What happens after you die? These folks offer some insight

Back on a fateful day in 1972, Shannon Mackler found himself on the wrong side of a gun.

After drinking all day in a Canton, Ohio, bar, Mackler made some derogatory remarks and was thrown out. He went home, got his gun and stormed back into the bar for revenge.

A scuffle ensued; the gun went off, and the bullet nicked Mackler's collarbone, severed his jugular vein and went out his shoulder. He lost 7 1/2 pints of blood and died at the hospital.

Twenty minutes after he flatlined, Mackler gasped for air. He was alive.

Mackler describes what happened in the hospital: "I watched what was going on. I went up into one corner of the room. As they worked on me, I was watching the monitor. I saw it flatline.

"I had this rush of energy that happened. It wasn't a tunnel. It was sort of like being strapped on the front of an airliner. I went out through these honey-colored clouds with gold along the edges toward the light. I moved into this light. I had this feeling of being safe--secure and unconditional love."

Mackler is part of a local panel of people who have survived near-death experiences (NDEs) and who speak to students and groups about their encounters. Linda Reed, also a near-death experiencer, is the facilitator. She has conducted three years of panels at UA and Pima Community College classes, talking to prospective doctors, nurses and hospice workers. She also runs the monthly NDE/Paranormal Discussion Group that formed in 1984.

"We're here to help educate," says Reed. "We will share information to help educate the public on what NDEs are and how it changes your life.

"The core NDE is where you are pronounced clinically dead. ... You have an out-of-body experience. A lot of people go up 45 degrees and see (their body). Some people go down a tunnel; some don't. You see a light at the end of the tunnel. The light turns to a being; the being has a personality."

Other panel members had similar experiences. Linda Burkhard was dead for five minutes after cardiac arrest.

"I felt a comfortable breeze; I was moving forward. I saw light, and the light got bigger and bigger. There was a being. I would say this was a being, but not male or female. ... I had a feeling of total understanding."

Barbara Rector was clinically dead for about 20 minutes after falling off a horse--and having the horse fall on her.

"I was zipping to pink clouds of gold. I was so intensely aware of the all-knowingness. I was given a life review ... in a circle, (there was) a council of lighted beings, but they were all one. It was beyond gender, beyond individual."

All panel members speak of an experience that has forever changed their lives. They felt unconditional love, understanding and acceptance, and they say they've had a paradigm shift.

One's belief systems may help determine whether there is an acceptance of NDEs. Some say they're hallucinations. But make-believe doesn't cut it when discussing the life changes that can occur after NDEs.

"I used to drink and fight a lot. Now I write poetry and listen to Chopin. ... I started to think about what I could do to make the world better instead of just my world better," says Mackler.

Burkhard recalls, "I was so shy before it happened. I couldn't talk in front of my mirror to myself. After it happened, I would talk to groups of 500 people. ... You lose your fear of death. I try to convey to people there is no death."

Rector went from being a mother and "a corporate wife, not living a redeeming life of bringing good works" to co-founding Therapeutic Riding of Tucson, an organization that offers equine-related programs for people with special needs. She came away from her NDE with the knowledge that "we are all here purposefully. ... Let go of fear; live the love."

Reed says panel members are not trying to convince anyone of anything; they simply share their stories.

"We went to the threshold of death. ... Everybody's experience will be different. ... All we can tell you is that we went up to the door, and we got a glimpse of what it's like, and it's wonderful. What it's like all the way in there, we can't tell you."

With so much to worry about these days, it's comforting to hear local voices say that death is not to be feared. At the first NDE group meeting in 1984, armed police officers were present due to the group's controversial theme. These days, the group meets peacefully--and a lot fewer people fear the reaper.