Dot is a beautiful 80-year-old. Her light blue-green eyes sparkle with life, her hair made more blonde than gray and still she has the body of a much younger woman. She was my babysitter since I was an infant. Later, she would become one of my dearest friends, many years long after those babysitting years. Over many years, we would talk intermittently and catch up on a year or two worth of life stories. I thought that I knew everything about her, except for one special secret she had never told me. She had kept a secret for 74 years – her near-death experience at the age of six, during the late 1940’s.
As her parents were close family friends, she and her late husband Rob were included in many family functions. It was exciting to see them each time, as I loved our talks. Although there was such an age difference, she would share her innermost thoughts or worries. As a child, I was fascinated and it felt so easy to tell her my own woes and secrets. We both agreed to complete confidentiality.
This weekend, catching up with each other’s lives was easy; it had only been a year since we last saw each other. She was retired and her days were still about getting out and around, driving to see her sisters, children and grandchildren. As many know, there are friends that you may not talk with for years and connecting again, feel like you started back again as if you had talked just yesterday. I consider those friends as like souls, forever connected.
As we talked, she became so interested in what I was doing at work. “Well, I write columns for a news venue called Examiner.com.” I replied. Her face lit up with the thought of writing. It was one of her passions as well. “Really?” she really wanted to more about this chosen career. “And what do you write about?” she asked. Replying proudly, “I have two columns on Country Music; nationally and around Houston and I have one column that I love, on near-death experiences. As the words rolled from my mouth, I became a little shy about hitting her with that topic.
However, her eyes became even larger and brighter. I felt the cautious excitement ready to burst forth. Her whole demeanor changed as she leaned forward. Lifting of one eyebrow and with a delighted and intensely curious flash of her eyes, she suddenly became like a child who had permission and confirmation to question without fear. I had no idea that this would be a life milestone for her - breaking a silence that had lasted for close to two-thirds of a century. “I must tell you something that I have not shared with anyone, since I was six…not even with my husband.” Taking a deep breath, she began to speak slowly and deliberately.
“It was in the late 1940’s that something very strange happened. I believe it is what you would call a near-death experience.” I knew this would be a true story, as she was still just as alert and honest as when she was as a teen. Without a sound from me so as not to interrupt this amazing story, she continued. “We were at the beach. I was only about six at the time and Mama had bought me a new sand bucket. All my family was around, some in the water and some just sitting and chatting. Mama let me go to the edge of the water and then we discovered there was a small dip in the sand and just beyond that, a sand bar.
"With my new beautifully flower-decorated metal sand bucket in hand, I played in the shallows for a while and then stood on the sandbar.” It was as if the words were flowing from Dot in such a way that I could visualize it as an old 85mm film tape, but in color. She continued, “It was alright that I was on the sandbar, but Mama sternly warned me not to go past the sandbar.
"Sitting on the sandbar with my new bucket, I was suddenly knocked backward by a wave…it could have been a rip tide…and I found myself fighting underwater! This was not the shallows, but the deep past the sandbar!” she said excitedly. “I was under dark waters and could not get to the surface. I remember becoming very calm and very peaceful, almost breathing water as if I were a fish. As I looked up to the surface…the mirrored surface changed and looked like rusty-red water. So curious, I thought.” She looked away wistfully.
Her eyes looked upward as if she was visually reliving the story as she went on, “But, then a huge hand and arm plunged down in the water and grabbed me up and out of the water. The next thing I knew, I was sitting, not on the sandbar...not even in the shallows. I was on the sandy beach far from the water with my bucket beside me and no one else around! I ran with my bucket in hand to Mama. I began to tell her about the big hand and arm that grabbed me and put me back on the beach! I told her ‘and it was so easy, Mama…the hand and arm that saved me was so strong!’ she continued with the same excitement in her voice now. By this time, my heart was racing yet I was so excited that she was finally sharing such a life-changing event.
“Mama spanked me for lying.” She said sadly. “She told me that I was lying…it was a sin to lie and she never saw me go under water. But, Sherry, I kept trying to tell her over and over…she spanked me harder and told me never to tell those lies again.” My heart broke for Dot. She was a child trying to find reason behind her rescue and told instead that it was a sin to lie or think such things. I had to utter the words…”so you have been afraid to tell all this time, even as an adult…even when the near-death experience was a topic of so much discussion? We know these things now! I’ve been through it! And, I’ve seen Mom and Dad as they shared their leaving from this world!”
“Yes,” she said and sighed so deeply as if her soul had finally released what she knew to be truth and her heart was relieved from a ten-ton burden, “It had been branded a sin even until the 1970’s to talk about such things, even when I heard others relate their stories! And, now at my age, the punishment would be much greater…the might put me in a home!” she laughed to ease the sad tension. Yes, we were definitely like souls in easing the sadness with a way of adding lightness to situations.
She smiled and looked so deeply into my eyes, recognizing my love for her and an understanding that only we might know. “You, see, I never questioned or shared the experience until today. I’m glad you are the one to finally share it with and who would understand. “she said softly. "It truly happened...I've always known that in my heart and now I know that so many others have had the same experience!" Tears were already welling up in my eyes for the experience she felt that she had to hide for so many years.
There are so many surprises in my research and relating the stories of near-death experiences. In addition, so many wonderful ties in connecting those who need to know more. Just understanding, letting my readers know that there is a life beyond and cutting away the stigma of untruth means more to me than any monetary profits. It was inconceivable that I could become even closer to Dot. Moreover, I am very blessed to have finally given her more than I could ever imagine… a voice to her experience from more than 75 years of silence.
I love my job.