March 18, 2020

An NDE researcher ruminates about death during the time of COVID-19


By Kenneth Ring, Ph.D.

Just a little while ago, I heard from a graduate student who asked me what I was thinking about in regard to death during this virus crisis. (She was familiar with my work on NDEs.) She had mentioned that she was now doing daily meditations on death. She also wondered whether we were going to experience what she called "a collective NDE."

What follows is a bit of what I wrote to her a few minutes ago:

Re your idea of a collective NDE, I actually wrote about that toward the end of one of early books on NDEs, Heading Toward Omega, although right now, we seem to be heading toward oblivion. But I’m sure many people, especially us old farts, are thinking about death, and at many levels. Not just personally -- will I or my loved ones survive? -- but what the world will look like after this crisis has passed? How many -- possibly millions -- will have died? And what about the world’s economy? It’s like the Great Depression of the '30s, only much worse. So, sure, apocalyptic thinking is in the air despite all the brave and cheerful talk about "carrying on." Though carry on, we must. What else can we do?

Meanwhile, you are dealing with this in your own way with your meditations on death -- an ancient Buddhist meditative practice, to be sure. I am, too, but I’m different from most people because I have spent more than half a lifetime thinking, reading and writing about death and near-death experiences -- as well as spending countless hours with NDErs. To me, death is an old friend, and nothing to be feared.

Nevertheless, there is plenty to be feared about dying, especially in these circumstances. Unlike the H1N1 crisis of some years ago, which affected mainly younger people, this one will tend to target the old -- people like me are in the "vulnerable category." And what makes this tough are the very practices designed to keep us safe -- isolation. So I think:  Should I get ill, seriously ill, I would not want to infect anyone, especially those dear to me. Which means I could well die alone -- not a cheerful prospect, no matter what may follow death. I think: Will I ever see my children again? My friends? My girlfriend, Lauren? Who will hold my hand if I should find myself dying?

Not that I think I will -- at least not because of this pandemic. But then, being a sucker for Jewish humor, I have considered that actually death would solve a lot of my problems, such as my spinal stenosis or what the hell am I going to do when my driver’s license expires at the end of the year, assuming I don’t expire before that myself. So my thoughts are not so much about death but about social isolation.  Living alone has its drawbacks...

I actually thought about keeping a corona diary, since writing is just about all I can do these days, but I’ve been too busy. But maybe writing letters like this is a way to write a diary in another form.

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