Five years ago today, I had arrived home from work just after midnight, eaten dinner and was getting ready to play some solitaire in the wee hours of the morning, and I got the absolute worst headache I'd ever experienced, in the back of my head. It felt as though I'd been hit with a red hot baseball bat. It hurt so bad I couldn't even think. It was utter and complete in and I couldn't do anything to relieve it.
After a few minutes, it started to ease slightly. I went to my living room, laid on the couch and called my wife. But before she could get down the stairs, I was on my way up to be sick in the bathroom.
The next thing I knew, I was on my back and she was on the phone with 911. I felt somewhat better, the pain lessened considerably, but the EMTs thought it would be a good idea to get checked out at the hospital, anyway.
I remember the ambulance ride (my first), I remember talking briefly with the doctor (who was very young and very pretty), and then I woke up three weeks later in the Cleveland Clinic. I asked where I was and the nurse told me I was in the Clinic and that I had had an aneurysm.
When I say I woke up three weeks later I do have some memories that still feel like fever dreams, torture almost medieval in its atrocity. But those were easily connected logically to things that were going on around me and in my body. But there was one that has stuck with me, vivid and real, a brief time of joy and happiness in a seeming eternity of agony. I mentioned it two years ago in the comment thread, but it has come to change my life in ways that I would never have believed possible.
I spent time with my dad in the land of the dead.
I know it sounds crazy. It sounds crazy to me. I have tried to rationalize it as another of my fever dreams. I have tried to pass it off as some good drugs they may have given me. Maybe a blot of mustard. Anything that would take from me the burden that has been placed upon me.
But I can't.
At some point during my stay, I found myself in a place of peace and light. It was very green and white and warm and comfortable. I was in what appeared to be a park and my dad, who had died three months earlier, rode up on a bike. He had been six feet tall, but only one hundred pounds when he died. When I saw him, he was still very thin, but was starting to rebuild his muscles, and had an aura of health and rejuvenation, rather than the sheen of death he had about him the last few times I saw him alive.
We soon joined my uncle who had died 16 moths prior, and though he didn't say anything, he smiled constantly and radiated an air of joy the entire time.
I don't remember the exact words that were said, sadly, but I do have the content and intent etched into my soul. I knew I was not in Heaven, but neither was I in Hell. Growing up Catholic, I had heard of Purgatory, but had a hard time believing it. But the concept is actually true, though not as I had heard in my youth. What the Catholics call Purgatory, is in reality Paradise: What "punishment" there is, is tempered with God's Love and with the knowledge that far greater things await on the completion of the tasks given.
I found that our time here on Earth, in the context of eternity, is less than the blink of an eye, and that, important though it is, there is an interplay between the physical world and the spirit world that takes place constantly. We feel so in the vast universe, but so much surrounds us that is unseen.
I was told that it was not yet my time to return to the spirit world, but that I had many important tasks on this side of the veil to be completed. I knew that I needed to be baptized into Christ's church in order to complete my work. And then I returned to the physical world.
It's no comment on the professionalism or quality of care at the Clinic to say that this was the only positive memory I have of my stay there. I don't remember, mercifully, most of what happened, but this experience was one I could not forget.
Recently, I was talking with my mom, and she told me that my type of aneurysm is usually fatal. When it occurs in the brain stem, which is where mine was, there's about a one in twenty chance of even making it to the hospital alive. The odds aren't quite that good of making it through surgery, which left me with about a 98% chance of not waking up again. And the chances that I would make the sort of recovery that I did are basically lottery odds.
Fast forward a few years, and I had been to numerous churches. Most of the people there thought I was crazy. None of them believed that what I had seen was real. I was discouraged and disappointed. I knew what I had seen was real and true, but no one else was willing to consider the possibility.
Then I was introduced to a scriptural basis for my experience:
11 Now, concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection—Behold, it has been made known unto me by an angel, that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life.
When I read those passages, it was though a bolt of lightning had hit me out of a clear blue sky. I'd been thunderstruck. Yeah, thunderstruck.
It was not long thereafter that I walked through the doors of the church I was to join. I'm not an outgoing person. I am introverted and shy. But I was treated as though I were the prodigal son, returning to his family after having been lost for a long. They didn't actually kill the fatted calf, not that week anyway, but I was there for over four hours, talking and rejoicing: I was HOME.
They didn't think I was crazy.
I had finally found a church that believed what I knew to be true. Unfortunately, it didn't fit my lifestyle. But with hard work and sacrifice, I have changed my lifestyle to be much more in harmony with what I knew to be true. I'm not perfect, but I'm trying.
It's not been without sacrifice: I've lost friends and family over my decision, and what's left of my marriage is on the brink, and has been for almost two years. There has been a lot of pain and suffering. But I think of Biblical figures: Job, Noah, Moses, even (especially) Jesus Christ, himself. All of them were far better people than I, and what they went through was far, far worse than anything I'm likely to be asked to endure.
I went through a year and more of what I like to call near-fatal depression. I was told that the Adversary would make things difficult for me, and that was an understatement. But a few weeks ago, I was officially made what you might call a "full member" of the church, and so much lifted from my heart; It was as though a sheet of blackness had risen from my soul and departed.
I think my funny might finally be healing.
And I've told I have a lot of work to do and a short time to do it. I don't know whether that's short as in "a few years," or whether there is a more geological time frame in mind (I suspect the former), but one of the things I need to do is to let people know where I've been, and that there is an afterlife, and that Paradise is real. You can do with that knowledge what you will, but I know where I stand, and with Whom I am standing. I would suggest at least keeping an open mind and a willing heart, and if you are willing, prayer. I felt really stupid the first time I prayed and asked God to enter my life, and for some time thereafter.
But it worked.
Through the blessing of my aneurysm, I've found that though my life is not perfect, that was neither the promise nor the intention of this life. The next will be far, far better.