Reimagining Death with Author William J. Peters

William J. Peters is a licensed psychotherapist who is passionate about eliminating the stigma around end of life experiences. He’s recognized by many as the world’s leading authority in the field of shared death studies. In this episode he shares what his research team discovered about this surprisingly common phenomenon.

Wendy: This is Wendy Halley, and you're listening to Lucid Cafe.

Hello and welcome to another episode of Lucid Cafe, a podcast exploring healing consciousness and the complexities of being human.

In today's episode, we explore what turns out to be uh a surprisingly common but until recently, unresearched and frequently dismissed phenomenon, the Shared Death Experience, or SDE. My guest, William Peters, is the author of At Heaven's Door: What Shared Journeys to the Afterlife teach about dying well and living better. It's a groundbreaking, authoritative exploration, rich with powerful personal stories and convincing research of the many ways the living can and do accompany the dying on their journey into the afterlife.

A little about William. He's a licensed psychotherapist who founded the Shared Crossing Project, and as you're about to discover, he's a guy who's quite passionate about getting rid of the stigma around end of life experiences. As the director of the Shared Crossing Research Initiative, William and his research team collect and study extraordinary end of life experiences. He is recognized by many as the world's leading authority on the shared death experience, having developed research based typologies that classify the full range of SDEs.

Please enjoy my conversation with William Peters.

Thank you, William, so much for coming on the show. I really appreciate it.

William: Thank you for having me. I'm excited to be with you.

Wendy: So is this your first book?

William: This is my first book. My first general public book.

Wendy: Okay. At Heaven's Door is the title, and it is a collection of shared death experiences. I did have a woman on named Sharon Prentice who wrote a book about her shared death experience. A really intense experience. I had never heard of the shared death experience before I met her. And then here you are writing an entire book, all these case studies, all of these experiences um that people have had. And it was really intriguing. I mean, I personally love hearing about these experiences. I don't know if you find that with a lot of people that you encounter that they are really intrigued by this stuff or if they're freaked out.

William: Well, it really depends on the person. Some people are very open minded receptive to these experiences. Others are not. Others find it to be just that's a whole psychological question really. Like what is it about people who would be more receptive to these and others who are not? Certainly, we know that in the research and we've interviewed over now 225 deep interviews with people, including Sharing Prentice as uh well. And they will say that they rarely share them with even their closest friends. There is something about this experience that they feel is not going to be well received. And this uh is particularly so in medical settings. The example you're giving with Sharon Princess, which is a great example, is this is happening. Her experience when she lost her husband was in a hospital setting, I believe he was dying of cancer. And Sharon's mother, who was right behind her, had a profound shared death experience. And this is now a few decades ago, but the medical staff there was very concerned about what was happening to Sharon's mother. And so they proceeded to remove her from the deathbed scene and actually put her eventually into the, what we call it, the psych Ward because uh they were concerned about things she was saying and seeing and experiencing anyway.

Wendy: Oh, my.

William: Yeah. Thankfully, this doesn't happen as much anymore, as best as we can tell. But the reason I share that example is because it's not understood in our medical Sciences at all. And I could probably go into that just for a moment here. That is to say, because the way that the medical sciences looks at consciousness it believes, asserts, teaches that the brain is the creator of consciousness.

Wendy: Right.

William: So when somebody dies, there can no longer be any communication with them. Because to assert that as a shared death experiencer does - a share death experiencer says something like this. I shared in or was witnessed to the transition of my departing loved one from this life, human life into another typically benevolent afterlife. And they use the terminology afterlife so well, that right there is an impossibility with modern science. And so it's very difficult for healthcare providers to maintain, even if they have personal views that are more open and receptive professionally. It's very challenging, if not detrimental, for them to assert that this relationship could possibly be real. So that drives it into the corner of an assessment that sounds something like grief hallucinations, delusions uh and other issues that are more in the realm of psychosis. This is a response to your question, who's receptive and who's not, right?

Generally speaking, I think those of us who work in mental health, I should say this. Those of us who work in Hospice and I did, was a volunteer in Hospice. If you're a veteran Hospice worker, either a nurse or just somebody who is a Hospice worker of any kind, you will likely have heard of these. And so these are not foreign at all. Maggie Callanan wrote Final Gifts, and her book had Nearing Death Awareness. She coined the term Nearing Death Awareness. This was a very well received book. She's a veteran Hospice nurse, and she wrote it with Patricia Kelly, two nurses. Veterans wrote it in the it was so well received because she's not talking about shared death experiences. But what she is talking about is these experiences that occur as you get closer to death, pre-death dreams and visions, strange synchronicities, all sorts of phenomena that uh don't fit in our ordinary reality, so to speak. We can talk about why that might be.

