Ingrid Dilley, B.S., is a cancer survivor for over 30 years. She is a founder and facilitator/trainer for the Renewing Life program in hospitals across the country, which helps people to make the most of life when dealing with a life-threatening or chronic physical illness.
When I was 16 years old, I was operated on for lumps in both sides of my neck. These were removed, and I was told I had cancer, but that they thought they got it all. At 18 years old, I had a series of tumors down the right side of my neck, so my local surgeon referred me to a well known thoracic surgeon in New York City. I had radical neck surgery and I kept complaining I couldn't breathe, but everyone around me assured me it was the pressure dressing on the wound, and I should go back to sleep.
Following that surgery, at seven o'clock that night, I lay semiconscious in bed no longer complaining when the doctor came in to check on me. I had no blood pressure! The doctor yelled at me to breathe and kept telling me to breathe for each breath, while he cut me open in bed, hoping to remove the blood clot on my trachea. He could not reach it, and so I was rushed into surgery again, but not given any anesthesia due to my critical condition.
While in the operating room, I found myself on the ceiling watching them operate on me below and hearing what they said. I kept thinking, “Why are they so frantic? I'm just fine,” and then I realized I was on the ceiling watching them. I got scared, and in that same moment found myself in a tunnel, like a swirling cloud with brilliant glistening lightness. I also had a guide. I didn't see him, but I felt his presence and heard his voice. I felt peaceful, accepted, whole. As I walked down this tunnel toward a brilliant white light, my ears were ringing and scenes from my life passed before my eyes. These were not big moments or events in my life, and were certainly not moments I would have picked out as representative of my life. They were moments of loving another. Moments of shared intimacy. Moments in which I had touched another in their deepest heart. Moments of shared unconditional love. Moments in which it had made a difference that I had been there for another person. There were only a few of these moments in my 18 years of life.
As I neared the end of the tunnel, there was an archway with people on the other side that were welcoming me. They were people I knew who were dead: a grandmother, other grandparents, an uncle, great-grandparents, etc. I recognized them.
Again I must mention, that even at all this I felt no fear. I felt perfectly safe, peaceful, complete, totally all right. At this threshold, my guide told me that this was death. This guide also told me it was perfectly all right for me to choose to go there if I wanted to rest, but I would have to come back another time in another life and complete the lessons of this life. In addition, I would have to rediscover these lessons, as they would be unknown to me in a new lifetime, just as they had been to me in this lifetime up until now.
Or I could choose to go back into this lifetime, to learn more about my lessons. It was clear to me that my lessons were to be with others in such a way that it made a difference. To touch them in their deepest heart, to live within the hearts of others, to be a reflection in their lives long after my body died. This was the legacy that I was to leave. I now had a choice to stay and be with those on the other side of the archway, or to come back to further gain an understanding of my lessons for this lifetime.
I chose to come back, and I began to become conscious of my body, my breathing, pain, light, voices. I had no anesthesia, as I said before. The doctor kept asking for my blood pressure. The nurse said, “It's going Up?!!” with much surprise. I was told days later that they never expected me to make it. My doctor told me that my heart never would have taken it had I been older than 18. I have had my spiritual guide ever since. I didn't tell the doctors I chose to come back, and that's why I made it. In fact, I didn't tell anyone about this experience for five years, until I heard someone else talk about a near-death experience.
It was not until I heard Dr. Stanislov Grof talk about near-death experiences and the rights of passage, that I began to share the spiritual part of this experience. He spoke of research into all kinds of cultures and the similarities of near-death experiences, and how these experiences were created and used in Native American, Indian, Oriental, and Christian cultures to awaken people spiritually. I realized I was not alone in having found a spiritual guide, and that I was not crazy! I began to share my experiences and trust my guide. Later, I trained more with Dr. Martin Rossman and Dr. David Bressler, who taught me to access my inner physician. Later, I heard of Louise Hays' Mirror Work which I had been doing on my own for years. Now, Dr. Bernie Siegel speaks about using guided imagery for healing and spiritual awakening. One need not go through a near-death experience to learn to access a higher power. People do it in prayer, meditation, vision quests, guided imagery, mirror work, and other forms.
In my own life I have continued to use my inner guide for direction and guided imagery for healing. It's nice to know others have proven it works.
Story Copyright 1991 by Ingrid Dilley, Carol Troestler, and Josiah Dilley. Reprinted with permission.