The Website of PMH AtwaterOne of the internet's most comprehensive sites on the near-death phenomenon!

One of the internet's most comprehensive sites on the near-death phenomenon!

The Near-Death Experience

What is a near-death experience

The most common definition given by the International Association For Near-Death Studies is this: The near-death experience is an intense awareness, sense, or experience of otherworldliness, whether pleasant or unpleasant, that happens to people who are at the edge of death. It is of such magnitude that most experiencers are deeply affected - many to the point of making significant changes in their lives afterward, because of what they went through.


Globally, in the general population at large, 4 to 5% will or have already experienced the near-death phenomenon. In critical care, the number is 12 to 21% of the people have near-death experiences. With children in critical care, the number is much larger, upwards to 50-70%, as established by Melvin Morse, M.D. These numbers indicate that hundreds of millions of people worldwide may have undergone a near-death experience.

What doesn't cause it

Because of four large clinical studies done in three countries, and a plethora of papers published in peer-reviewed journals, it can now be said that the near-death phenomenon is not caused by conditions such as: oxygen deprivation, carbon dioxide in the blood (hypercarbia), optical illusions, temporal lobe excitation/seizures, drug-induced hallucinations, depersonalization, dissociation, reliving birth trauma, culture dependence, dying brain theory, self-fulfilling prophecy, visual deception, or any other known cause. No critic or skeptic of near-death states has ever studied or researched the entire phenomenon as it occurs - which covers the conditions involved, the full slate of scenario elements, how that effects the individual, and the pattern of physiological and psychological aftereffects that tends to be lifelong. . . with both adults and children, including babes being born, after birth, toddlers, and the very young (who talk about their experience when proficient at language, or draw or act it out).

Where research stands at present (11-1-10)

Because of these studies, it can now be said that aspects such as out-of-body experiences, the dead "come back," otherworldly journeys, and spirit beings are typical to the experience and not some kind of anomaly or exaggeration. This has enabled scientists worldwide to use the phenomenon (the experience and the aftereffects) . . .to study consciousness itself.

Within the medical community, what must be addressed are facts like these: during loss of brain function, a person can still have out-of-body states, clear enhanced consciousness, self-identity with emotions, cognition/thought perception, use of faculties, and intact memories. How can a brain produce all of this….when it isn't working? Many of the aftereffects suggest lasting neurological changes (such as synesthesia).

The most common elements

By far the most common element is out-of-body experiences. These can range from the simple viewing of one's body from a space on the ceiling of the hospital room or above the accident scene, looking down; or the more complex, where individuals leave the scene, maybe go home and are there when the call comes through saying they are dead (they see who gets the call and hear what is said), to visiting other cities, areas.

Nearly as often, the light is seen. This light is described by adult experiencers as brighter than a million suns yet it doesn't hurt your eyes to look upon it. This light knows your name, knows all about you, and emits unconditional love and acceptance.

Greeters often come. Usually, greeters are relatives or friends previously deceased, or pets who have died (animal presences are fairly common). They can also be angels, light beings, religious/cultural figures, or the living. Yes, that is true, especially with children. So far, living greeters seem to stay only as long as it takes for the experiencer to calm down and be more relaxed, and then they disappear, replaced by figures more common to near-death scenarios. Occasionally, greeters can be demonic or threatening, or simply critical of the individual.

Occurring less often are life reviews, previews of what is to come, tunnels, reading from or learning about The Book of Life, otherworldly journeys, judgment courts, learning environments, beautiful landscapes or barren ones.

Heaven and Hell

In the research of Dr. Atwater, one out of seven had a hellish or frightening experience. Other researchers encountered more, some not any. It is suspected that perhaps a third of the cases could be this type of uncomfortable occurrence, as most of those who experience it will not talk admit or discuss having had one.

What is known today is that the classical model of near-death scenarios is not classical. Dr. Atwater discovered four types of experiences, which addresses more closely the actual scenarios of both adults and children. Please refer to the Eight Fliers on this website for charts of what Dr. Atwater found, not only with near-death scenarios, but with the pattern of physiological and psychological aftereffects, phases of integration, and so on.

