Going Into The Light

Photo Credit: Birrell Walsh

Photo Credit: Birrell Walsh

By Joe Perez

On the days before his death in 1991, Andre felt a distinct sense of foreboding and familiarity. The San Francisco man, a sound and light technician and rock musician, dismissed the feelings as nothing more than gloom and doom prophecy.

Andre and his lover Robert had been arguing and fighting bitterly. The drugs they had both been taking weren’t smoothing their communications. A longing struck Andre for real change in his life but he wondered if it was too now late.

Back in his apartment and alone, something weird started happening. Everything started getting dark. Not only dark, but also ominous and foreboding. Andre turned on all the lights, but his vision remained dim.

He was going out of his mind, he said. He felt a pain in his lower right gut and his head was humming. He heard loud voices around him, yelling at him, and he began to recite the Lord’s Prayer.

Then, unexpectedly, three old friends dropped by in a car and took him on a trip to Guerneville. A rainstorm hit; Andre says he can still remember the sound of raindrops on the windshield. As the radio played songs, he intuitively seemed to know the next one that would play.

Andre noticed that his friends were not who they appeared to be. They were actually three beings with beautiful shiny eyes, and everyone talked without using their mouths. When they spoke, a heavenly scent came forth. They told Andre that he had died three days ago.

“What was the cause?” he asked.

“A ruptured appendix,” they replied. Then Andre remembered the pain in his side, and he thought that it felt great to be dead. The beings asked Andre if he knew where they were headed.

“Heaven?” he asked.

“Good, because that’s where we’re going,” they said. “Where is heaven?”

Andre said, “Heaven is a place on earth.”

And they shook their heads and said, “No.”

About an hour later, the car arrived in a place that Andre somehow recognized as heaven. With the heavenly beings, he began to review his life.

Andre felt a nagging sense of worthlessness in his life that had been centered on his sexual orientation. He asked the beings, “Is it OK to be gay?”

And they laughed and said, “Who do you think made gay people?”

Andre reports: “I felt like I fit in for the first time in my entire life. Completely fit in.”

In the place he saw as heaven, Andre met a man he believed to be Jesus. Jesus asked him, “So, Andre, where is heaven?”

This time he replied, “Heaven is inside of you.”

Jesus smiled and said, “Go, be on your way.” Then he pointed at him and Andre felt his wounded side heal.

Andre boarded the car back home, and after driving for a while, the three heavenly beings disappeared. “One moment,” writes Andre, “I was in heaven and the next I was on a gravel highway headed toward Vallejo.”

To this day, he lacks the words to fully describe his near-death experience. It was like an adventure in wonderland, filled with strange sights—some of which he still feels are too intimate to share.

The indisputable gift, however, was that he now had the time to makes changes in his life, if he wanted to. And he knew he wanted to.

In the months following his experience, Andre realized that he was not in love with his partner and ended his relationship (though he remains good friends with his ex). He began to get his act together in life and eventually fell in love again with a man named Russell.

Andre’s story is one of 21 tales compiled by Liz Dale, Ph.D., all firsthand accounts by gays and lesbians who have tasted death, and then returned to tell their moving and inspirational stories. The stories are compiled in Dale’s Crossing Over and Coming Home: Twenty-one Authors Discuss the Gay Near-Death Experience and Spiritual Transformation (Emerald Ink Publishing, 2001).

Dale, a clinical psychologist, decided to research the topic after attending a conference of the International Association for Near-Death Studies in 1996. A speaker there had studied the experiences of AIDS and cancer patients, but noted that no research had been done on near-death experiences in the gay community.

Her findings confirmed a truth widely recognized by clinic researchers: We will have near-death experiences when we die. The dying experience is a human universal, gay and straight, rich or poor, black or white.

Author and NDE researcher Dr. Melvin Morse said, “The loving relationships that gays and lesbians forge during life are often discussed, trivialized, ridiculed, and even angrily denounced by society. [Dale’s] book documents that all loving relationships are nurtured by God’s love.”

Dorothy’s is another experience shared in Dale’s book. She was lying on the table in the emergency room of a hospital, when she found herself outside her body looking down as she heard the doctors say, “We lost her. There’s no heartbeat.”

The doctors put stimulators on her to jerk a heartbeat out of her, but Dorothy felt nothing. She heard them asking about next of kin and looking for an ID on the body.

Then she felt a vacuum pulling her into darkness, and then she began to breathe harder and harder. She pulled the IV out of her neck and said, “I have too much work to do in this lifetime.”

There were no tunnels of light or trips to heaven, just a deep conviction that her life is purposeful and pre-planned, and she needs to be here on earth to help people. Today she devotes much of her time and energy to helping women with AIDS.

NDE experiences vary from one person to the next, but they speak to core truths about our relationship to death—its mystery as a source of fear and hope. How they are interpreted varies from person to person and has much to do with that person’s stage of consciousness and particular religious beliefs. These experiences of higher realms of consciousness can inspire individuals to change lives. Or, as Dale claims, they can inspire lesbians and gay men with a solid reminder of our common humanity and spiritual dignity.

(July 23, 2005)

Note: This article is reprinted with permission from Rising Up.

About Joe Perez

Chief Blogger, Gay Spirituality. Joe Perez is a Seattle-based author, blogger, poet, language creator, and Scholar-in-Residence at the Center for Integral Wisdom. His spiritual memoir Soulfully Gay is published by Integral Books/Shambhala. He is an Honors graduate of Harvard University and has earned a Certificate in Integral Leadership from Pacific Integral. [Full Bio].