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What really happens when we die? Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? A surprising number of people have died and lived to tell the tale—an estimated 15 million Americans and 4 to 5 percent of the global population have had a near-death experience. The Big Book of Near-Death Experiences is the encyclopedia of this phenomenon, including crucial research regarding the experience, its aftereffects, and the implications for all of us who someday will shed this mortal coil. This book explores the possibility of the soul, God, other worlds, heaven and hell, the afterlife, religion, and the purpose of life. It investigates and reports on the power of changed lives, the expansion of normal faculties, and the importance of spirituality. With drawings, cartoons, and sidebars from experts, The Big Book of Near-Death Experiences is also simple and accessible, designed for the busy reader who wants quick little nuggets of wisdom. If you want to know what lies ahead, this book gives you a road map while exploring and affirming the presence of a spirit and the ultimate power of love.

p.m.h. atwater
Author Bio

p.m.h. atwater, L.H.D., is one of the original researchers in the field of near-death studies, having begun her work in 1978. Her research base now covers nearly 4,000 adult and child experiencers. Some of her findings have been verified in clinical studies, among them the prospective study conducted in Holland and published in Lancet medical journal, 12-15-01. Her The Big Book of Near-Death Experiences, was featured in an online version of Newsweek Magazine, and remains the only encyclopedia of the entire phenomenon worldwide. She has received many lifetime achievement awards and travels the world speaking on all aspects of the near-death experience, transformations of consciousness, and the evolution of the human species. Near-Death Experiences:  The Rest of The Story is the summation of 33 years of research, highly controversial because of its frankness and revelatory nature. Her book Future Memory expands the subject of changing consciousness into new areas, and reads like walking through a labyrinth. Keenly interested in children and evolution, her in-depth work with child experiencers is detailed in The New Children and Near-Death Experiences; updated to include the surprising characteristics of normal children born since 1982 in Children of the Fifth World. A real departure for her is Dying to Know You:  Proof of God in the Near-Death Experience. This is not a research book, nor a personal story, nor an opinion piece. Rather, this is the first book yet written that sums up the voice of the many:  the collective, speaking in their own voice, about the collective experience. Bold, blunt, daring–Dying to Know You speaks directly about Mission, God, Soul, Life, Death, Heaven, Hell, the Big Picture, Revelations, Truth. And us tells about eternity, our real home.

Table of contents


Book Reviews


Special Thank-Yous



Part 1: The Experience/The Experiencer

1. The Resurrected

A Brief History - What is the Near-Death Experience? - A Closer Look at Some Near-Death Scenario Features - But What's Typical? - The Birth of a Controversy

2. Types of Experiences

To Each His Own - Problems in Communication - A Common Range of Patterns - Some Examples of Each Type

3. Near-Death Look Alikes

Near-Death-Like Experiences - The Unpredictability of Near-Death-Like Episodes - Indirect Near-Death-Like Events - Empathic Experiences - Near-Death Scenarios as Guided Visualizations

4. The Innocents

Child Experiences: A Breakthrough in Understanding - A Guide at Death's Door - Womb with a View - Choosing Genes and Physical Characteristics - Typical Behavior after the Experience

5. Suicide Enigmas 

A Picture Too Pretty - What Those Who Attempted Suicide Say - Depression and Suicidal Tendencies Afterward - The Challenge with Children - Trying to Cause a Near-Death Experience

Part 2: Afterward

6. Lives Turned Upside Down

Feelings after Being Revived - A New You - A Strain on Relationships - Lifestyle Switcheroos - Deity Reigns

7. The Undeniable Aftereffects

Connecting the Dots - Common Psychological Aftereffects - Common Physiological Aftereffects - The Need Factor

8. Startling Differences between Child and Adult Experiencers

Don't Assume Anything - Jump-Starting Intelligence - Far Apart - Talking About It

