Near-Death Experience Research of Suicide

By Kevin Williams

 

Dr. Kenneth Ring, in his book, Life at Death, analyzed the near-death experiences of 24 people who attempted suicide. Among them, no one reported the tunnel phenomenon, or saw a brilliant but comforting light, or encountered a presence, or was temporarily reunited with loved ones who had died, or entered into a transcendent world of heavenly beauty. Instead, the suicide-related NDE tended to be truncated, aborted, and damped down. It began with a feeling of relief or peace and continued with a sense of bodily detachment to the same degree as non-suicide-related NDEs. But it tended to end, if it got this far at all, with a feeling of confused drifting in a dark or murky void – a sort of twilight zone. Dr. Ring's research strongly suggests that the suicide-related NDE does not reach completion; instead, it tends simply to fade out before the transcendent elements characteristic of non-suicide related NDEs make their appearance. 

Table of Contents
1. Dr. Kenneth Ring's NDE Suicide Research
2. Dr. Peter Fenwick's NDE Suicide Research
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1. Dr. Kenneth Ring's NDE Suicide Research

Multi-colored icon.   The following are excerpts from Dr. Ring's research into suicide from his book Life at Death:

 

Multi-colored icon.   One young man tried to kill himself by taking an assortment of pills - Librium, Demerol, Valium, Dilantin. As a result of this ingestion, he remained unconscious for four days. He remembers finding himself in a gray area:

Young man:  "The only thing that I can remember about this is just grayness. Like I was in gray water or something. I couldn't really see anything. I couldn't see myself there, either. It was just like my mind was there. And no body."

While the young man was in this state, he said he felt good:

Young man:  "Normally, I'm a very anxious, a very nervous person - a lot of fears and things like that. And during this, all the fear was gone. I had no fear whatsoever. Almost an adventurous feeling. Excitement."

 

Dr. Kenneth Ring: "Did you want to stay in that condition?"

Young man:  "Yeah," the young man replied, "It was a very good feeling."

He also was aware of music:

Young man:  "I also heard music - different music."

Dr. Kenneth Ring:  "Tell me what it was like."

Young man:  "It was usually like classical music; I like classical music. It wasn't exactly the music I've heard, but it was along that line."

Dr. Kenneth Ring:  "Do you recall how the music made you feel?"

 

Young man:  "It made me relaxed. The fears went away when I listened to it. Again, the feeling of hope, that there's something better somewhere else."

He also reported that everything, including the music, sounded "hollow and metallic - echoey" and that these acoustical sensations were associated with the watery grayness. He felt the grayness going through him, filling him and this felt good to him. After a while, he became aware of a voice:

Young man:  "I think [it was] a woman's voice, but (pause) I didn't recognize the voice."

Dr. Kenneth Ring:  "Do you recall now what she said to you?"

 

Young man:  "No. I just remember that it was a soothing voice. I kind of remember that with the grayness – her voice kind of calling, my moving toward it."

 

Dr. Kenneth Ring:  "This was a friendly voice, a reassuring voice in some way?"

Young man:  "Yeah."

Dr. Kenneth Ring:  "And you felt drawn to it?"

Young man:  "Yeah. Right. Like that was the place to be."

The young man tried to get to where the voice was:

Young man:  "It seemed like I kept trying to get to where the voice was, but something was holding me back. I know I wanted to be there; I knew once I was there everything would be fine. I was sure of this. No question about it. But there was still like something holding me back from getting there."

During his experience he had seen images of people he knew. These people somehow seemed to represent the possibility of a good life; they seemed to care. He described this as "like playing back a recording of my life." The issue was joined:

Young man"It felt like the woman's [voice] was stronger. I wanted to get there but there was just some part of me that wanted to (pause) go back with these images."

And resolved:

Young man:  "The thing I remember most is a falling feeling. Like I was coming down really fast and then hit. And then I woke up with a jolt."

And afterward:

Young man:  "When I woke up, the first thing I thought was Oh, God. Thank you. I made it, and I was extremely happy. (He had been severely depressed before his suicide attempt.) I was just sitting there thinking about it and I felt this - I don't know - warmth filling my body. I was very happy, very excited, but then (pause) it was more than contented - it was rapture, I guess. But I couldn't explain it to anybody at the time. It was just beyond words."

This testimony sums up the essential features of his experience. In the course of his interview, he also indicated that although he never clearly saw his physical body on the bed, he did have a sense of bodily detachment and felt he had no weight at all – he was just pure mind. Neither did he have any sense of time. When he momentarily returned to body consciousness (before drifting back into the grayness), he found the sensory world greatly enhanced – the colors were clearer and more vibrant. The only thing scary about his experience was his fear (which was eventually vanquished) of returning to his body. His experience in the grayness was decidedly pleasant and, judging from its immediate aftereffect, very positive and powerful in its emotional impact.

