I Was Dead For Two Minutes. Here's What I Saw.
There was nothing unique about my death, apart from the fact I came back from it.
My little bloke plays soccer. I’m a normal dad in that on Friday night I whinge about having to get up early and take him. But I couldn’t live without it.
A few Fridays ago I was getting ready for my weekly whinge while checking the app to see which far flung field we had to drive to at the crack of Saturday.
When I saw the name of the oval I froze, not because it was far away but because, 30 years prior, it was the same oval where my own father had driven me early in the morning only to watch me drop dead.
And I’d never been back.
When I was young I was a good cricketer. If you think that's immodest, don't worry, I wasn't good enough to make contact with a bouncer from a visiting team's opening bowler, who jagged it into the pitch and then into my heart. Which it stopped. Dead.
Not immediately. Apparently I walked 15 paces in the direction of the clubhouse, so everyone thought I was just heading off. Until I collapsed.
I only remember the first of those steps. And the pain. Sharper than anything I'd felt before. Or since. (Except when a girlfriend broke it in subsequent years, but that was a different kind of pain.)
When I woke up some time later, or should I say: when they forced me awake some time later, by all reports I had a smile on my face. I had been to a welcoming place most people access via a one-way street. My father was relieved. I was too young to stay.
I was 12 years old and he came to every match. He was good like that -- always following my sporting pursuits. And now here he was following the ambulance that was stuck in Sydney traffic on the way to Royal North Shore Hospital. No siren; after half an hour my vital signs had been good.
Until suddenly they weren't again.
Dad said later that when I had the second heart attack it took everything he had not to mount the median strip and follow the screaming ambulance down the wrong side of the road. By the time he caught up to us an hour or so later I was rigged up to Monty Python's machine that goes PING! in the Intensive Care ward, where I stayed for several days.
When I woke I was glad to see him, as I was to see my Mother and the rest of my family who had raced to my bedside. These were the people I would have left behind, and although I loved them with all my pulverised heart, I can honestly say that I wouldn't have missed them had I remained in that welcoming place.
That's not heartless, it's death, or my experience of death. They would have suffered my death. Not me. I wouldn't have been able to miss them. It was the end of my life and everything I'd known hitherto. It was the end of Dad taking me to Saturday sport. The end of Mum letting me sit on her lap and drive the last few metres down the drive into the garage. The end of laughter and squabbles with my brother and sister. That bouncer I missed was the end of everything.
And yet, it wasn't. In fact, it was merely the end of my cricketing days.
There are so many clichés around death. There was nothing unique about mine, apart from the fact I came back from it. And while I'm glad I did I would have been quite happy to stay. In that welcoming place I wasn't capable of regret, or sorrow, or frustration that I hadn't ticked things off a bucket list. I wasn't capable of conscious thought. All I felt was warm and safe.
But I only got two minutes into death. Perhaps in the third minute the man with a pitchfork appears and starts berating you for all the things you did wrong, which as a 12-year-old wasn't much, apart from stealing James Nicholson's footy cards and harbouring improper thoughts about my science teacher and her plunging neckline.
All I can say for sure is that the famed light was bright, but I can't work out if it was bright on the way back or on the way there, and because the only people who report it being bright are those who have come back, then I'm afraid my testimony is as unreliable as theirs and you will have to wait your turn to find out.
Despite this being a tumultuous experience, I can honestly say I rarely paid it any mind. Until a few Fridays ago when I checked the app to see where my own son was due to play the next day. Suddenly everything I’ve just mentioned came back, perhaps even more vividly than I’d ‘lived’ it the first time.
I really didn’t want to go to the oval. I’m not faint-hearted. Quite the opposite. Having cheated death I fear little about life. But when I realised I had to go back I felt strange.
Most of all I felt sorry for my Dad, and realised I had never really considered what it must have been like from his point of view, taking his son to sport one random Saturday only to see him die in front of his eyes.
Thirty years later, when I told him where my own son was playing, he asked to come too, as did my daughter, who couldn’t get her head around the whole thing but who whispered when I put her to bed the night before that she was “happy you didn’t die, Dad, coz you’re the best Dad there is”.
“It would have been exactly here,” said my Dad, pointing out the oblivious patch of grass about halfway between pitch and pavilion.
I hugged my father, my kids, and felt incredibly grateful there’d been a doctor there that day.
My brief experience of the afterlife has changed my lived life. I was the fish tossed back in the ocean coz he wasn't big enough. And despite only entering the lobby of death's hotel – which I hope is five-star -- I feel I saw enough to know that death is probably the most relaxed pose you'll ever strike. It is peace. Pure peace. Nothing to be feared apart from the road you take to get there and the wellbeing of the people you loved and left behind.
When your cricket ball comes, they will be the ones who remember everything you forget. So love them with all your heart while it's still beating strong.