Depending on your beliefs, the experience of death hovers over our lives like an unknowable but inevitable void. Aside from the well-cited ‘bright-light at the end of the tunnel’ cliché, we have no idea what it’s going to look or feel like, but we know for sure that we’re all eventually going to find out.
One person who has a better idea than most is Sam Parnia, the director of resuscitation research at Stony Brook University School of Medicine in the US, who has conducted the largest study to date on resuscitated patients in an attempt to try to unravel the mental and cognitive experience of dying. As part of his research, he’s interviewed more than 100 people who’ve been brought back to life after suffering from a fatal cardiac arrest, and found that nearly half of them have some memory, ranging from terrifying to blissful, of their death. Publishing in the journal Resuscitation, Parnia has grouped those memories into seven broad categories, proving that dying is a far more diverse experience than we’ve previously imagined. These categories are:
- Seeing animals or plants
- Bright light
- Violence and persecution
- Seeing family
- Recalling events post-cardiac arrest
That last one is pretty fascinating, with two of the patients interviewed able to recall the events that happened after they had technically died and, according to our understanding of the human brain, should have ceased to be aware. “We know the brain can’t function when the heart has stopped beating, but in this case conscious awareness appears to have continued for up to three minutes into the period when the heart wasn’t beating, even though the brain typically shuts down within 20 to 30 seconds after the heart has stopped,” Parnia told The National Post last year. However, these recall experiences only occurred in 2 percent of patients, and the majority of people remembered seeing and feeling things that weren’t real at the time of their death. Source: There are seven types of near-death experiences, according to research