Don Morse (real name) has a wide variety of training, with a D.D.S., an M.A. in Microbiology and Immunology, an M.A. (Clinical Psychology), and a Ph.D. in Clinical Nutrition. He is currently a Professor Emeritus at Temple University, where he won the Temple University Faculty Research Award for 1985. He has written a book about his experiences and their consequences for his world view.
TASTE does not usually post already published material, but Professor Morse’s near-death experience (NDE) has some unusual features which make it quite interesting, such as the parts of seeing his own funeral.
Parts of the introduction and experience account are reproduced, with permission of the author and publisher, from Searching for Eternity: A Scientist’s Spiritual Journey to Overcome Death Anxiety: (Eagle Wing Books, Memphis, 2000, $19.95; available from amazon.com, or bn.com, or borders.com or Eagle Wing Books, P.O.B. 9972, Memphis, TN 38190 1-800-356-9315).
Searching for Eternity
“They come and they go and they trot and they dance, and never a word about death. All well and good. Yet when death does come — to them, their wives, their children, their friends — catching them unawares and unprepared, then what storms of passion overwhelm them, what cries, what fury, what despair!” (deMontaigne, M. The Complete Essays . Penguin Books, New York, 1987, p. 95).
“It is well-known that we cannot imagine ourselves not existing. We can imagine ourselves being out of the body and looking down upon a world without us; we can imagine being at our own funerals, or reading our own obituaries. But imagining that we have ceased to exist — it’s something we are just incapable of doing” (Perry, Michael, The Soul and its Immortality .The Academy of Religion and Psychical Research, Bloomfield, CT, 1995, p. 24).
I knew I was dying, but I wasn’t afraid. The light was incredibly beautiful, and I felt wonderfully calm and secure with a benevolent presence beside me. My life rapidly flashed before me; then I saw my funeral and read my obituary…
It all started in June, 1983 when I took a six-month sabbatical from Temple University to do research on the effects of stress and relaxation on the salivary glands. Aside from a bout with colitis when I was ten years old and childhood and young adult attacks of asthma, I had been quite healthy. I had been eating well and exercising regularly. So it was quite a shock when on a sunny June day, I came down with a severe disease with the intriguing name of giardiasis. It was caused by an intestinal parasite, Giardia llambia.
The symptoms were severe — unrelenting abdominal cramps, alternating constipation and diarrhea but mainly the former. The medications, quinacrine and Flagyl, (r) helped temporarily but then the cramping returned with a vengeance. I became very anxious and had to be hospitalized. Unfortunately, my bed was next to a patient dying from colon cancer and unlike the situation when my father was dying from cancer (he had been told nothing about his disease), this patient’s doctor was giving him a vivid description of his cancer and its ultimate outcome. This only added to my anxiety as I recalled my father’s agonizing death and was convinced that my unrelenting pain was related to cancer. In addition to the anxiety created by my roommate’s condition, I had a bizarre psychological reaction to quinacrine.
The doctors considered that I had recovered from giardiasis and that I now had developed a mental condition that had to be treated in a psychiatric hospital. So I was transferred to a large facility in Philadelphia that looked like a country estate with several buildings and beautiful lawns and gardens.
On a bright Tuesday morning, I went outside. I walked around the grounds. Then I decided to jog. After a few moments, the world started to spin around, and suddenly I fell down. Darkness enveloped me and then I saw the light…
I didn’t die. I was taken inside and revived. It took a few months of treatment with antianxiety and antidepressant medications, but I recovered just in time to go back to teaching. I wondered about my near-death experience (NDE) with the wonderful light, blissful feelings, benevolent presence, life review, and out-of-body experience (OBE) in which I read my obituary and saw my funeral. But I put all of that on hold. For the next twelve years, I was busy teaching, doing research, writing, practicing, and enjoying life. Then in 1995, all hell broke loose. After having retired from Temple University two years previously, none of my secondary career plans had been realized. Several friends, relatives, and family members in their 60’s died. My cousin, Ernie, died of throat cancer; my cousin, Edith, died of uterine cancer. Divorces and separations cropped up. Several friends of my wife, Diane, and myself and/or their spouses who lived in the area, died. And worst of all, my beloved sister, Ruth, passed away at the age of 62 from a heart attack. I couldn’t believe it. Ruth had a fine figure, exercised, meditated regularly, had a decent diet, and had a good outlook on life.
This combination of life stress events was enough to throw me into a turmoil. I came down with “General Anxiety Disorder,” and I started to think about death — a subject that I had been able to avoid for twelve years (since my bout with giardiasis). I couldn’t meditate; I couldn’t concentrate; I couldn’t sleep well; I couldn’t exercise; food didn’t taste well; and worst of all, I developed two alternating symptoms: severe abdominal cramps (just like I had back in 1983 when I suffered from the aftermath of giardiasis); and neuralgic-like headaches.
Knowing all about stress management doesn’t insulate a person from coming down with a stress-related disorder. If the life stressors are numerous and severe, no one is immune. So I saw a psychiatrist. With a combination of cognitive therapy, and a low dose of an antianxiety agent and antidepressant, I recovered. I confronted the fear of death by recalling my NDE and busied myself with watercolor painting, regular workouts at the gym, working as an endodontist one day a week, and taking vacations. I also read everything I could find about death anxiety. I subsequently had two articles published about it. But I still was not certain about the reality of the soul, the afterlife and God. I began my search for eternity by reflecting upon my NDE. I then interviewed many people (scientists, religious leaders, teachers, health care practitioners, authors, near-death survivors, holocaust victims, and psychics). I also read many books and cruised the internet for information about religion, mysticism, cosmology, NDEs, OBEs, apparitions, visions, dreams, past life regression, séances, mediums, and related subjects. As a result, I learned a great deal more about death anxiety and how to cope with it. Although no one can claim absolute knowledge about the future, I no longer have lingering doubts. Considering this, I felt obliged to share my spiritual journey here.
