For your consideration:
At one point, shortly after my sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), I very carefully reviewed the string of memories from just before my SCA until I woke up in the hospital. In doing this, I was very careful to not add anything to the string of memories or to subtract anything. Specifically, I did not add interpretation or elaboration.
I remember starting my run. I had just started the running app on my phone (Endomondo) and the song on my randomized playlist was Satori Waterfalls, by Ohmna. I particularly love listening to Trance music while running. Then, I have a memory of running down Grand Avenue towards Lake Merritt, but honestly it seems to blend in with the numerous other times that I’ve run down Grand Avenue so I’m not particularly confident in its veracity. The next thing I remember is this subtle reddish brown color and then, eventually, a recognition of other people nearby whom I couldn’t quite make out, but they felt very familiar and comforting to me. Later, I would recognize them as family members (mom, stepfather, sister) and the room was a hospital room and that I was lying in a hospital bed. I would have further memories of increasing mental acuity as the drugs that were used to put me into a coma so that I could undergo the hypothermia protocol wore off. My head was well clear of the drugs by the time I undertook this very specific and precise review of my memories.
Oddly enough, if I don’t add anything to this stream of memories, I didn’t die, I didn’t have a cardiac arrest, and I wasn’t rescued by Good Samaritans to beat the astronomical odds against my survival. If there were no memories, these things really happen? According to my memories, I simply started my run and woke up in the hospital with nothing special in between. I didn’t feel any sense of space or time that occurred between my memory of running down Grand Avenue and that brownish reddish color. None whatsoever! So, from a purely experiential perspective (direct unembellished memories of experiences), how can I say that any of it happened?
And yet, my rescuers (Andy, Mario, Jon, Alis, etc.) my doctors and my family all have very clear memories and they have told me everything they remember. I even have a picture of myself that my sister snuck when I was still in the hypothermia protocol. To them, I died, was resuscitated, taken to the hospital, phone calls to next of kin were made, and the start of almost $200,000 in hospital bills were acquired (luckily I had insurance). To them I absolutely did die! So, which is it?
Now, that I volunteer as a caregiver in hospice and have outlived the first patient that I have worked with, I too can attest to the fact that she is no longer with us. But, did she experience death? Does she experience death or nonexistence? Or is it only the survivors that experience it? Is death just a concept, a mental construct, a label for the phenomena that someone that we know and love is no longer with us? Just a label for this seemingly disturbing phenomenon? I suspect that this idea does not apply to those who are no longer with us, but only to the survivors. It’s so very easy to make something up. One thing that I know, is that if I had never woken up from my cardiac arrest, I would not have ever known. It would not have been a problem.
What I am not doing here, in writing this, is providing any number of concepts or ideas or beliefs to fill in the gap of unknowing about this most mysterious of phenomena. Some believe in heaven and hell. Some believe in perpetual reincarnation. Some believe in oblivion. They one of them or all of them may be true and maybe not. We seem to want a definitive answer!
(And an especially loving note for many of my dear SCA friends who have had Near-Death Experiences of various forms (light at the end of the tunnel, etc.), I say TRUST YOUR DIRECT UNADULTERATED EXPERIENCE! It’s unassailable! But don’t think too much about it; it’s enough to just trust the fearlessness that arises from your direct experience! Besides, it’s the stories that we make up about it and the need to defend them that can cause the fear.)
These concepts, ideas, or beliefs about our temporary presence here and what happens when we are no longer here are infinite, but I have personally never found any of them to be verifiable in any directly observable sort of way. Besides, I am no longer interested in making something up to soothe some sense of anxiety about death. I lost that anxiety when I died, even though I wasn’t given any beliefs to hold onto.