But the point being is Hospice nurses know about these experiences. What they do with them and how they interpret them is up uh to their discretion. But as one Hospice nurse told me in an ICU, she's an ICU hospital, excuse me, she was an ICU nurse, not a Hospice nurse, but dealing a lot with people dying in a conversation. There was four of us on this conference call a number of years ago, and I'm sharing it because it uh really stuck out to me because somebody asked, well, what do you do? How do you respond when you see a shared death experience? And her response was, the first thing I do is look around the room to see who the supervisors are.

Wendy: Oh wow.

William: Wow! Wasn’t that telling? And then she went on to say, well, and if I see a supervisor that I think would be open to a conversation that I would like to have with the caregivers, the loved ones who just had the share death experience, then I will proceed with the conversation. If not, if I realize there's a particularly medical doctor who because that's kind of the higher you get up in the medical training, the more resistant you are to these experiences typically. Then she said that she would take the number of the person and say, listen, I'd like to talk to you a little bit later about your experience. But what's so interesting about this is those of us who study these experiences are familiar with them. We know how important they are. We know the transformative, healing value of these experiences. So the thought that across our great country and the modern world, because that's where there's a kind of a lack of understanding about these experiences. We know that as these are happening in our hospices and anywhere where people are dying, these experiences are often being dismissed, discounted, and in worst case analysis, disparaged, long winded way to answer your question, but it's a great question, and I'm glad that you asked so quickly.

Wendy: And I want to get into more about the impact that these experiences can have on people. But first, I want to learn a little bit about how you even started going down this road.

William: Thank you. So I had a near death experience at 17 years old. High speed skiing accident crushed my spine, uh instantly catapulted out of my body. And the next thing I remember was uh seeing my body physical body on the ski slope. And I was moving away from it quite rapidly. I was very, very peaceful, very comfortable, enamored by what was going on. Hyper aware I was having a life review. At the same time, a review of my previous 17 years of all my behaviors, interactions, thoughts, what have you a very profound, thorough lesson in Karma. Every one of my actions, I could see the ripple effect of them.

Wendy: Can I ask you about that really quickly? Because I just told this story. It's not really a story. It was more of an experience a couple of days ago with a group of friends. But one of my most profound shamanic experiences was around my life book. I had to go to a particular place in the dreaming realm and ask to see my Life Book. And in that experience, I was seeing kind of holographic experiences throughout this lifetime that I could go into. But then I would experience my life, not just from my perspective, but from the perspective of all the people that I encountered. So I got to see what it was like to be on the receiving end of me. And then my invisible friend, my helping spirit who had brought me there to have this experience, explained that this is what a life review is like when you die. Is that similar to what you're kind of talking about?

William: I think very similar. I mean, in my research, both on near death experiences and share death experiences, because the experiences are identical in terms of possible phenomena. And I say that because I work with Raymond Moody and others, scholars in the field, and we're increasingly more convinced that these are the same experiences because they're in the same terrain, the same geography that lives between a human life and what lies beyond, whether it's a near death brush with death, as I had on a ski slope, or a share death where you're a caregiver loved one, observing someone dying and making that very same journey, if you will, through a similar train. And I say that loosely, I don't want to be too materialistic about that. The terrain is vast. It has a lot of psychic, right?

Wendy: Yeah. Just in general, I was wondering if that's kind of what you meant is this idea of - because you think of a life review, you think about going through it from your perspective.

William: Yes.

Wendy: But what was so profound to me was having that deep empathy for what it was like to be on the receiving end of me. And that just stained me, that stayed with me. Is this idea like, wow, I'm going to be reliving this again, so I better be more mindful of how my interactions are going.
William: I think that's exactly right. Because in the life review that I had, I saw when I say the Karma, my actions, I saw, for example, one of these was when I was like eight years old and I was riding my bike and I kind of bumped into somebody almost a little bit aggressively, as an eight year old boy would do. And I remember him falling off his bike, getting hurt, crying, running in the house. This was all shown to me running the house, crying. His mother, who's trying to prepare dinner, she has to now tend to him. The dinner burns. The husband's in the other room, his father. And he gets upset with the mother for, his wife, for the dinner burning and things being out of control. And all of this was caused by my malevolence.

