Excerpt from Ann V. Graber’s book The Journey Home: Preparing for Life’s Ultimate Adventure
Recently, Baul in Holland sent an excerpt from Ann V. Graber’s book, The Journey Home: Preparing for Life’s Ultimate Adventure. I was intrigued and deeply touched after reading about Ann’s personal experience and established contact with her to ask for permission to publish, which she kindly granted – Ann also made some minor revisions in the text. It is especially these last few months that we heard about so many friends who moved to the other shore and others preparing themselves for it. May this account give cause for pause and look deeply into the transition we all will be making one day sooner or later and invoke courage to take it face on. Ann’s experience speaks for itself.
Although I had believed in a reality beyond the tangible world since childhood, it was largely a matter of faith. Faith became knowing when a window to another dimension, or plane of awareness, flew open for me one day. On that eventful day my life changed dramatically, both internally and externally. On a vacation trip a year earlier we were involved in an automobile accident. The rear–end collision had resulted in an undetected injury to my neck, which caused discomfort and increasing numbness of my left arm and hand. I found, I could relieve the pain and pressure in my neck by dangling my head over the edge of the bed before going to work in order to be able to type.
This is what I was doing on that fateful morning when I slid off the bed and landed on the back of my neck. As my body hit the floor, I felt an excruciating pain – as if my spinal cord had been cut by a knife – followed by a lightening-like sensation surging down my spine and exiting through every nerve ending – then nothing – no sensation, no movement! I lay crumpled on the floor the way I had fallen and could not move. A horrible realization dawned upon me: “I am paralyzed!” Following the shock of this discovery, I began to assess my situation. As a former anatomy / physiology instructor I had enough medical knowledge to conclude that I had sustained a traumatic spinal cord injury with loss of function and sensation below the neck, and was quadriplegic.
At the prevailing level of medical technology, we simply didn’t know how to mend mangled spinal cords. Since I could still breathe unassisted, I deduced that the lesion must be below C-3 (third cervical vertebra). I was fully conscious and painfully aware of my predicament. This fall happened around 7.30am on a Monday morning. Everyone had already left for the day. I was alone. No one was expected to be back before evening. Fears, couched in questions and answers, assailed me: Will I still be alive by then? It didn’t matter. Who wants to live in a body that doesn’t function?
And my worst fear of all: What if I was comatose and could not object to being kept alive through mechanical means? The horror of that possibility engulfed me. An intense rush of self-pity overwhelmed me. What awful fate had befallen me! Then some aspect from deep within stepped forth and took charge as if to say, “Stop your sniveling! This is not the time to feel sorry for your self. Use what little time you have left to put your inner house in order!” It was as if the CEO of my intrapsychic board of regents had spoken. This appeared to be a sensible suggestion. I was surprised to learn that the emotions did not have to run the show, that a higher wisdom could be in charge.
Heeding its directive, I had to concede that I was probably about to die. How does one prepare to die – consciously? Not some day when I’m old, but now, perhaps in a matter of hours? As my bodily functions and sensations diminished, perceptions became keener. Never before or since have I been able to think so clearly and rapidly. It was as if the central nervous system were an organ through which mind operates in the physical plane.
Now the veil of matter was lifting and I had direct access to mind, unencumbered by limiting neural pathways. I perceived myself more and more from outside of my body confines. It felt as if my life force was being withdrawn through the crown of my head and was gathering above me. This process took several hours. I became the observer and the observed. For instance, I could dispassionately observe that the circulation was cut off in my left leg (I had landed in a heap with my weight compressing the left leg). I watched it turn pale, then waxen-looking, as if it belonged to a corpse. All at the same time, I felt deep sadness for it, boundless gratitude for having carried me through life, and the joy of dancing and skiing on it. In this expanded reality everything was happening simultaneously with great intensity. It was trans-temporal: I was in linear time as well as beyond it. The thought occurred to me to do a “general confession with an act of contrition” as I had been taught in my Catholic childhood: to ask for forgiveness wherever I knew I had wronged someone, and to extend mine where I harbored resentment.
As soon as I had that intention clearly formulated, my memory banks opened up in a way I had never experienced before. Suddenly I had access to past experiences in a multi-sensory way. I not only saw the events of my life pass before me, but sensed the wider implications of every act, in a holographic progression. I was acutely aware of how I and others felt at the same time. For example, I knew each and every child in my first grade class again. I could clearly see the wispy pig tails of the little girl in front of me, was fascinated by the intricate Norwegian design of a boy’s sweater; I was hearing the teacher’s voice while knowing what impact he had made on each of us – far beyond the lessons we had studied in class. And so it went through the many days and years of my life. I was amazed at the mental acuity at my disposal. Everything I had ever learned was stored knowledge available to me in glorious color, with surround sound, complete with smells and tastes, accompanied by feelings. It was incredible – a holodome of my personal journey! When I reached the end of my life review, a dizzying perceptual ride through several decades, I felt great relief. I saw it as a life rich in meaningful experiences: some happy, many painful, but an eventful life with many challenges and opportunities for soul growth. There were some unhealed relationships into which I poured all the love and good will at my disposal, trusting that my intentionality would direct it to its destination.
Then I began to say my good-byes. This was truly wrenching as I was very much attached to the people I loved. With deep love and caring I took my leave from those near and dear to me. As the circle of love expanded, I was amazed to see how many people had influenced my life and made their contribution. I began to understand how interconnected we all are. At that moment, it was easy to love the whole world and everybody in it. Gradually I reached a point of relinquishment where I concluded – it was a good life! If I had to do it over, I probably wouldn’t do any better.
