth, with all this love and light. My experience wasn’t like this. My experience was hell. Why aren’t you telling people the truth?” And so I began keeping a file.

Within three months of my arrival at IANDS, I was named its executive director. Not long after, I began editing its quarterly newsletter. Informational overload! Bits of answers to questions began to emerge, like strings of information that could be braided together to create new understandings. One was the realization that small children could also have detailed NDEs; in 1983 I wrote the first study of children’s near-death experiences, whose accounts included not only those of the two four-year-olds who nearly drowned but one of a child not yet two, with convincing descriptive detail about the circumstances. Most of the children’s experiences were quite wonderful, but some were frightening, or had distressing elements.

For almost five years, until IANDS left its UConn offices, the phone calls and letters continued in a veritable avalanche. There were TV and radio talk shows calling, and experiencers desperate to talk. A minister’s wife in Iowa, barricaded in her bedroom. Why? Because in her NDE, she had learned how to bring world peace, and she considered this God’s mission for her life. She had been calling television stations to spread the word. Now her family was having her admitted to the state psychiatric hospital.

There was the young man from New Orleans who called, weeping with grief, who would not give his name but shared the light-and-love-filled deathbed vision of his partner, wasted with AIDS. “We didn’t know it could happen to us…but it was so beautiful!”

So many stories, so many lives! And along with them, the file of disturbing NDEs grew, as is described in a chapter of Dancing Past the Dark. What that chapter does not mention is the range of letters. It might be a single line on paper torn out of a spiral notebook: “I had one of those, but I cannot talk about it.” It might be badly typed on drawing paper. Most were very short, even abrupt; but a few, handwritten, covered pages and pages describing the circumstances of the person’s life and situation at the time in far greater detail than they described the distressing NDE. One man, a touring evangelist, sent his account in the form of a hell-threatening brochure he handed out at his revival meetings.

Over at the Near-Death Hotel, as IANDS President Kenneth Ring’s home came to be known, the author of the first statistically-grounded book about NDEs—and an irresistible host as well—was swamped with house guests. Near-death experiencers longing to talk about their encounters with heaven, their light-filled, blissful NDEs, made the pilgrimage to meet him and each other. They couldn’t talk enough, get together enough, share enough about their peaceful and wonderful experiences. On the distressing NDE scene, not only were there not enough experiencers to make a minyan, but although people with distressing NDEs were occasionally willing to correspond for a couple of letters, they were not, and still are not, much interested in developing relationships centered on their experiences. (Which, considering the relative size of my house and the fact that I, too, am such an experiencer, has been a blessing.)

For reasons detailed in the book, including that lack of interest in sharing, it took ten years to collect enough complete experience accounts; but by 1992 Bruce Greyson and I could put together the breakthrough first study of distressing NDEs, published in the journal Psychiatry. Since then, I have presented subsequent work in journal articles and at conferences. I wrote the chapter about these experiences for The Handbook of Near-Death Experiences: Thirty Years of Investigation(2009, Praeger) and have presented on them widely.

The conference recordings may be the likeliest source of whatever helped the young man in Houston, for from the outset I have insisted, based on research findings, that “There is no evidence that bad people have bad experiences and good people have good ones.” It is a life-giving message for the many people whose only explanation of a frightening visionary experience is that it foretells eternal torment. For many years, the IANDS office forwarded to me the “difficult” letters that needed an especially careful response for a troubled experiencer. Since early 2011, I have been writing the blog about distressing NDEs and related matters that now forms the heart of my website, http://dancingpastthedark.com. So many, many stories, so many lives touched!

My BA in English is from the University at Albany–SUNY, and a master’s degree in Pastoral Ministry from St. Joseph University in Connecticut, with additional graduate study at Trinity College and the University of Connecticut. My three children have grown families of their own, providing me with seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Now President Emerita of IANDS and retired, I live in coastal North Carolina. I do not play golf.

 

 

 

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  1. After companioning more than 1000 people in their last chapter of life, there are some experiences that happen as they are living that vary tremendously. Many people within the couple of weeks before death see and report things that the rest of us cannot see.

    Have you read George McDonald? He has a fairy tale about a man who is sick who sees people who are like black silhouettes, or two dimensional cutouts. This is not a positive thing in the story. I need to look for my book, if I still have it. When I read his story, I was reminded of several experiences told to me. These black men were reasons that I was called in several times – to make them go away.

    Both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien had read and admired George McDonald.

  2. Nancy, thank you for your blog!

    I’m the author of a book called Your Soul’s Plan: Discovering the Real Meaning of the Life You Planned Before You Were Born (www.yoursoulsplan.com) If the topic is of interest to you, I would be pleased to send a copy to you.

    Blessings,
    Rob

    • Rob, thank you for your offer of a copy of your book. Although I agree wholeheartedly with your thoughts about the foundational aspect of unconditional love, I have not been able to work my mind around pre-birth planning, although I know people who find the subject intensely interesting. Given my disappointing lack of engagement with your subject and the pile of books already waiting for my attention, I’m afraid the book would just sit unread. Again, thank you for your offer.
      Nancy

  3. Nancy, too bad the fear factor has caused less research into the nature of the darker experiences. This research, in camparison with research from the more positive NDEs, could prove quite valuable in providing better understanding/insight/knowledge to the NDE as a whole. But also, having read of these “dark” experiences, I have been concerned about them, and am therefore glad someone is using scientific method to address the issue. I eagerly await your book!
    Laurie

    • I’m sorry that NDEs are being divided into “positive” and “negative” as I don’t
      look at them that way. I do understand why they are distressing to some.
      It’s a hard thing to think that this is all just a dream, not real and most people
      aren’t ready to even contemplate such an idea, just my opinion, of course.

