Some years ago when I was still actively researching NDEs, I was struck and fascinated by occasional anecdotal reports that blind people were actually able to see during their NDEs. Musing on these reports, I felt that, if they could be verified, they would provide powerful support for the authenticity of NDEs. Indeed, more than that – they would be mind-blowing. So I decided to look into this to see if there was really documented evidence for such cases.
I knew that such now legendary pioneers of NDEs as Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and Raymond Moody had recounted such stories, but neither Kübler-Ross nor Moody were systematic and careful researchers, and could not provide me with the evidence I was seeking. I was excited to read about a case in a then new book by Larry Dossey whose work I respected, but he later shamefacedly confessed that he had made it up. His justification? He had heard the same stories I had and simply assumed they must be true. In any case, though I diligently searched to unearth such documented cases, I simply could not find any! Unfortunately, as intriguing as these stories were, there was no evidence to support them.
So I decided to launch my own study. And before long, I had struck gold. Her name was Vicki Umipeg and this is her story.
I had told a good friend and colleague, an NDEr herself, named Kim Sharp about the study I had just undertaken, and she replied excitedly that at one of the monthly meetings she ran for people interested in NDEs in Seattle, a blind woman named Vicki had shown up – and had claimed she had been able to see during her NDE!
Whoa! Could that be true? If so, what an amazing bit of serendipity that would be. Needless to say, I was both ears, and by the time we finished our conversation, Kim promised to send me a tape of Vicki’s presentation and to put me in touch with her. Bingo!
I received the tape shortly afterward and a few days later, I called Vicki to introduce myself. We hit it off, and I wound up speaking to her many times on the phone and, later, on two occasions, was able to visit her and husband. During the first of those visits, I conducted my own interview with Vicki about her life history and her two NDEs. This is what I learned.
When I first met Vicki, she was 43 years old, married and the mother of three children (she eventually had two more). She was born several months premature, weighing only three pounds at birth. In those days, oxygen was often used to stabilize such babies in their incubators, but too much oxygen was given to Vicki, resulting in the destruction of her optic nerve. As a result of this miscalculation, she has been completely blind since birth.
As I have indicated, Vicki had two NDEs. One occurred when she was 20 as a result of an appendicitis attack. The second one, which was more vivid and complex, took place two years later when she was involved in an automobile collision.
When I had listened to the tape that Kim has sent me, I was immediately intrigued by what Vicki had said at the outset about her two NDEs: “Those two experiences were the only time I could ever relate to seeing, and to what light was, because I experienced it. I was able to see.”
I remember that a frisson of excitement passed through me when I heard those remarkable words. Now that I was actually with Vicki, I could learn more about the visual aspects of her experience.
At one point during her second NDE, while in the hospital, she told me that she had found herself out of her body. I asked her to tell me more about that.
What follows are some excerpts from my interview with her:
Vicki: The first thing I was aware of is that I was up on the ceiling, and I heard this doctor talking – it was a male doctor – and I looked down and I saw this body and at first, I wasn’t sure it was my own. But I recognized my hair. [In a subsequent interview, she also told me that another sign that had helped her become certain she was looking down upon herself was the sight of a very distinctive wedding ring she was wearing.]
Me: What did it (her hair) look like?
Vicki: It was very long … and it was down to my waist. And part of it had to be shaved off, and I remember being upset about that. [At this point, Vicki overheard a doctor saying to a nurse that it was a pity that because of an injury to her ear, she could wind up deaf as well as blind.]
I knew, too, the feelings they were having. From up there on the ceiling, I could tell they were very concerned, and I could see them working on this body. I could see that my head was cut open. I could see a lot of blood [though she could not tell its color – she still has no concept of color, she told me].
Me: What’s the next thing you remember?
Vicki: I went up through the roof then. And that was astounding!
Me: What was that like for you?
Vicki: Whew! It’s like the roof didn’t … it just melted.
Me: Was there a sense of upward motion?
Vicki: Yes, um-hum.
Me: Did you find yourself above the hospital?
Me: What were you aware of when you reached that point?
Vicki: Lights, and the streets below, and everything. I was very confused about that. [This was happening very fast for her, and she found seeing to be disorienting and distracting. At one point, she told me, she found that seeing was “frightening” to her.]
Me: Could you see the hospital below you?
Me: What could you see around you?
Vicki: I saw lights.
Me: Lights of the city?
Me: Were you able to see buildings?
Vicki: Yeah, I saw other buildings, but that was real quick, too.
I don’t have space here to describe the rest of Vicki’s experience, so I can only provide the briefest summary of it. She next found herself in a heavenly realm of light and beauty in which she encountered children whom she had known but who had died – and she could see them as well as other things. She eventually is greeted by a radiantly glowing figure whom she understands is Jesus who gently tells her she must return in order to have her children, which thrills Vicki because she had yearned to become a mother (and did).
In fact, Vicki described the classic type of otherworldly NDE that Raymond Moody was to make famous in his groundbreaking 1975 book, Life After Life. But Vicki knew nothing of such experiences when she had her NDE since it occurred in 1973. The only thing that was different about it is that Vicki was blind at the time, but you could never tell that from reading her account.