Come with me on my journey as we start in Chapter 1 with a look at death anxiety and learn methods to deal with it both early in life and then later in life. We find that as we get older and the reality of death approaches, the previously learned methods are no longer sufficient. It is then that in order to overcome death anxiety, it is necessary to determine if there is life after death.
This book is unlike any other that tries to prove the reality of the three components of life after death: the surviving soul, the positive afterlife and God. In other books, only one viewpoint is given. For example, books about NDEs use personal experience as the alleged proof. The same is true for books about OBEs, reincarnation and visions. Scientific books try to prove the existence of God or the soul by using findings from cosmology, quantum physics and evolution.
In this book, a holistic, integrative approach is used. To do this, we take a spiritual journey to document the possibility of God, the surviving soul and the afterlife. Our journey starts in Chapter 2 in which my unusual NDE is presented. In the remaining chapters, our journey passes through NDEs, OBEs, apparitions, dreams, medium reports, past life regressions, immortality, God, the origin of the universe, the origin of life, and religious, organizational, and individual viewpoints of the soul, God, and the afterlife. The last stop in our spiritual journey is a personal concept of the afterlife based on all the previous steps.
The book is written for each of you to follow in my footsteps as I use a scientifically-based approach to look at the evidence. In other words, the support for a surviving soul, the afterlife, and God is not taken on faith alone. When stops on our spiritual journey are taken in paths such as NDEs, OBEs, apparitions, past life regressions, immortality, religions, and recent afterlife concepts, you become involved in each of these in a personal way.
My Near-Death Experience
“Man always dies before he’s fully born” (Anonymous).
A person does not have to be near death to have a near-death experience (NDE). The spiritual journey to conquer the fear of death started with my NDE in 1983. At the time, I was certain that I was dying, but later found out that I had been nowhere near death. Yet the experience was so profound that it affected me for the rest of my life. In essence, I was reborn.
This is what I remember. I felt myself spinning around and around in ever widening circles. Then the sounds of the world became more and more quiet. Voices of people and songs of birds began to slow down. It seems that the faster I spun, the slower and less distinct the outside sounds became. Then I heard my heartbeat. First, it was very rapid and loud. Then, when it was beating so fast that I thought it would burst through my chest, it began to slow down. Slower and slower my heart pulsated, and then I could feel it no longer. I quickly fell to the ground, and my heart stopped beating. At least, I no longer heard it. Was I dead? I had no idea, but instead of seeing nothingness, I first saw pitch darkness and then an incredibly bright, white light. It enveloped me so that I could see nothing but this light. I was not afraid. I felt secure, warm, and serene. No one came to greet me but I felt a loving presence around me.
Then in rapid succession, I saw my whole life flash before me: the temper tantrums of my childhood, my winning a dart-throwing contest, my hospital bout with colitis, the asthma attacks, the family visits to Stamford, Connecticut, throwing an opposing player out at home plate, shooting a winning basket, crying when the New York Giants lost a baseball game, seeing my father die an agonizing death from lung cancer, getting married on a cloudy day in Brooklyn, honeymooning in Bermuda, seeing each one of my three children being born, watching a developing rainbow in Las Vegas with my wife and children, vacationing with my wife in Rome, doing a surgical procedure on the day that John Kennedy was killed, watching my mother wither away from Alzheimer’s disease, getting the Temple University research award, falling out of a canoe and later contracting giardiasis, going out for a jog on the hospital grounds, spinning around, and falling to the ground.
Then the review abruptly ended. I left my body, flew above the clouds and arrived at the Mt. Eden Cemetery in Valhalla, New York — the same cemetery where my mother and father were buried. At this point, everything was vague. I knew I was being buried but I couldn’t really see. I just had the feeling it was happening. Just as quickly as I had arrived there, I was gone. Now It was another day. I was reading the obituary column of the Philadelphia Inquirer. I could not discern what was written about me, but I was certain that I saw my name. Strangely, seeing my funeral and reading my obituary were not frightening. Was it because I had been enveloped by that wonderful light and had felt that caring presence? I don’t know, because the next thing I knew I was inside the hospital, and felt the sharp pain of an injection. The injection revived me and brought me life, so to speak. Had I experienced another plane or was it merely an hallucination? At the time I wasn’t sure. Subsequently, I found out that the experiences of observing my funeral and reading my obituary were different than other people’s NDEs. However, the darkness followed by the glorious light, the life review, the blissful feelings, and the loving presence surrounding me, were similar to many other NDEs. Most importantly, that NDE set the stage for my journey to overcome death anxiety. (See Figure 4 for another example of one of the methods I used to help overcome my death anxiety.)
After this incredible experience, it was important to find out whether or not I had conquered death anxiety. To do that, I had to continue the spiritual journey. There would be several paths on the journey and since I had a near-death experience of sorts myself, it was decided that the first path would be NDEs.
Contributor’s Comments on the Experience
I no longer fear death. I believe in God, the survival of the soul and a positive afterlife provided one has led a good life.