      But I am glad that they are being looked at, studied and discussed.

      Blessings to you, Nancy

  4. Nancy, Ken Vincent said I should try to contact you. I’m doing some research into NDE’s of the dark kind, the kind Christians like Bill Weiss and Mary Baxter present in churches and books, etc. I would like to speak with you by phone. Please contact me via the email address I have provided in your form Thank you

  5. Nancy, I only recently viewed your NDE on youtube, where you were told you never existed, nor did anyone else, etc. I have wondered about this in light of the claims of some scientists that we, indeed, all be “simulations” created by beings either in another dimension or in the future (think of the little kid in the Twilight Zone, tinkering with little humans in the doll house).

    I am curious if you have considered or examined the possibility that your “life” (very BEING) was interrupted or otherwise acted upon by a type of “programmer”. If one sets aside our humano-ethno-centricism, for lack of a better phrase, we could all agree a 14 year old playing with a computer program could create an Avatar, simply to be mean to it. Or, in the alternative, be mean to someone ELSE’s after hacking into it.

    • Scotty, fortunately or not, my NDE occurred twenty-some years before I encountered the cyberworld, so this thought had not come to me until now. Blue screen in the Matrix? It does have story potential, especially for the genre of sci fi that explores the nature of reality. Thanks!

  6. Hi Nancy,

    I have been thinking about: 1) NDEs where one interprets that one isn’t and that others aren’t and 2) Buddhist meditation and lifestyle of detachment and Nothingness that leads one to Nirvana. I have been thinking about the “hellish” Nothingness in NDEs in contrast to Nothingness as a spiritual goal via meditation. Are the two the same Nothingness? Or different? If the same, how would awareness of Nothingness meditation influence one’s interpretation of a Nothingness NDE? If different, in what ways are the two Nothingnesses different?

    I have been thinking about the bicameral, human brain with the left hemisphere being used in physical life/reality with the Ego-Self and the right hemisphere, the spiritual life/reality, with the Higher Self. The Ego-Self and the left hemisphere thinking separates reality into parts and sees the world as competitive, limited, never enough, and scary. The Higher-Self and right hemisphere thinking dissolves boundaries, connects, unifies, cooperates, and sees reality as a non-threatening One and Whole. The Distinct-Separate-Something of the left hemisphere contrasts with The Indistinct-Oneness-Nothing of the right hemisphere.

    I’m wondering if any NDE research has been done that looks at left and right brain functioning and dominance. I’m wondering if there are differences in NDE interpretations for those who meditate upon Nothingness, as a desirable goal. How would right brain functioning interpret that one isn’t, ones aren’t, and that One is Nothing? I am wondering if one who has little practice in right brain functioning is more likely to be uncomfortable with an NDE in darkness, silence, non-existence, and Nothingness. Would one who has difficulty moving from left to right brain functioning be more likely to describe an NDE as distressing?

    • As Bruce Greyson keeps pointing out, there has been little research about bi-cameral brain function and NDEs. However, as neither hemisphere is entirely self-contained (other parts of the brain share in their functions), it may not be possible to define a clear dualism to left/right brain activities.

      I don’t know if there’s any way to know whether the difference in descriptions of the Nothing are different interpretations or different Nothings. The supposition I have presented in the book is that people with a Western (Judeo-Christian) background, grounded as it is in relationships, have far more difficulty with the Nothing, the Void, than people with an Eastern (Hindu/Buddhist) background, for whom Nirvana is the conscious objective. In other words, I suspect the difference is in the interpretation rather than in the experience itself.
      Does this help?

  7. Nancy,

    Thanks so much for your comments in response to mine.

    For purposes of discussion and simplicity, I wrote as if the two hemispheres of the brain are independently functioning or self-contained. The two halves, of course, operate in concert with one another. I was just attempting to describe the major differences in the two hemispheres as related to perceptions of reality and the primary “turf” of each hemisphere. In addition, other areas of the brain are in operation which makes separating the two hemispheres into two separate entities overly simplistic and unrealistic.

    In their book, What They Saw…. at the Hour of Death, Kārlis Osis and Erlendur Haraldsson found that dying patients in India had more difficulty in interpreting that deathbed visions were positive than dying patients in the United States. (http://books.google.com/books?id=x_WAeWiQlcAC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Karlis+Osis+and+Erlendur+Haraldsson&source=bl&ots=Fd3ynGQl8R&sig=1nwBq_vMLGVjMnEdu9ExkryYaOM&hl=en&ei=u17oS4SeEZKqswOQ9N3VCA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CBYQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=Karlis%20Osis%20and%20Erlendur%20Haraldsson&f=false) I was surprised when I read that there were more negative interpretations and dying patients in India resisted going with the images or visions into death.

    After having written you and having thought more about my questions related to the bicameral brain, I thought that there are probably differences between consciousness within the human being and consciousness outside of the brain. Questions regarding human brain bicamerality might be irrelevant to consciousness that survives bodily, physical death.

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    • So glad to hear your report! I thought it felt like a really special conference, even better than usual. Loved meeting you!

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