Friday, May 22, 2015

May 22, 2015 — Dying and Unafraid

Anyone who’s read widely about religion in America knows the name of Phyllis Tickle. As the longtime religion editor for Publisher’s Weekly, she’s had a great influence on contemporary religious writing. In recent years, she’s garnered acclaim for several books of her own, most notably The Great Emergence. These have sought to make some sense of the rapidly-changing American religious landscape.

She hasn’t written much about her own faith journey, though — or, at least, nothing I’ve seen in print. She’s been diagnosed, now, with Stage 4 lung cancer and has been told that her condition is not curable.

Maybe that diagnosis has freed her to share more deeply about her inner life. In a Religion News Service interview published today (“Author Phyllis Tickle faces death just as she enjoyed life: ‘The dying is my next career’”), she shares the details of a near-death experience she had as a young woman of 21. She’d been given an experimental drug to prevent a miscarriage, and things went south after that:

In the middle of the night, she stopped breathing; her husband, a medical student at the time, was able to revive her long enough to get her to the hospital.

“Mine was a classic near-death. So, not much to say,” she begins. “I was dead.

“I was like a gargoyle up in the corner of the hospital room,” she continues. “And I remember to this day looking down and watching Sam beat on me again and screaming for the nurses, and the nurses coming with the machines and the whole nine yards. And then the ceiling opened and I just went out the corner and into a tunnel, which was grass all the way around. Ceiling, sides, the whole thing.

“And I went to the end of the tunnel to this incredible — people call it ‘the light.’ I guess that’s as good a name as any. But an incredible peace, a reality, unity, whatever. The voice, which was fortunately speaking in English” — she laughs again — “said, ‘Do you want to come?’ And I heard myself saying, ‘No, I want to go back and have his baby,’ meaning Sam.”

She recalls that she turned around and went back down through the hole in the ceiling and into her body.

Her analysis, all these years later?

“You’re never afraid of death after that,” she told the interviewer. “I’m sorry. You could work at it but you’d just never be afraid of it. … You don’t invite that kind of thing. It’s a gift. It’s not like you can prepare for it or anything. It’s part of the working material you’re given.”

Such experiences are truly a gift — both for those who have them and for those who hear about them.


Brooke R. said...

Hi Carl -
I appreciate reading about Phyllis Tickle. I've only recently been introduced to her work. You might be interested in this blog: - Livingly Dying. It's written by Marcy Westering, a long time peace and justice activist in Oregon. She has stage 4 ovarian cancer, and is, right now in her last days. Her blog traces her journey over the last few years and her last post is "transition to hospice #1" .. Marcy is not a woman of faith, in the traditional sense, but she is a very thoughtful woman whose organizing for justice has influenced every area of her life. :)

Robin said...

Wonderful testimony, coming from Phyllis. The experience I had when my mother died (I was about the age of Phyllis at her near-death experience) also removed any fear of dying. And it has been a gift for me in ministry. Those gifts, I believe, are only given for a purpose.