Angels and demons: But what really happens when we die?

What happens when we draw our last breath remains a mystery. It might be angels doing their thing or it could be the brain playing tricks as it prepares to shut down, so says Trevor Laffan
Angels and demons: But what really happens when we die?

MOMENT OF TRUTH: Some people who have died and come back to life have reported being greeted by long lost relatives

I HAVE been reading up on the subject of near-death experiences. Looking at the things people reported seeing at the point of death.

I’m talking about the experiences recorded by those who have survived, obviously, because talking to dead people is still a step too far for most of us.

Having said that, there are some who claim to have that ability and they make a decent living from it too.

Anyway, back to near-death experiences.

People have given various accounts of things that happened to them during their close encounters with the Grim Reaper. 

Some talk about having outer body sensations and floating above their body, where they could watch what was going on in the room beneath them. Others talk about seeing a tunnel with a bright light at the end of it and wanting to follow it, or being greeted by long lost relatives, who encouraged them to cross over and join them on the other side.

Most said they were unafraid and felt comfortable in their new surroundings, which is reassuring for the rest of us.

While I have no desire to check it out for myself just yet, it would be nice to think that there could be a happy ending to my demise. I won’t bank on that just yet though because there are other explanations for these sensations too.

One theory about the near-death phenomenon suggests that these images might actually be memories from our birth being revisited.

A baby being born leaves the womb to travels down a tunnel towards a light, and what waits for it in the light is usually a great deal of love and warmth.

According to the theory, what happens at near-death is only a stored memory of what happened when life began.

That sounds a bit far-fetched to me. I have no recollection of my birth and I can’t imagine any aspect of that experience popping into my mind under any circumstances.

I struggle to remember what I did yesterday, so trying to recall events from over 60 years ago would be a complete non-starter.

I have witnessed a few births in my time too and nothing I saw ever gave me an indication that the journey from the womb to the delivery room was a fun time for anyone.

I don’t suppose being propelled down a narrow tube is a pleasurable experience for a baby, and unless I’m mistaken, it doesn’t seem to be a bundle of laughs for the mother either.

Another explanation for near death experiences requires a leap of faith. Many people have said they experienced visions of angels appearing to help them make the transition to heaven.

Doctors, nurses, and loved ones, have also claimed to have witnessing signs of deathbed visions, such as seeing dying people talking to and interacting with invisible presences in the air, heavenly lights, or even visible angels.

Some explain the angel deathbed phenomenon away as just hallucinations from medication, but others are adamant the visions still occur when patients are not medicated.

Those of a religious mindset say it’s common for angels to visit people who are preparing to die, to ease their fear of death and to help them find peace.

Christian leader Billy Graham believed that God always sends angels to welcome people to heaven when they die.

Others have a more practical view on what happens during a near death experience, and they are inclined to believe it is simply a hallucination induced by the slow death of neurons in our brain.

That makes perfect sense to me, but the reality is, nobody knows for sure.

According to the website Theconversation.com, neuroscientists Olaf Blanke and Sebastian Dieguez have two possible explanations for near-death experiences.

One is associated with the brain’s left hemisphere, which features an altered sense of time and impressions of flying.

The second, involving the right hemisphere, is characterised by seeing or communicating with spirits, and hearing voices, sounds and music, and the different interactions between brain regions producing these distinct experiences.

Some researchers claim that endorphins released during stress can reduce pain and increase pleasant sensations, and anaesthetics such as ketamine can simulate near-death experience characteristics, such as out-of-body experiences.

A lack of oxygen to the brain might cause tunnel vision and could also trigger hallucinations.

So, while there are many suggestions for possible causes, the most widespread explanation for near-death experiences is that they are hallucinations caused by activity in the brain as cells begin to die. As these occur during times of crisis, it would explain the stories that survivors recount.

What happens when we draw our last breath remains a mystery. It might be angels doing their thing or it could be the brain playing tricks as it prepares to shut down.

Those who believe in a life after death probably get comfort from the angel’s theory but not all survivors paint a pretty picture of the after-life.

Some say they got a glimpse of Hell, and it wasn’t very welcoming. They gave descriptions which included being drawn through walls and doorways against their will and, despite their best efforts, they couldn’t fight it. There was an overwhelming force pulling them away, and no matter how badly they wanted to stay alive, the choice was no longer theirs.

They were being dragged to hell, whether they liked it or not.

Others described feeling their skin burning from the extreme heat as doors swung open inviting them inside, and having to walk a path littered with the remains of dead people.

Some told of feeling an intense anger taking hold of them unlike they had ever felt before. Rage consumed them.

Not exactly what I had in mind.

I was thinking more in terms of sandy beaches, sun loungers, and an endless supply of a gin and tonic.

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