Reported repeatedly is the layered appearance of what exists on the other side of death, as if there were levels to that which is uncomfortable and unpleasant, to layers for that which is comfortable and beneficial. We seem to go to whatever layer or level we resonate with - according to the vibration of our consciousness. Seldom is any top or bottom mentioned. Rather, the arrangement of layers/levels seems open-ended, indicating that choice, growth, and change are possible. The vast majority of near-death experiencers talk about God/Allah/Deity and the soul, even if the individual was formerly an atheist.

Cultural differences

These do exist. For instance, mostly in the industrialized countries do you ever hear anything at all about tunnels or life reviews. In third-world countries, otherworldly journeys and heavenly courts are more common. The pattern itself of the near-death phenomenon holds worldwide, yet how it is described will depend on language constraints and sometimes even on cultural beliefs.

A spiritual experience

The vast majority of near-death experiencers consider the phenomenon to be a spiritual experience, an opportunity to know for certain that God/Allah/Deity exists, and that we are each co-creators with the Creator in making this a better and more loving world. Most return with a clear sense that they have a job to do to help make this happen. Few remember exactly what that job is, yet they set about doing what they can to make a difference. It takes a minimum of seven years to integrate the experience (verified by the Lancet study); some of those years can be depressing and confusing as the individual grapples with how to interpret what happened while dealing with the range of aftereffects.

The survey most often used in the U.S.

The poll most often used estimates 15 million near-death experiencers in the United States (or 5% of the population). This poll was conducted by U.S. News & World Report in 1997. However, the figure more in keeping with actual case reportings in the United States, Holland, and Germany is 4% (which makes 11 million in the U.S.). What is of keen interest to researchers is that the 4% figure for general population groups shows up consistently in countries worldwide. This is why former claims of 20 to 30 million, even of 15 million experiencers, are usually down-scaled.

The new science behind the near-death experience

Pim van Lommel, a Dutch cardiologist, and his Associates, have done the most scientific clinical prospective-study thus far on the near-death experience. Published 12-15-01 in Lancet Medical Journal, it covered 10 hospitals, 344 cardiac patients, in two and eight-year followups (one of Dr. Atwater's findings was verified in this study). Dr. van Lommel asked: "How could clear, continuous consciousness - outside one's body - be experienced at the moment that the brain no longer functions during a period of clinical death, with a flat EEG?" His study and his answer are contained in his new book Consciousness Beyond Life: The Science of the Near-Death Experience, HarperOne, NYC, 2010.

The AWARE study is to follow (Awareness During Resuscitation). Covering several countries, it too is a clinical prospective study - but with only a three-year followup. Findings have not yet been released.

Other new books that are stretching what is known

Jeffrey Long, M.D., with Paul Perry. Evidence of the Afterlife. New York, NY; HarperCollins, 2010. Based on a study of 1,600 cases taken from his Internet site at

Raymond Moody, M.D., with Paul Perry. Glimpses of Eternity. Harlan, IA; Guideposts. Stories of "shared death" experiences.

Edward F. Kelly, Emily Williams Kelly, Adam Crabtree, Alan Gauld, Michael Grosso, and Bruce Greyson. Irreducible Mind: Toward a Psychology for the 21st Century. Blue Ridge Summit, PA; Rowman & Littlefield, 2007.

Edited by Janice Miner Holden, Ed.D, Bruce Greyson, M.D., and Debbie James, RN/MSN. The Handbook of Near-Death Experiences: Thirty Years of Investigation. Santa Barbara, CA; Praeger Publishers, 2009.

P. M. H. Atwater, L.H.D. The Big Book of Near-Death Experiences. Charlottesville, VA; Hampton Roads, 2007. Even though this book was written several years ago, it is still a timely source for updated research worldwide.