Wendy: Okay. So is that what you mean by the Karmic?

William: That's the Karmic of - that’s the streams of how it impacted his whole family and beyond. It's like we use this in our language, the person gets upset and he kicks the dog. It was that type of thing. And it was quite profound. That teaching for me because I hadn't seen it. I hadn't seen my life that way at 17 years old.

Wendy: But what 17 year old has really? What 27 year old? What 37 year old? I mean, most of us haven't really taken that level of responsibility, I think.

William: And it's interesting because the most direct level that impacted my life decisions after that was at the most basic level. I just was not interested in doing work, using my life force energy to do work that didn't benefit humanity.

Wendy: Really?

William: Yeah. I mean, I had these great internships in San Francisco, Bay Area. I was going to College at UC Berkeley. I was just undergraduate, and I was ambitious. I mean, I definitely was. I grew up in a family where we worked hard. My father was at that time an engineer in Silicon Valley in a growth industry, doing well. And that type of traditional professional material development or acquisition, if you will, was really valued. That was success, was getting a good job and making a good salary. There's nothing to matter without a certain level.

But I had these internships, first in commercial real estate, first in stocks in securities trading. It was Dean Whitter, which is the equivalent of Merrill Lynch or something like that today anyway. And that felt empty. And then I went into commercial real estate, and that felt empty. And then I worked in old Lehman Brothers, an internship there all during the last two years of my College. And I'm sharing this because this was not the trajectory of my life from my upbringing at all. I mean, doing those jobs would have been perfect for me.

But there was something that shifted in terms of that sounded like this, how is my life going to benefit people? How is this really going to benefit people? How is this work that I'm doing really helping people? And how am I using myself? And I know that that first near death experience had a lot to do with that.

Wendy: And so getting back to that experience…So, you are having this life review and then come to find out the ripple effects of the life review, were going to be impacting you in ways you probably didn't expect down the road. But you're talking about moving away from your body while simultaneously having this life review?

William: Simultaneously. All happening the same time and moving through a beautiful Galaxy, looking around, enamored by the solar system and everything's hyper alive. I mean, there are things happening at, like, multi dimensions for me or multi sensory experience, for sure.

Wendy: Right. Okay. And then what happens?

William: Then I go through this and then still moving away, enter into a tunnel. The tunnel is translucent and ribbed. It's white. I can see through the tunnel into the solar system, and I'm fine. I mean, I'm just like wow, this is really amazing. And then I see the light. This is the hallmark of the near death experience, this light.

Wendy: Right.

William: And immediately I go, Whoa, I'm dying.

Wendy: You understood that?

William: I understood it. Yeah. And I understood I'm dying. And what I also understood at that moment was I don't want to die. And so I pled with that light, which I call God, which I still have no problem referring to that light as God. I pled to come back. I said, I haven't finished what I came here to do. And it was very clear to me that I had some sort of purpose that I had not fulfilled. And so I pled, and I pled. I was fully enveloped in that light. It was warm, it was lovely, it was great. But I had not completed what I came here to do. And so I then felt this gentle pushback on my being. And I heard the telepathically, I should say, received this strong message, make something of your life. And so I spun back into my body, and here I am.

Wendy: You're making something of your life.

William: I think so. And I think that making something of your life was what was I was referring to when I was talking about those positions in the uh financial sector. And I just couldn't draw a link between that type of work and meaning making for me. I'm not going to say that's. Not for everybody. That's fine.

Wendy: Sure, yeah.

William: For me, it did not add up. And as a result of that, I made a very strong decision to go live and work in Latin America and Central America with underprivileged populations. And that was a move that none of my contemporaries even considered. But I was so drawn to it, and I should probably share another experience. And that is between my junior and senior year of College. I was traveling. And when that time it was Yugoslavia. It was the mid 80s, before the Iron Curtain had come down. And I was on a bus ride overnight from Northern Greece to Bosnia, which is now Bosnia. Woke up in the morning, completely wiped out from the journey, opened my blind uh curtain blind on the bus, looked out, and all I could see was Muslim women with their hands extended and begging, begging for food, begging for money. And in that just early morning waking state that just touched me uh so deeply, I could look into the eyes they had burkas on. All you could see was these beautiful brown, dark, deep eyes. And I looked in a number of women's eyes that are very close to the bus. And I was just transfixed by them in a certain way. They were so intent at looking at me and with their need. I don't even know if they felt I was like an object to them, which was fine. But it also allowed me, uh because of the lack of a the one way relationship of them staring so deeply at me for me to actually sense and feel into them the intensity of their desperation.

