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Too Close for Comfort

Too Close for Comfort

Clarity From Near-Death Experiences 

By Aine Schmidt Weiss 
 

When Alex Wiedemann, sophomore exercise science major, boarded a plane to the Dominican Republic in spring break of 11th grade, she could never have imagined what was in store for her on this mission trip. Halfway into this ten-day trip, she had to be rushed to a hospital due to debilitating stomach pain, only to find out her appendix had burst, and she needed emergency surgery. The hospital was unsanitary, Wiedemann stated: “They didn’t use gloves and there were dead cockroaches everywhere. When I was out of surgery in a room with three other beds, the one next to me was covered in dried blood and other substances. It felt like a jail that I was trapped in.” She finally was able to go home against the doctor’s orders, only then realizing “how dire [her] circumstances were.” [1] 

While Wiedemann’s experience is not the usual one, near-death experiences are not uncommon. The Collegian interviewed eight Walla Walla University students about their near-death experiences. What these people learned were valuable lessons for them and can be for us as well. 

I was always under the impression that near-death experiences would make people more anxious, hyperaware of every danger lurking in the shadows. Emmalyn Logan, a sophomore nursing major, changed my mind. “I was a really anxious kid,” she explained, “… I could’ve gained a lot from being present in the moment and realizing that worrying doesn’t get you anywhere.” After she narrowly missed being in a car accident, rushing over to the scene to help one man who was injured and one man who died, Logan acknowledged the futility of worrying. “You can do as much as you can to avoid [death] and it still doesn’t do anything … because anything can happen.” [2] 

Caidyn Boyd, sophomore global communications and history double major, agreed that these experiences are opportunities to reflect rather than ways to become more anxious. As a young child, he nearly choked to death on a children’s toy when his mother briefly stepped out of the room. “Knowing personally that I’ve had a near death experience, even if I don’t remember it, makes me considerably more aware of my own mortality,” Boyd stated, reflecting on how easily life is lost. However, he emphasized the importance of not being worried about death. The value your life has is dependent on how you use the time you have left, not on how long you have left. [3] 

Relationships stand out as the key focus of many who face death and live to tell the tale. Amelia Schaffer, a freshman psychology major, had a severe allergic reaction at the age of four. “I was starting to drift in and out of consciousness. By the time they got me to the hospital I was starting to turn blue. My organs were failing, and I was barely breathing.” While she was very young at the time of this near-death experience, reflecting on it now led her to recognize that time with people can easily be cut short. “It’s rare that you know when the last time you are going to see a person is beforehand. Make sure you let people know that you love them while you still can.” [4] 

Gabran Arruda, a junior social work major, also realized he needed to prioritize relationships and people in his life. His car was totaled last fall when he was driving to his cousin’s funeral. Since then, he has tried to be more intentional about letting the people around him know how much they mean to him and how much they matter. Arruda claimed that the whole reason he got into social work was to help people, and while he often gets frustrated that classes and life get in the way of that, he still makes an effort to reach out to others. “What you do today could be the last thing you get to ever do, so it’s important to make every moment worth it.” [5]  

Jack Darrow, a sophomore product design major, had similar takeaways from when his father hit a cow while driving on a dark night in Nevada, severely damaging the vehicle but surprisingly not injuring anyone. This event led him to realize that anything could happen at any time, so he has less reservation about things he can do “then and there.” Darrow was a timid kid, and now he wishes he could tell his younger self: “Talk to more people … step out a little bit, make a new friend.” [6] 

Jack Darrow’s car after his accident. Photo by Jack Darrow.

As she has gotten older, Wiedemann has focused on the importance of appreciating those around you. During her experience, she was surrounded by people who supported her. Throughout her recovery, Wiedemann claimed: “I was bitter and snippy. I was rude to my dad, who was there, and the other adults I was friends with that took care of me. I wish I had told them more how appreciative I was. They know it now, but I should have told them more in the moment.” She has decided to be a happier person and make everyone’s day around her a brighter one. [7] 

When Michael Herrera-Teran, a sophomore theology major, rolled down a mountain when jeeping with his friends in Colorado the summer before freshman year, he had been contemplating whether or not to pursue theology. He was worried that “The feeling I got that God wanted me to be [a pastor] was like a pseudo-feeling … like it was all in my head.” But when he and his friends walked away from the accident, he knew God had plans for his life. He set his anxieties and preoccupations about not being “good enough” aside. [8] 

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As the car turned, all Herrera-Teran could feel was totally powerless, surrendering himself to the situation. His fears would not have changed a thing, so after, he reflected: “I want to live a life where I can look back and say, I did things in spite of my fear.” He then decided to come to WWU to pursue his dreams of being a pastor and tending to people’s spiritual needs. He wishes his younger self knew that he could do more than he thought. [9]  

Logan also struggled with worries about following a nursing career before her near-death experience. All her concerns about being adequate flew out the window when she realized people were injured. “In the moment, when it happened, it didn’t even seem like a choice to me whether or not I was going to help,” Logan stated. She realized it is OK to feel nervous about nursing and that she is still capable. [10] 

Sara Downs, a junior communications major, recognized the importance of keeping Jesus first after falling through ice on an ATV in the eighth grade. Downs says she knows God has a plan for her: “He has saved me so many times. I want to do my best to help others and bring joy to their lives.” Life is extraordinary, and she chooses to use it to be “considerate and kind to others, and be a good friend.” [11] 

As we reflect on these eight near-death experiences and what they mean for our lives, Downs challenges us all to use the time we are given wisely. “Share. Be a giving person. Keep an eye out for others and help them when they’re in trouble … it’s important to be [the] kind of person who lives for more than just yourself.” [12] 

References 

  1. Interview with Alex Wiedemann, 11/27/2021. 
  1. Interview with Emmalyn Logan, 11/23/2021. 
  1. Interview with Caidyn Boyd, 11/23/2021. 
  1. Interview with Amelia Schaffer, 11/27/2021. 
  1. Interview with Gabran Arruda, 11/24/2021. 
  1. Interview with Jack Darrow, 11/23/2021. 
  1. Interview with Alex Wiedemann, 11/27/2021. 
  1. Interview with Michael Herrera-Teran, 11/23/2021. 
  1. Ibid
  1. Interview with Emmalyn Logan, 11/23/2021. 
  1. Interview with Sara Downs, 11/24/2021. 
  1. Ibid
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