Vicki died in June of this year, though I didn’t learn about her death until several months afterward. But her story lives on not only in my book, Lessons from the Light, and in more detail along with other such cases in another book of mine, written with Sharon Cooper, entitled Mindsight, but on the Internet. So if you’d like to learn more about Vicki, you can consult those books, but even better, find her on YouTube!
In August, 1990, I spoke at the IANDS conference in Washington, D.C. The turnout that year was large and I was delighted to see many old friends and colleagues there. One morning after my talk, I arranged to have breakfast with about a half dozen people I didn’t know who had expressed a wish to meet and talk with me.
When I arrived, there was already a rather intense conversation going on between two of the attendees. I was particularly struck by the woman of the pair. Small, slender and swarthy in complexion, she spoke intently and with a tone of great seriousness about her own experience, which I quickly discerned had been her NDE. Frankly, I was more aware of her manner of speaking than of the content of her conversation, but I was already sure I would want to talk with her privately after the gathering had broken up.
I was able to track her down afterward, but at that time I already had another engagement, so our conversation had been brief and truncated. We didn’t even have time for her to tell me more about her NDE, but I knew I was keen to know her story and more about her. I asked her if she would be willing to write out a version of it and send it to me at the University of Connecticut.
A week later, a long letter arrived from her with a detailed account of her NDE. I was immediately riveted. She wrote beautifully and with great eloquence about her NDE, which turned out to be one of the most complete and profound I had ever come across. I was really stunned, bowled over, full-dazzled, to quote a term I picked up from Walt Whitman. Who was this woman, Beverly Brodsky? I was determined to find out.
Thus began a deep and loving friendship that was to enrich my life for the next three decades.
Bev had grown up in a non-observant but Conservative Jewish home in Philadelphia. As she told me in her letter, “the atmosphere was materialistic, and, for me, claustrophobic. In high school girls were judged by their clothes and beauty. Bookish, shy, and serious, I went through my teens as an atheist. Since learning ... about the Holocaust at age 8, I had turned angrily against any early belief in God. How could God exist and permit such a thing to occur?”
All this would change, drastically, after her NDE. I don’t have the space here to recount her NDE – it is far too long – but you can read it in my book, Lessons of the Light, and perhaps elsewhere. All I want to do in this memorial to Bev is to tell you a little about Bev, as I came to know her over the years of our friendship.
We stayed in touch, mostly through correspondence, but before long, Bev had got involved in IANDS, so we were sometimes able to meet at IANDS’ board meetings or conferences. Since I was Jewish, too, there seemed to be natural bond between us. We palled out, we took walks together, we had many deep conversations.
Because she wrote so articulately and had been so profoundly transformed by her NDE, I wanted her to write a book about her life. I thought her story was extremely important. She wanted to write that book, and in the years to come, she endeavored to so, but never could, particularly because, as I was to learn, she continued to have daunting health issues.
When I was with Bev, I felt protective of her. I could sense her vulnerability, her physical fragility. Strong and passionate in her mind, but weak in her body. I was always mindful of her struggles with her health and other hardships of her life.
I’m not religious, but Bev every Hannukah would be sure to send me a little Hannukah card with dimes attached along with a humorous greeting.
By then, Bev was involved in leading a Friends of IANDS group and occasionally writing NDE-related articles, but she hated living in El Cajon, as she wrote me. She missed her family back east, and, worse, she had a stroke and could no longer drive. “Where I live, not being able to drive is a crippling thing, like a noose around your neck. With these health challenges, I wish my sister and my friends were here to come over for a cup a tea.”
But she was still thinking of writing her book. She sent me many e-mails talking about her plans to do so, her contact with potential publishers, etc., but nothing ever came of these hopes. The trials of her body just wouldn’t permit it.
Gradually, Bev’s e-mails got shorter and shorter, and eventually, she mostly got in touch when Hannukah rolled around. But after 2018, I ceased to hear from her.
I imagine she was starting to get really ill then. At that point, we lost touch with each other. I might have written her again, but got no response. I gather from her daughter’s notice about Bev’s death that Bev had become demented before she died, but I’m not sure for how long.
When I think of Bev, I don’t think of her as embodied, with all her physical trials and hardships, but as a bright, lambent spirit, radiating pure joy and love throughout eternity. Her NDE is her testament, and it will continue to live and inspire everyone who is lucky enough to read it. I can think of no greater tribute to this luminous soul than her own words with which her account of her NDE concludes:
Although it’s been twenty years since my heavenly voyage, I have never forgotten it. Nor have I, in the face of ridicule and disbelief, ever doubted its reality. Nothing that intense and life-changing could possibly have been a dream or hallucination. To the contrary, I consider the rest of my life to be a passing fantasy, a brief dream, that will end when I again awaken in the permanent presence of that giver of life and bliss.
For those who grieve or fear, I assure you of this: there is no death, nor does love ever end. And remember also that we are aspects of the one perfect whole, and as such are part of God, and of each other. Someday you who are reading this and I will be together in light, love and unending bliss.