9. Blocking Out the Experience

Why Adults Tend to Remember and Kids Tend to Forget - You Be the Judge - A Child's View - Aftereffects Can Take a Backseat - Tips to Identify Child Experiences Who Can't Remember

10. Medically Speaking: A Challenge to Health-Care Providers

Please Believe Me - So You Said You Wanted Evidence - Suggestions for Healthcare Providers - Unique Health Issues - Help at Last

Part 3: Time Out for Questions

11. Are the Dead Really Dead?

Real Tales from the Crypt - The Newly Dead Who Greet the Newly Dead - As Dead as You Can Get - When Two or More Die Together - Symbols Surface

12. Heavy on Research

Russell Noyes, MD - Raymond A. Moody Jr., PhD, MD - Kenneth Ring, PhD - Michael Sabom, MD - Bruce Greyson, MD - Margot Grey, PhD - PMH Atwater, LHD - Melvin Morse, MD - Arvin S. Gibson, BSME - Peter Fenwick, MD, FRCPsych - Cherie Sutherland, PhD - Pim van Lommel, MD - Groundbreaking Early Projects

13. Scientific Naysayers

It's All in the Brain: Biological/Physiological Causes - It's All in the Mind: Psychological Causes - Having an Experience Is Not Proof - A Lack of Agreement among Researchers - So, Where Are We?

14. Debunking the Debunkers

It's All Subjective - But I Don't Want to Die - Who's That Knocking on My Head? - Mr. Sandman, Send Me a Dream - The Dying Brain Theory - A Few Extras - Hi-Ho, Forward We Go - Proposal for Research Instruction Packet

15. Religion's Got a Gripe, Too

It's in the Bible - Repercussions - The Devil's Handwork - We Got Here First - The Forgotten and Underreported

Part 4: Taking a Leap Beyond

16. Viewing Storylines in Different Ways

Sometimes We Can Mix Things Up - How We Can "Stage" Storylines - Another Look at the Need Factor - The Teachings of Swedenborg - A Back-Glance at Shared Experiences - Other Cultures--A Major Challenge

17. Some Striking Effects

Poof! Go Limitations - Poof! Go Illnesses - Poof! Goes Death's Sting - The Unexpected from Violence - The Unexpected from Death Dreams - Gustave Dore's Painting

18. The Importance of Otherworldly Journeys

Exceptional Human Experiences - The "Other Worlds" of Myth and Legend - The Four Levels of Otherworldy Imagery - Feeling Alien

19. The Possibility of Alternate Realities

Is There an Afterlife? - Is There Research on After-Death Communication? - I Came, I Saw, I Was Born - Why Do I Feel Like I've Been Here Before? - An Altered View of Reality - A Spectrum of Realities

20. Transformations of Consciousness

A Larger Genre - Higher Consciousness - Turbulent Transformations - Tranquil Transformations - The Crown Jewel of Enlightenment

21. The Lights of Enlightenment

Is God Light? - The Light of God/The Devil's Dark - Three Types of Subjective Light - "The Darkness That Knows" - More of Light's Mysteries - The Energy Charge of Enlightenment

Part 5: Back Down to Earth

22. Brain-Biology Link

Brain Shift - The Limbic System and Emotions - The Theories of Melvin Morse, MD - The Importance of "Future" - Adaption or Evolution?

23. But Are All the Claims True?

Don't Rock the Boat - The Mighty Sword of Scientism - No Saints or Angels Here - "I Was God. God Was Me" - Testing the Spirits - What About the Ceiling?

24. Integrating the Near-Death Experience

For Adult Experiencers - For Child Experiencers and their Parents - How a Family Transformed - For Significant Others - Integration's Four Phases - Creative Approaches to Therapy

25. Redefining How Life is Viewed

Implications from Near-Death States - The Animating Force That Drives Us - The Reality of Spirit - The Big Picture - The Law of Grace - The Return to Things Spiritual

26. Message for the Twenty-first Century

An Agent of Change - Evolution's Next Step - The Global Village - Social Justice and Human Rights - What's the Near-Death Experience All About? - Wrap-up: Thirty Years and Growing

Appendix A Glossary of New Words

Appendix B International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS)

Appendix C Further Reading

Appendix D Websites

Appendix E Getting in Touch


Author comments


There is no hesitation on my part as to who this book should be dedicated to.

