“There was a time in my life, I thought I had to do it all by myself.” – from the song I Release and I Let Go
On August 12, 1985, I died. Not once, but three times. I was 20 years old, living in New York City by myself. Feeling all alone.
I had a long rough day and I was so tired. Tired of struggling, personally, professionally, emotionally. Tired of doing it “all by self” as my inner two year old liked to say. So I decided to take action.
I took massive amounts of pills, laid on top of my bed and waited. Much of what happened during the next 4 days I have no recollection of. At least all the things that happened “outside” of me. What happened inside of me I remember vividly, all these years later.
The pills were taking effect, doing their job perfectly, helping me quietly and peacefully end my life. Friends who knew I’d had a rough day tried calling throughout the evening. The phone rang and rang, unanswered.
It seemed odd to them that I hadn’t turned on my answering machine. So they decided to stop by and check on me. My friend let herself in with my extra key. Finding me in my bedroom, she couldn’t find a pulse. The compact mirror she held up under my nose barely fogged up. She frantically dialed 911. The ambulance arrived; paramedics carried me out the front window on a stretcher. They didn’t want to waste time trying to extract me from the narrow apartment hallways.
I arrived at the hospital and immediately went into cardiac arrest. Three times, my heart stopped. Three times I died that evening. When my heart stopped the third time, the attending physician turned to the resident and said “Let her go. She’s just going to try again. Just let her go.”
But something inside the resident made him emphatically declare, “No! We have to try one more time.” Out came the paddles again, “CLEAR!” and then…my heart started to beat again. And continued to beat.
I wasn’t out of the woods, though. I spent the next four days in a coma. My future uncertain. No one could tell if I would ever regain consciousness. I don’t remember any of this. I learned it all later, from my friends, and from a “chance” encounter I had a year later in the same emergency room, when I sprained my ankle in a softball game.
The emergency room doctor treating my ankle kept looking at my chart, then at me, with great interest. Finally he said, “You don’t remember me, do you?” “No, sir, I’m afraid I don’t. Have we met before?” I asked.
“I’m the doctor who was on call when you came in with an overdose.” I thanked him profusely and asked him to share what he remembered about that night, which I’ve shared with you above.
So why is my birthday so important to me? That’s the next part of the story. After 4 days in a coma, my eyelids began to flutter. The nurse came over to check on me. “Do you know what day it is?” I shook my head “no.” It’s August 17, 1985,” she said. My voice was crackly “Aren’t you going to wish me a happy birthday?” I was literally “born again” on my 21st birthday.
What was more intense for me, though, was what happened during the time my heart wasn’t beating. I remember it vividly, and it probably accounts for the reason I find such beauty in everyday life. And why I have very little fear of death. And why I strive every day to do something that makes a difference in the lives of others.
Here’s what I DO remember: A long, soft tunnel. The essence of my father, Mike, who had himself taken his life at a young age, and the essence of my dear great-grandma Frank with whom I had spent long summers growing up.
I also remember the essence of the brightest, most loving, Light-filled presence I’ve ever experienced. They were all so welcoming and so peaceful. They greeted me by name. They visited with me for what seemed like a long time. And then they said, “Okay, it’s time to go.” I turned to follow. “No,” they said, “WE have to go. YOU have to go back.”
I remember checking in mentally and replying “Nope, I’m good. I’m coming with you!”
“You have to go back. You have important things still left to do in your life.”
In an instant, the Light flashed and they were gone. And the next thing I knew, it was my birthday.
Now my life is more like Rickie Byar Beckwith’s song “Innocent Love.” And like my new favorite anthem, Jamie Grace’s “Do Life Big.” And so I celebrate the second chance I got, to create something meaningful. I celebrate the choices I make to come from love and faith, in every moment, of every day. And I celebrate all the friends and strangers I meet, who make more of a difference in my life than they may ever know. And that includes YOU.
Thank you, for being you!