Controversial book due out March, 2011 - Now Available for Pre-Order

P. M. H. Atwater, L.H.D. Near-Death Experiences: The Rest of The Story. Hampton Roads, publisher. Combines the 33 years Dr. Atwater spent researching near-death states with nearly 4,000 adults and children, with the years she spent in the sixties and seventies experimenting with and studying altered states of consciousness, mysticism, psychic phenomena, and the transformational process, involving 3,000 plus experiencers. This book establishes that near-death states are not some kind of anomaly, but are, rather, part of the larger genre of transformations of consciousness. Shown are what a transformation of consciousness is, why we have them, why we crave them, and where they lead us. Full of surprises. Controversial. A lifetime achievement.

Books about Dr. Atwater's three near-death experiences

The original version of I Died Three Times in 1977 is a compilation of four articles she wrote for Many Smokes Magazine (published by The Bear Tribe) shortly after her experiences. This original version is still available as a download from her website at The second version, I Died Three Times in 1977 - The Complete Story, is finally available in print and as an e-book, and as a Kindle book through It is because of what she was told by The Voice Like None Other in her third near-death experience that she ever became a researcher of near-death states. Her resume can be found on her website, as well as the links to her blogs, her free newsletters, her YouTubes, and Twitters.

Books about childrens' near-death experiences

Kathy Forti. The Door to the Secret City. No longer available in bookstores, it can be obtained without charge through Orginally published in 1984 by Stillpoint Press, it was the first fictionalized account written by a child experiencer once grown. Refer to Future Memory for Kathy's actual story.

Denise Mendenhall (with the help of her father Doug Mendenhall). In His Arms. Self-published and available from the Mendenhall family. The first book about a child's near-death experience written by the child while still a child. Obtain from Publishing Hope, P. O. Box 282, Mt. Pleasant, UT 84647. Originally published in 2006, the book is both wondrous and disturbing, showing more clearly than ever how differently than an adult a child tends to regard both the experience and its aftereffects.

Aafke H. Holm-Oosterhof. A Journey with the Angel of Light. Done 30 years after-the-fact, this is an account of her near-death experience as a child, plus artwork. The book, however, is only available in Dutch. Contact Aafke directly at or through

Kathryn Diamond. Rachel's Magic Swing. A fictionalized version of a child's near-death experience by a child experiencer now an adult. The Day I Almost Drowned: A Child's Near-Death Experience. At much urging, Kathryn finally wrote about her own story. Both books are self-published and can be obtained at Follow directions.

Michael Martin, with the near-death section by Linda Jacquin. Near-Death Experiences. Published in 2005, this book is part of a series entitled The Unexplained, designed by Capstone Press for students from third to sixth grade reading levels. Capstone Press, 151 Good Council Drive, P. O. Box 669, Mankato, MN 56002. Linda is a child experiencer now grown.

Evelyn Elsaesser-Valarino. Talking with Angel: About Illness, Death, and Survival. Edinburgh, Scotland; Floris Books (available worldwide). A fictionalized account of a child's near-death experience written by a researcher of near-death states.

Carol McCormick. A Bridge for Grandma. Self-published and illustrated. Available from Beavers Pond Press, 7104 Ohms Lane, Suite 216, Edina, MN 55439; A fictionalized account of a child's near-death experience written for children by an author familiar with near-death research.

Melvin Morse, M.D., with Paul Perry. Closer to the Light: Learning from the Near-Death Experiences of Children. New York, NY; Villard Books, 1990. Breakthrough research from a children's doctor.

Cherie Sutherland, Ph.D. Children of the Light: The Near-Death Experiences of Children. Sydney, Australia; Bantam Books, 1995. Another breakthrough book
about children.

P. M. H. Atwater, L.H.D. The New Children and Near-Death Experiences. Rochester, VT; Inner Traditions/Bear & Co., 1999/2003. (Originally published in short form as Children of the New Millennium by Three Rivers Press, NYC.) An in-depth study of not only children's near-death experiences but of their aftereffects and the different way children have of dealing with them. A large resource section.

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