It is Kenneth Ring, PhD, author of Heading Toward Omega, Lessons from the Light, and many other provocative works of exceptional research and remarkable insight. It was Ken who validated Raymond Moody's efforts, and in so doing, established near-death research as the field of study it is today. What he has accomplished, though, as important as it is, is not why I salute him. True, he discovered me. He was snooping around a bookstore in Hartford, Connecticuit, when he purchased a copy of my first attempt to write about near-death experiences called I Died Three Times in 1977 (clever title, huh?). Well, that's what he thought, so he bought a copy. He later tracked me down via telephone and then came to our house for a visit, staying overnight, and learned much to his surprise that I, too, was a researcher. It was Ken who invited me to join the larger community of those interested in the topic, and it was Ken who sat me down years later and said, "You're ready now to write a book." The result was Coming Back to Life. But my work differed somewhat from his, conceptually. Perhaps that's because he sought to test the "Moody Model" with his research, while I had instinctively done things differently. Over the years that followed, he became my worst nemesis and my most ardent supporter--both at the same time. We fought, argued, and shunned each other, until, finally, we discovered how we were both saying the same thing and always had been. To say I am indebted to Kenneth Ring is hardly sufficient. He has proved to be an incredible friend and I feel privileged to know him.

Author comments

Special Thank-Yous

Long ago and far away this book originally existed as The Complete Idiot's Guide to Near-Death Experiences (Alpha Books, 2000). Randy Landenheim-Gil was my editor then and David Morgan my assistant. Both were invaluable helpmates in assisting me in my creating thing, the very first "encyclopedia" about near-death experiences, their aftereffects and implications. My thanks to them is everlasting. The version you have before you now, though, is larger, more thorough than the previous, and a lot more fun and informative--an update of classical proportions. A "cast" of thousands made this book possible--perhaps millions, as it contains the results of more than thirty years of concerted effort in researching near-death states. To everyone involved and especially the experiencers themselves, I offer this sincere thank-you. You are the heroes here; I, but your humble servant--an experiencer turned researcher. Half of every royalty check on sales for this book will go to the International Association for Near-Death Studies. At the end of five years, they will inherit full ownership and I will bow out. This book is not mine. I am clear about that. It belongs to the people it speaks to.

Terry Atwater, my patient husband, gave unwavering encouragement throughout this project. Bruce Greyson was ever-ready to answer endless questions. Kevin Williams fact-checked websites and articles, and my webmaster Steff Wiltse proved to be worth her weight in gold for all she did with myriad extra tasks. To each and all, thank you--a million times over!

Introduction or preface


In the 1950s, when I began researching and writing about the world of the unexplained, those remarkable cases in which people apepared for a time to die and then return to life with inspirational accounts of visitations to the Other Side were called "pseudo-death experiences." For the serious psychical researcher, the most important aspect of these "false deaths" was that they appeared to demonstrate that we had a spirit or soul that could exist apart from the physical body, and that when we died we might reasonably expect our soul to enter a spiritual realm and continue to exist. If you are at all curious--and perhaps a bit confused--about the many claims made for the phenomenon commonly known today as the near-death experience (NDE), you could find no better guide to a more complete understanding of the most knowledgeable researchers in the field of near-death studies, and she has the added advantage of being an "experiencer," having survived three NDEs. After suffering a miscarriage that led to severe complications, she "died" three times from January to March 1977. On each occassion her NDE was different, although one did seem to lead into another as if they were progressive facets of one larger experience. After she had recovered, she was left with the deep conviction that her mission in life was to investigate the near-death experience and to evaluate the enigma for as large an audience as possible. In addition to drawing upon her own vivid memories of a visit to a spiritual realm, she was aided in her research of her police officer father. Combining these mental and spiritual attributes, Dr. Atwater has now investigated accounts of more than 3,000 adult and 277 child experiencers and written such landmark books in the field as Coming Back to Life, Beyond the Light, Future Memory, and Children of the New Millenium (republished as The New Children and Near-Death Experiences).