Wendy: Wow.

William: And when I felt that desperation, it went right to my heart. I was uh weeping, which at 22 years old, that's not something I did very much. But I had a spinal injury from that accident four or five years previous. My life had been utterly turned upside down. I was an athlete, and now I was crippled, handicapped. Walking was all I could do. And I was in pain pretty much all the time.

Wendy: Oh, man.

William: It's crazy to think that I was doing the type of traveling I was doing. But I'm a passionate person that I really wanted to do this trip. But these women and that contact I made with them, that was a transformative experience. In that moment, I said, I have to be with people like this. They have something to teach me. And it took me many years to figure out what that was. But they were uh teaching me what it was like to be vulnerable and desperate as I was not able to acknowledge or feel that in my defended 22 year old self.

Wendy: Wow. Crazy, powerful experience.

William: Crazy. But like I said, and that got me to Central and South America, where I would end up being with similar people in terms of level of material wealth, to say it differently. These were people that were dispossessed living on very little on the margins of society and large cultures. I mean, we're talking about the majority of the people. And so I was working with them as a schoolteacher, running a center for working children. And yes, that experience extremely painful physically opened uh me up in ways spiritually. And certainly I know you have an interest in perhaps practice in shamanism. And there I was working with Aimada people in Southern Peru. And so shamanism was very much a part of their way of being. These were shamanistic cultures.

Wendy: Right. Did you learn any shamanic practice or did you partake?

William: Yeah, great question. I was very much involved with the children because I ran a center for working children, or I was the assistant director. And this was in Tacna, Peru Southern boundary with Chile, and then also Bolivia wasn't that far away. So I say that because the children taught me their views. I learned their cosmology through going camping with them. And I'll never forget a moment where we were looking out camping. We're on the beach. It's very clear. And we're looking up outside. And I say, I'm trying to translate in English. I say, we call this El Camino de Leche, the Milky Way.

Wendy: They like that. Yeah.

William: Well, but they said something different. These are beautiful, vibrant kids. And they're looking at me, El Camino de Leche? Are you talking about El Rio Negro? Are you talking about the Black River? And I thought in that moment, you feel that your mind wrapping around it. And I saw these. My body came alive. Truth bumps coming all over me like, this is my body. You only get the strong energy moving across you.

Wendy: Yeah. I feel it right now.

William: Yeah. And it was that moment of like, oh, my gosh, here's this cultural bridge happening right here. We call it the Milky Way. They call it the black river. And I look closely and I go, oh, my gosh, there is a black river. And they went through and they pointed out to me how the river turns here amidst the white. And so we're looking at the same phenomena that we all share as human beings, looking up at this vast, clear uh sky at night and the solar system. And they saw it completely different. And I was just so I so loved that. I was like, wow, can we.

Wendy: It's beautiful. Yes.

William: Isn't it? Isn't it? Well, yeah, Wendy, I don't know. Those are my early formative experiences, okay. But I would have others for sure. I have second near death experience in an ICU where my blood platelets crash. This is when I came back to the United States. This was a different experience altogether. Uh i was just hovering on the ceiling above the ICU and observing behavior of the hospital staff and saw my body down there, uh but didn't realize it was me until the doctor tapped on my hand and said, Mr. Peters, Mr. Peters. So these are these early formative experiences that really created my sense of openness to these shared death experiences. Then I worked in Zen Hospice, and I had my uh own shared death experience when someone was dying. And I was reading to them. And this is Ron. It's actually referred to in the book. And I was reading, and I didn't even stop reading, but I popped out of my body. It's very comfortable just right above my bed, right above Ron. Now, Ron had been unresponsive for a number of actually weeks, very close to death. But there's Ron also above his body, looking at me. He's highly energetic. His face is alive. His eyes are clear and lucid and his smiling, his teeth are shining. And he says to me in that telepathic way, check this out. This is where I've been. And so I had this sense of like, I was very comfortable up there, a little startled, but I got the sense that Ron was inviting me in to see this.

Wendy: How cool.

William: Very. But at that time, there was no name for this. I mean, I went to my supervisor, who I loved, and said, hey, I just had this experience where I feel like I popped out of my body. And I got to tell you, this sounds crazy, but I feel like Ron was with me. I could kind of see him. And my supervisor, who was great, just kind of said, very Zen Buddhist. This was Zen Hospice project in San Francisco. He said to me, oh, William, phenomena rolling by. Just let it go.

