Part II: Near-Death Experience Changes Therapist's Life and Work
On Friday, we featured the first part of our conversation with psychotherapist and Is God Pink? author Mary Jo Rapini, MeD, LPC, who told us about her near-death experience after suffering a cerebral aneurysm. Today, Mary Jo’s story continues with her return to this world. “Suddenly I was back in this place. My husband Ron was shaking me and crying—he was really the one who suffered during my illness. He told me I might not be able to run or walk and asked me if I understood what this meant. He then told me that he wanted me to be strong. He said, ‘You are so strong, Mary, please don’t die.’”
“I told him, ‘I’m not going to die, Ron. I just talked to God and he won’t take me.’”
“I was very depressed when I woke up after the surgery; I felt so sad. Even though life is a blessing, it is lonely, in the sense that other people cannot understand what this experience was like and how much it has changed me. There is so much suffering in the world. What I learned from my experience was that we aren’t able to understand the suffering. Haiti for example—it’s a terrible thing. People ask: How can a loving God do that? But we can’t understand how a loving God could do that, because God is the mastermind—not us. He has reasons for what happens that we just can’t understand. We are limited by our bodies, and our perceptions are limited by our physical form.”
I asked Mary Jo what changes she has noticed in herself. “Before, I was a skeptic, a science person. But I had an experience that was true, and science cannot explain it. I’ve been given an understanding that God is my source, the source of everything. Now I have to live with this understanding. It has changed me. If I do something wrong, now I evaluate myself and feel worse because now I know there is a God and He’s trying to use me as an instrument to help others. When I do something that isn’t going to help others, I feel like I am going against God. Unlike my previous life when I use to say, ‘I think there is a God but I am not sure’…now I am sure.”
“Where I used to be very pro-choice I no longer feel that way. I believe in the concept of a soul much more and I have no doubt that God is the origin of my soul and every human soul. The feeling of love when I was with God was magnificent. It was everywhere.”
Mary Jo described the differences between that world and this one. “Your cognition of your body is different there. Dr. Jeffrey Long, a radiation oncologist who wrote the bestselling book, The Evidence of an Afterlife: The Science of Near-Death Experiences, interviewed me about my experience. He had me come on the Today show with him to talk about my aneurysm. He also was part of a show on the Discovery Health Channel called, I Was Dead. My story as well as four others was featured. Dr. Long studied 1,300 people who were blinded from birth, who had near-death experiences. Somehow each of them can describe their experience vividly—in color, but through their other senses!”
“Another thing is that your vision is different there. You aren’t seeing with your eyes. People studied described experiencing 360 degree vision. When you are in your body, you can only see forward. But they described being able to see all around, in back and front. I, too, experienced this, but more in the sense that my eyes were different there. They saw colors and perceived information differently. I was more clear and alert.”
I asked Mary Jo how her experiences have changed her professionally, as a therapist. She said, “Now that I know I am being used by God, I try to be more aware of what I say. I am a better listener. I don’t try to fix what’s wrong right away. I can wait a little bit now and take the necessary time for the process to work because I know I am not the only one ‘fixing’ their problem.”
Mary Jo explains that her book is not only a description of her experience. “I didn’t want to write my book. But somehow each day I got up and wrote it. My memories of what happened are in there. I want my book to help the general public and also therapists and medical people.”
“It describes my mistakes working as a therapist with the dying population. At the time I was counseling dying people, I hadn’t had my near-death experience yet. Patients would ask me if I could see the angels and I would leave the room, and grab a nurse and say, ‘You better check the morphine levels because they’re hallucinating.’ I was such a skeptic!”
“God talks to us when we are in that process. My book helps us start listening. Death is not the end. It is another place. Also, people have to know that [the people or person] who is there when we hand off a person to God is extremely important. Making sure someone is with the dying person is so important. We must have compassion and we must be there to give them back.”
“We as a society need to get comfortable with both being there and letting people go to God. It’s impossible to be comfortable with this if you don’t realize there is something we are going to.”
“I’m not a skeptic anymore but I know what it feels like. I use to be the biggest skeptic in this regard. I can say to people, ‘I used to feel like you. I remember. It’s okay.’”
“I don’t press them. I don’t love them less. But I do want them to know that dying isn’t just an [absence] of pain and going into a hole in the ground. There is so much more. My mission is not to convert people. I don’t know what that would look like. My job is to tell the truth about what happened to me. I experienced my own conversion and it is described in Is God Pink: Dying to Heal.”
Mary Jo is reaching out to the public with her book, on television, and other media but she is also speaking to groups of professionals. “I give talks to medical professionals and students. They really have to listen [and many are beginning to]. They are taught in medical school that death is a failure. They have to stop looking at death as a failure and see it as an opportunity to express the art of medicine, the touching and listening parts of medicine.”
“Also, they have to be aware that this is an opportunity for the families of terminally ill patients to see the human side of medicine. Medical professionals need to be encouraged to tell the family: If they never made a point to be there for their parent (or other dying family member), they must make the time now.”
Mary Jo believes that “No society can be great if they can’t learn the healing side of how to leave this earth. I know death is scary. The shutting down of the body is scary. All we know is our body. We know how good we feel when our bodies are healthy. The element that is missing when people are dying is that many in our society don’t talk about what comes next.”
“We’ve told ourselves ‘that’s the end’, and after death [there is nothing]. We don’t talk about what comes after, because it’s ‘religious’. But this isn’t about religion, it’s about ‘owning the spirituality’ of each of us. It is not just in some humans, it is in all of us. We have to realize that the end of the story isn’t the end of the story— for the patient, for the family, or ourselves.”
From Mary Jo’s perspective, “The body is 10 percent of who we are. It’s the part you hug, but it’s not the person’s essence. If it were, we all wouldn’t suffer so much when someone we love has Alzheimer’s. After all, their bodies are here and we can hug those bodies. But we suffer because they have lost the ability to express their essence.”
There is an ongoing debate between those who say near-death experiences show a real picture of (at least the beginning period of) the death experience, and others who say NDEs are evidence only of biological/chemical processes or evidence of people being swayed by accounts they have heard about before their own near-death experiences.
NDE believers counter that physiological processes don’t prove that NDEs aren’t happening, all they prove is that what science is able to observe is limited to the physical component or mechanism of the dying process. They also say that because most NDE’s are so universally similar, with only sleight cultural variations, that this is evidence of the validity of NDEs.
What are the most important lessons we can learn from experiences like Mary Jo Rapini’s? How do experiences such has hers change our perspective? Have you had an NDE or similar experience? Please share your comments and experiences.
& C.R. Zwolinski, R. (2010). Part II: Near-Death Experience Changes Therapist's Life and Work. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 28, 2016, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/therapy-soup/2010/02/part-ii-near-death-experience-changes-therapists-life-and-work-3/