 

This particular experience includes many features that are common with non-suicide-attempt experiences: drifting through a vast space, feeling good, hearing music and a comforting voice, hearing sounds magnified, seeing a series of flashbacks of one's life, and so forth.

 

Multi-colored icon.   In Dr. Kenneth Ring's study, he found that no one who had attempted suicide reported that it was predominately unpleasant. The only possible exception is that a few people did describe some unsettling hallucinatory images, but these appear to have been qualitatively different from the feeling-tone of non-suicidal experiences. Certainly, no one felt that he was either in or was on his way to hell. This is not to say that suicide attempts never lead to unpleasant experiences, only that there is no strong evidence for this proposition among the 24 suicide NDEs in Dr. Ring's study.

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2. Dr. Peter Fenwick's NDE Suicide Research

Multi-colored icon.   According to Dr. Peter Fenwick, in those organized religions in which hell figures, suicide is a sin and might well be considered an entrance qualification. And yet none of the people who wrote to us about a NDE during a suicide attempt reported a hellish or even an unpleasant experience. On the contrary, what they experienced seemed to provide a reason for continuing life. It seems that the mental state in the NDE bears no resemblance at all to the person's mental state before the experience. Someone who attempts suicide might be expected to be in some emotional turmoil at the time of their experience. In real life, people who are depressed tend to select only depressive images and memories. And yet if we look at the experiences described below we can see that the depressive feelings vanish when they enter the experience; there is an awareness of peace, of something beautiful; there seems to be a healing of the broken spirit. 

 

Multi-colored icon.   Here Sheila Berry describes what happened to her fifteen years ago:

"I had taken an overdose of aspirin and alcohol and had been pumped out at the hospital. It was late at night and I was put into a ward. I don't know whether you would call this a NDE but at the same time my spirit was so low I felt that I could die if I really wanted to. It could perhaps be classed as a case of broken spirit if there is such a thing.

 

"I was lying in the dark and felt myself drifting. I felt as though I was in a warm cocoon. I became aware that I was moving down a dark country lane with high hedges. At the bottom of the lane there was a cottage with a light in the window. I wanted to reach the cottage but a voice in my head said that I had to go back. I can still remember someone taking my hand and I had a feeling of great peace and a oneness with what I can only describe as the universe. I can remember returning to the weight of my body.  For some time after this happened I kept hearing the most wonderful music. I feel since that time that my life has a spiritual dimension, although I do not practice any established religion."

Multi-colored icon.   Anne Thomson attempted suicide in the winter of 1972 when she was very depressed:

"I could cope no longer with three small children and one dreadful husband (whom I later divorced). I took a massive overdose of sleeping tablets and was not found for four hours. I was rushed to the nearest hospital by ambulance from the RAF base in Wales, where we lived at the time. I very nearly died and was unconscious for four days. On the fourth day I was slipping away. I had a cardiac arrest and the doctors and a sister were working on me.

 

"I left my body. I went up and up very slowly, not looking back at myself in the bed.  The peace was beyond what I can explain; it was so beautiful, I felt so light in weight and I saw I was going towards a white light - not the white like this notepaper I write on, but a spiritual white. I almost reached this light, when suddenly I was pulling downwards very fast and did not stop till I was back in my body. I was heavy, everything seemed so dark and then I came to and slowly came to realize I could not be taken as three children needed their mother.

 

"I always did believe in God but only because it was bred into me. But since that experience I have a lot of faith towards God and towards life beyond our lives on Earth. I firmly believe he made me well and helped me through all my time of rearing three children alone in the years that followed."

Multi-colored icon.   Only one of the descriptions of NDEs which occurred during suicide attempts had elements that might possibly be construed as hellish. It is one of the very few in which the feeling is one of descent, into a pit, rather than upwards, and in which the light seen is red rather than white or golden. Although there is a presence, this is not perceived as friendly, but not as hostile either. In fact, the whole experience has a neutral quality - not hellish, but not positive either, except for the compassion the returning self feels for her body in the hospital bed.

 

Multi-colored icon.   Here is another example of a NDE resulting from a suicide attempt:

"In 1963, I nearly died from a suicide attempt. I went down into a deep pit, slowly, like Alice in Wonderland, as if I were in a lift.

"At the bottom it was light and quite busy and bustling. The other people were strangers and although they didn't speak and neither did I, somehow I asked the way and I was told to follow the red light.

"I moved off in that direction. Gradually I found myself in a warm, dark tunnel, alone apart from a sort of presence - not hostile, not friendly, just there.

"Then the red light grew dim and began to flicker and I knew I would have to go back. It was absolutely dark and I was quite alone.

"My body was surrounded by a panicky crowd round the hospital bed. It seemed silly of the people to be making such a fuss. The body had been crying in its sleep and I felt a great pity for it momentarily as I returned.

"I told no one about this as they thought I was a loony anyway, but the experience has stayed with me all these years and I have tried to make sense of it. If it is just an innate limbic response, well ... interesting."

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