I recently watched a lecture by Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J. wherein he mentioned evidence of the spiritual realm in near-death experience (NDE) studies through the years. This got me curious because NDE used to fascinate me during my college years. I decided to gather studies on NDE since the mid-20th century.
One set of data attracted my attention in the study of Geena Athappilly (MD), Bruce Greyson (MD) and Ian Stevenson (MD), all practicing psychiatrists. Among patients who experienced NDE before 1975, 64.3 percent decided to come back to life. However, after 1975, only 36.4 percent did so. The remaining 63.6 percent so enjoyed their afterlife experience they had to be sent back to life by a mystical being they encountered there, as reported in their NDE.
This kept me thinking: What had changed since 1975?
I investigated the demographics of the sample. It was predominantly female, overwhelmingly Caucasian of European background, and Christian. I did some research: Since 1976, extreme heat had battered Europe, causing deaths from forest fires in Portugal and Spain. Emergency heatwave plans also had been triggered in France, the Netherlands, Switzerland and England. A swine flu (H1N1) outbreak occurred in the United States, which led to fears of a potentially devastating pandemic.
Could these events (and, of course, some more) explain the increased preference of people who experienced clinical deaths to stay in the consolation of heaven and not return to their lives as they knew it?
These questions are fruitful to reflect on today in a period when the Philippines is ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic. More Filipinos die in the silence of the quarantine facilities where they stayed. Oftentimes, they die alone without a relative or a priest present for the final rites and last confession.
While many of us fear death from the infection, have we ever reflected on those who had died? Had they not preferred instead the joy of their heavenly home over their lives in this virus-invaded land? If fear of dying predominates our mind, then this world, despite its troubles and worries, may still be a comforting place to live in. Those who ignored personal safety protocols, are they ready to die the way they assume they are?
Perhaps, however fearful about dying Filipinos may be, it is time to reflect on it so that our lives will change for the better thereafter.