This was very comforting. A tranquility and stillness began to permeate my entire being. I was at peace. All fear of death had vanished. The sun was high on the horizon now. My breathing was shallow and very labored. Death would be a welcome visitor. My last conscious thought was, “Into your hands I commend my spirit, oh Lord!” What I am about to relate next needs to be prefaced. No one says it better than the mystic, Emanuel Swedenborg, when he describes spirit slipping into a stillness at death, rather like falling asleep, and experiencing inexpressible Divine things of infinite wisdom; of seeing countless things, of which not even a ten thousandth part could be described in human words because they would not fit into concepts that have matter-centered content. (Heaven and Hell, #411; George Dole translation).
After having surrendered my life into the Lord’s keeping, the scene shifted. Awareness of the room where I had lain on the floor faded. I was somewhere else! Trying to orient myself to my surroundings, I perceived myself as being far out in space. Far-off I could see our beautiful planet, the Earth, glistening and turning gracefully. I sensed that I was not alone. There were presences about me, very benevolent beings. I did not perceive them as having form, but they were identifiable by their inner qualities, which radiated from them and permeated the realm, giving it a shimmering purplish-golden glow. It was a wondrous place, or state of being. My impression was of swirling currents of pure compassion, of radiant love, of infinite wisdom, of aliveness and vitality that sustained worlds without end. These qualities were as palpable as tangible objects are in our world, not abstract or elusive. I felt wondrously safe there. I was home! I also felt warmly welcomed and was given to understand that my life’s learning task was accomplished. What joy! The thought of spending eternity there in the company of these magnificent beings filled me with an ecstasy that’s unimaginable where I had come from.
Then a drama was staged for my edification and benefit. Our world was shown to me. It had points of Light as well as places of darkness. There were many changes occurring rapidly all around the planet. This appeared to me as energy vortices twirling, picking up momentum, colliding with others, changing direction and velocity, regrouping and reforming, gradually learning to cooperate for the benefit of all – until eventually they moved with grace and beauty, in harmony with one another. The implication was: there is and there will be much chaotic whirling of energies about the planet Earth. There is need for souls there who can be stable elements, points of stillness, while the winds of change and transformation blow about.
I intuited an invitation, “Will you be one of them?” What? Go back into that crumpled body that’s beyond repair? I didn’t want to leave the wondrous purple/gold shimmering realm, nor the company of those magnificent beings! But it was not polite to say NO to God or to His Emissaries, was it? So I gave my consent to return for an extended tour on planet Earth. Mine would be a bit part in the supportive cast that could be played, if need be, from a wheelchair. No more than I had given my consent to return, when I became conscious of being on the floor of my room again. The door was being opened. Against all odds, someone came by at noon and found me. I was rushed to a hospital that specialized in treating spinal cord injuries.
After many months in traction, a spinal fusion, rehabilitation, the ministrations of many kinds of healers, and the loving support of kindred spirits, my recovery exceeded the most optimistic medical prognosis. Has looking through that window beyond finite consciousness made a difference in my life? The first and most immediate change was in my attitude regarding death. If I believed in a life after death before, now I know that consciousness lives on. Moreover, I had experienced the transition from three-dimensional to multi-dimensional reality; it will be an adventure to be looked forward to, not an event to be feared, when this “tour of duty” is successfully completed. I also live with a greater sense of purpose, knowing that each of us has a vocation of destiny or life purpose – to do that which is most meaningful for us to do at a given time and circumstance. Life is a gift, not a given. We are to respond to the demands life places on us, meet its challenges, to the best of our ability using our innate resources. We have a mandate to become all that we can be.
We each play a part in the symphony of life. The orchestra of planet Earth is practicing its hymn to the universe. There may still be discordant notes to be heard, but we are getting more attuned to each other and to the Conductor. It will be a glorious sound when everyone knows and plays their part in concert with others. Since that glimpse into another dimension in 1984, there has indeed been much swirling of energies about the planet. Awareness has shifted and consciousness expanded in many ways. Collisions of thought streams and belief systems were and are inevitable until we see from a cooperative, not a competitive, perspective. As more and more of us access that greater reality within, fear will lessen; not only the fear of death, but also the fear of each other, and bridges of trust will be built. It became obvious that experiences beyond finite reality are not the purview of a select few, but the common destiny and heritage of humankind. Direct experience of the sacred is our birthright.
There have been and still are spiritual giants among us who have pointed the way. We tended to worship their pointing finger, instead of being on our way to where it was pointing. At the core of their message we find Love and Wisdom. The peripheral details of these experiences, and the message inherent in them, vary according to individual perception. The translation of the sacred and infinite into finite language will also be colored by cultural idiom. As windows in consciousness open and our perceptual boundaries expand, let us not erect new ones by seeking validation for our experiences through conformity with the near death or sacred experiences of others. The divine spark in each individual is unique; therefore, the experience of each one is valid, albeit different. Just as the description of my experience is uniquely mine, so are the descriptions of others’ experiences uniquely theirs. I tend to take these accounts less literally than I once did, but look for the spirit contained in the message. What emerges is, “There is a wondrous life to be lived – here and beyond – as we love and serve each other!”
Ann V. Graber, PhD, author of Viktor Frankl’s Logotherapy, has earned the respect of students around the world as an instructor of Franklian Psychology, a meaning-centered approach to living and counseling that looks at our transitioning through life optimistically and calls us to live responsibly. Since her own “Adventure Inward”– which opens her book, The Journey Home ( will soon available as an audio book in English), she has been yearning to assist her fellow travelers to view death as a ‘commencement’ rather than the end of life. amazon.com
Photo by Maneesha