Wendy: That's no fun. No, that's my non-Zen-like response!

William: So like so many of the experiences we talked about previously, me as a health care worker, you know, and I was a hostess, volunteer, spending my only job was to spend time at the bedside. I didn't have any body care responsibility, any medical care. My job was to accompany, support, comfort, community, do whatever that was at the bedside so I could be at the bedside for three or 4 hours of one person, easy. But the response of Eric, who I want to be clear, was great. He was my supervisor. He was just a great man. But discounted, dismissed because we didn't have a way to identify these experiences. But this would change.

In 2009, Raymond Moody, who discovered the shared death, I don't mean to say that he discovered the near death experience, but he wrote the seminal book that popularized the near death experience. Yes, but he wrote a book in 2010 and um ten called Glimpses of Eternity. And he was talking about this book when I was seeing when I met him at a conference in 2009. And when he described the shared death experience as being very similar to the near death experience, except experienced by caregivers and loved ones and bystanders health care providers, my um whole body lit up again. I said, oh, my gosh, I know exactly what you're talking about. And so I talked to Raymond and Raymond, he was very affirmative for me of my desire uh to study more and do more in this field because there was really no field. There was no field of shared studies. And now I'm pretty much in the United States. I'm the leading researcher in this, and I have a whole research team that engages in this work. So that's how you bring us to present here, Wendy. Yeah.

Wendy: All right. So you've been spending a bunch of time doing research?

William: Well, yeah. So now do a lot of research. I have been doing a lot of research for three or four years, but I should also fill an important piece is that when I learned about these experiences from Raymond, I did a lit review. I studied all the literature. I was just like I had a voracious appetite uh for the literature. And I realized that there was more research on this in Great Britain. Going back 150 years, London Society for Psychical Research had uh identified a lot of these experiences. They called them apparitions of death, but they didn't categorize them in any such way. I just realized if you're reading hundreds of accounts, you realize, oh, that sounds like it could be a shared death experience, but they put them under this wide umbrella that included pre-death dreams and visions and post-death dreams and visions and what have you. So it was a wide net, but they had them.

Then there was another great book put out by uh Sir William Barrett. I believe he was part of the Society for Psychical Research as well. And he called it Deathbed Visions. That was his book. But of these 58 visions, he's talking about about 17 to 18 of them. I think Dr. Michael Kinsella, and our chief of research, and myself have kind of agreed that these were likely shared death experiences rather than pre-death dreams and visions or post-death visions of some type.

So you see it's out there, but it never really got much attention until Raymond brought it back to the public discourse with his book Glimpses of Eternity in 2010. But it didn't get much traction, did his book? I think for whatever reason, I think Raymond and I have talked about it. He just thinks it just hit for some reason, it just hit too close to home and didn't get traction.

But I started doing lectures on the shared death experience around the country at different conferences. The usual suspects, International Association for Near Death Studies, the Afterlife Research, Afterlife Education Research Institute. There's a bunch of these conferences. And people came out of the woodwork like, I mean, I would give a talk and to maybe 100 people and 20 people would come up afterwards. I had something similar. I heard about your talk. I wanted to come. And so I was able to collect hundreds of cases rather easily. And then, like I said, we've really deeply interviewed up to this point, about 225 in the book. We use the research 134, because that's where we were a couple of years ago.

But I share all this because I really came at this from a psychotherapist perspective uh as working in grief and bereavement. And once I started talking about these experiences and I had a group in town called the Life Beyond Death Group. This is in Santa Barbara. A lot of retirees here, elderly people and open minded, I should say, to these types of phenomena. One of the hospices here is the second oldest in the country. So good deal awareness about end of life. And when I started doing these groups, my first thought as a psychotherapist was this could be the end of my career because people could see me as going off the edge into the deep end of the pool. And this guy is all into these experiences which we all know are delusions and hallucinations.

As it turns out, these groups were very well received. And I did a dozen groups in the next four years. They're all eight week groups, twelve week groups. They were so popular, and then they had many layers to them that we'd go deeper and deeper into topics. But my private practice started filling with people saying, hey, I heard about you. You did this. I had this experience. Can I come and see you? And so my practice became increasingly populated by people having spiritual end of life experiences, which we call end of life phenomena or extraordinary end of life experiences or transformative end of life experiences, whatever you want to call it. This was my practice. So I had once again, well over a few hundred people right here in Santa Barbara. So I knew this was a thing. So then I started the research end of this by 2013.

