As you can read in my Life Review, my childhood was fraught with physical and psychological abuse. There were also times of neglect. I learned to become my mother’s mother to escape the abuse which usually backfired. By the time I grew up, I had totally lost my true self and had become anything and everything the people around me wanted. I married young to get out of my house and promptly had 3 beautiful children. By the time I had my catastrophic surgery at the age of 32 we had the American Dream — a beautiful large home in a beautiful suburb of Detroit Michigan called Bloomfield Hills, a swimming pool, our own airplane, beautiful vacations, etc. Deep inside I knew something was wrong, something was missing — and it was me. I was gone.
Spiritually Transformative Experiences
Barbara, who was an atheist at the time, had two near-death experiences in 1975 as a result of complications following surgery on her spine. They occurred while she was strapped in a Stryker-frame circle bed. Her second near-death experience involved an extensive life review that showed her the reasons for the abuse she had endured and her future as a mother. In them, she felt the depth of God’s love and learned the importance of loving one’s self.
Click here to read her near-death experiences, including her life review.
I had been catapulted out of time and was embraced by this whole different way of thinking and being. Just as rapidly, I was back here, wanting to break new ground. I had had a great opportunity, and now I wanted to share it.
I insisted on seeing a psychiatrist, hoping he would understand what I had experienced. The doctor I saw didn’t understand. No one understood NDEs back then, so I realized that I couldn’t talk about it. I spent the next six months in my body cast, thinking about my NDE but not talking about it.
First, I volunteered to work in the emergency room of the hospital where I had been a patient. I was excited that first morning. I put on my volunteer uniform, wishing my pounding headache would subside. My first few hours standing in the corridor of the emergency room, doing what little I was asked to do, was agonizing because of this headache. Then an old woman was brought in on a gurney from an ambulance. She was shivering. I knew she was dying but I didn’t know how I knew. A nurse asked me to go over to the warmer and get a few blankets for her. She pointed to what looked like a refrigerator and turned out to be a warmer filled with blankets. I took two over to the shivering woman and spread them over her, one at a time, using my hands to smooth them. Then, to my surprise, something strange started to happen. I felt my headache moving down through my shoulders, draining into my hands and out of my palms, only the sensation wasn’t one of pain anymore. It was more like a tingling. I looked at the old woman and she was smiling right into my eyes. She said, “Oh, my dear, I feel a little better.” I took her hand in mine and sat down next to her, just content to hold her hand. A few minutes later, she said, “The pain medication is working. I’m out of pain and not so afraid anymore.” (My headache was gone too). I sat there for the longest time. Occasionally a nurse or the emergency room doctor walked by and they smiled but they didn’t ask me to do any more until much later when the woman was taken to a room.
After that first experience at that hospital, I had many opportunities to be with and touch dying people. Either I searched them out, or the staff asked me to. During my breaks I would go to the rooms of dying people I had met in the emergency room. I felt real when I worked there. And everyone else was real, too. In settings where life and death are on the edge every moment, only the truth is spoken.
My personal life, however, was at the opposite end of the spectrum. My husband, my friends and most family members were caught up in their own games. No one seemed to be communicating honestly. It seemed that what was shown to me in my life review now made me recognize how manipulative our relationships were. We never were able to honestly talk about what we wanted or needed from one another. The most painful part for me was watching the disrespect of each others feelings. I cannot deny that I, too, had once been a part of it, part of the denial and numbness. We used materialism as a way to substitute for authentic living. But now I was different. It wasn’t their fault I had changed. The only place I felt real besides the hospital was on a college campus. I realized that I needed to go back to school in order to qualify for some type of health care career.
I learned in my life review that the only thing that is real is love, and the only way to share love is by being real. Being real happens when we acknowledge our feelings, the feelings of others and continually share our truth. When we feel our feelings and are real, we share our truth out of love. Then our relationship with God and our self is healthy. This relationship is always here and can continue to grow in our lives if we allow it to. This sacred relationship continues to interpret for us what we are doing here, what life may be all about.
When we die, if we re-experience our lives from everyone else’s perspective as well as our own, there are only feelings, perceptions and knowledge. We really cannot judge or blame others, because we suddenly understand where we and everyone else is coming from. We only judge here in this earthly reality. When I was with God, I was just learning. The knowledge of what had happened was pouring into me, and I was repeatedly saying my “no wonders!” I came to believe that God doesn’t judge but wants us to learn so we won’t make the same mistakes again. My experiences showed me that God wants us to stop being fearful and instead, to extend love.
What I learned and experienced for myself during my own life review was that a Divine Energy connects all of us — has since orchestrated all of my relationships.
To this day, I still feel connected to this Energy through my heart. Within my heart, there is a constant prayer. This prayer forms the background music of every experience I have. When we are connected to God’s loving energy, it is the single most powerful force in the universe.
Current STE related activities:
I graduated a few years later as a respiratory therapist. I loved working in the emergency room and the ICU, where, once again, my patients were telling me about their experiences as they were dying. And those who returned to their bodies told me about their NDEs. I started to write about what I was hearing, calling my topic “the emotional needs of critical-care patients.” Surprisingly, I was invited to speak at professional conferences and was published in respiratory therapy journals. The emotional needs of critical care patients was a hot new topic in healthcare during the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Finally, I became a researcher and could start looking for the answers that I so longed to find. Because I was undertaking my research at a university medical school, all kinds of new knowledge became available to me. Now at last I could frame and reframe not only the hundreds of experiences I was studying, but also my own.
I have followed the current and its gentle urging for 35 years now and looking back on all of this, I truly believe that the guidance has been amazing. I became a subject in Kenneth Ring’s two groundbreaking books on the near-death experience Heading Toward Omega and Lessons from the Light. I was Bruce Greyson’s research assistant for 6 years at the University of Connecticut Medical School where I learned so much about the aftereffects of awakening spiritually that I was able to write several books on the subject. My first one was my story and Dr. Greyson wrote commentaries for this book called Full Circle: The Near-death Experience and Beyond (Simon and Schuster, Pocket, 1990), My next four books are Spiritual Awakenings: Insights of the NDE and other doorways to our Soul (HCI 1995). Final Passage: Sharing the Journey as this life ends (HCI 1998), The Power of Humility: Choosing Peace over Conflict in Relationships (co authored HCI 2006) and my latest book is The Natural Soul: Unity with the Spiritual Energy that connects us: What It looks like and how It feels (Muse House Press 2010.)
For 12 years I taught classes at Rutgers University’s Institute for Alcohol and Drug studies on the integrations of Spiritual Awakenings. I called my classes: When the 12th Step Happens First.
From all this learning and guidance, I am now in a marriage that is wonderful container for who I am. That is very important to me – to be able to continue to learn and grow for the rest of this life and beyond with a man who wants to do that too. And the overriding feeling after all the struggles on this amazing journey is Gratitude with a capital G.
Above is a picture of the circle bed I had my two near-death experiences in. Then there’s one with me and my incredible granddaughter Lily. I take care of her 4 days a week while her parents work and go to school. Then I share a psychotherapy practice with my husband Charles Whitfield, MD in the evenings and weekends. We do individual and group therapy with adults that were repeatedly traumatized as children. Finally there is a picture of us when we were in Aruba where I was invited to address a big women’s organization there.