In this book, Dr. Atwater has assembled the most complex look at the mystery of the near-death experience and its aftereffects to ever be published. In twenty-six compelling chapters, she examines the entire gamut of reactions to the near-death experience--the positive and the negative, the joys and the fears, the illuminations and the confusions, the epiphanies and the exaggerations. Many never-before published research findings and stories provide the reader of otherwordly spiritual encounters by experiencers of all ages. Unafraid of the doubters, Dr. Atwater answers the various debunkers of the phenomenon, deals with those orthodox believers who have religious objections to certain experiencer claims, and examines carefully the eternal question of what we might expect when we make our final transition to the other side. The research of other experts in the field is also included to make this book the most complete reference and resource book ever compiled on the subject of near-death experiences. I highly recommended this magnificent magnum opus by Dr. PMH Atwater, one of the world's most highly regarded researchers in the field of near-death studies.

-- Brad Steiger

Mr. Steiger is the author of more than 100 books, including One with the Light and Returning from the Light.

Introduction or preface


The purpose of this book is to provide you with the most complete, 360-degree look at the entire near-death phenomenon in all its positive and negative aspects. I've created it for the widest possible audience--a book that can fascinate gentle readers like yourself, and, at the same time, prove to be a major source of information for teachers and students alike, medical personnel, fellow researchers, and the religious community.

The book is divided into five parts:

Part 1: The Experience/The Experiencer sets the stage by covering what we know of the early history of the subject, while bringing us up to date with some enormous changes that are now happening in the field of near-death studies. The early model of what constitutes a near-death experience has not proved to be useful in the medical world, so a new standard of criteria is being developed. In this section, we look at the four different types of episodes people generally have, along with variations reported by both adult and child experiences.

Part 2: Afterward goes much deeper into the phenomenon and its pattern of physiological and psychological aftereffects--a pattern that affects child and adult experiencers alike. How this challenges individuals who can have a more difficult time than adults dealing with the experience, and who are six times more likely to repress what happened to them than are their elders.

Part 3: Time Out for Questions opens the door to skepticism and some questions that really need to be asked. For instance, are the dead really dead? How is death determined? Is there another explanation? We jump right into the fray here by giving the debunkers a fair hearing, then debunking them as we admit that near-death experiencers--as a good job as they have done--still have a long way to go with investigations of the phenomenon.

Part 4: Taking a Leap Beyond stretches our minds as we consider different ways of interpreting experiencer storylines. We also tackle the entire subject of transformations of consciousness--the traditions and aftermath of unusually striking changes people undergo who are consumed in a sudden burst of light that brings with it new knowledge of a higher order to life--and the spiritual dimensions of the soul. The three types of inner light people experience are also discussed.

Part 5: Back Down to Earth returns to the regular world of everyday people who must grapple with the challenge of making sense out of what can be learned from near-death experiences, and to what extent they can use that knowledge in their lives. This includes the experiencer, too, for he or she is faced with integration what happened--the incident and its aftereffects--into daily life. Emerging from this challenge are messages for the twenty-first century that can make a dramatic different not only in your life, but for society as well.

And if this all isn't enough for you, I've included five appendices, each one chock-full of information that will enable you to have a hands-on opportunity to explore even more.

One more thing--you'll find short bits of information appearing in side boxes scattered throughotu the text. These kernels highlight extra material and meaningful new words in a style that is quick and easy to grasp, and should prove most helpful as you read along. All of this was done to make your journey through the puzzling yet awe-inspiring world of near-death experiences as enjoyable as possinle. Have a great read!