And since then, we've been collecting and documenting the shared death Experience. And for my own private practice, I already designed the typologies for them, which greatly expanded what Raymond had done. And I kind of brought in researchers from the research from Great Britain, Dr. Peter Fenwick and Elizabeth Fenwick had created their own typologies, and I integrated them into a rather comprehensive way of looking at all end of life experiences. That's called the shared crossing spectrum of end of life experiences and then typologies within those shared death experience, which is my recent book is about, At Heaven's Door, that one talks about the SDE, the share death experience exclusively.

Wendy: Okay. Sounds like all these experiences converged and sort of funneled you into this direction.
William: Yes.

Wendy: Which is really cool, right?

William: It's really cool. It is. I will say that it's been a hard road to go because there's a great deal of resistance in health care.

Wendy: Oh that!

William: But for me, in terms of clarity around my work and my calling and my passion. Absolutely. This is my life's work for now. And I feel like I was led here. I was so resistant after my NDEs to have anything to do with the near death experience community just because I wanted to be normal.

Wendy: Sure. Yeah.

William: I just wanted to be a regular guy who was athletic and could have fun. I really always loved the outdoors. I grew up the summers and winters in Lake Tahoe, so I love those environments as your environment is similar and very wild and big trees, lakes and all that.

Wendy: Lots of nature.

William: Lots of nature. But as my body declined with some physical limitations, I was uh increasingly less able to access the purest parts of nature. But eventually I just got it. This is my calling. This is what I need to do. I'm uniquely experienced to study both as an experiencer myself, a clinician uh in mental health. And then I didn't go into the research, and I hired a team to join me in collaboration around the research.

Wendy: So your book is chock full of really cool experiences. Is there one that really stands out to you that you don't mind sharing right now?

William: Yeah, you're right. We have 28 stories, and they're pretty well developed, actually, as you know. And I like all of them, and I selected them because I wanted to get a diversity of experiences and relationships. That's one thing I was really when you look at the Shared Death experience, the dominant motif is journey from this life into an afterlife. Relationships are central. So there's something about the bond that people have across the veil. And as I've already indicated, they're very similar to the NDE.
So the experience that I would share would be, let's do Amelia B. She's from the United Kingdom, uh just outside London, and her son, at ten years old, gets diagnosed with cancer. His name is Tom. And after doing • everything they can do for healing, they come over to Sloan Kettering in New York, which is a no prominent cancer center. And they did that a number of times.

Eventually, Tom is on his deathbed at 13 years old. Amelia is with him in bed. And she describes seeing a beautiful lady because she is so beautiful, so uh beautiful as this lady. And she says to herself, I'll have to remember this. And she described the beautiful lady as elegant and gorgeous, clear minded, lovely, made her feel so loved to be with her. So she's emanating these good feelings. But she's got something she's doing. As Amelia says, she's urgent. She's got a task she's doing, and she's moving deliberately. And then she pops out of the dream. It's really a vision, not a dream. She drops out of the vision thinking that Tom would be dead because she got the connection that this beautiful woman has come to take Tom. But she notices that Tom is still breathing a bit. He would breathe for another minute or so, few big, long, slow breaths.

And what is so powerful about this experience is that not only does Amelia have a shared death experience with her son, but Amelia's sister, Charmaine, Tom's favorite aunt, describes coming in the room and seeing Tom rising out of his body. Well, and it's so real to her, she kind of says, oh, my gosh, she stopped. She didn't say anything, but she watches Tom essentially ascend in spirit, out of his body. The beautiful part about this is that Charmaine and Amelia can share this. They get affirmation for each other, for each other. Beautiful experience. And one that had the impact on both of them, that Tom is alive and well somewhere.

Wendy: It's like a shared, shared death experience.

William: It is. It's a shared, shared death experience.

Wendy: Amazing. I can't imagine how much comfort that must offer the people who are able to have these experiences.

William: Yes, you're right on it. Because as a psychotherapist, my primary goal working in grief and bereavement is to alleviate people's suffering is to help people get through this tragedy of death of a loved one. And in many of the stories that I share, there are parents losing children, not all of them, but certainly of the 28, we certainly have five or so. Most of them are spouses and good friends and relatives. And what have you, parents. But the most common after effect for the SDE is this an expression that goes something like, I know that my departed loved one is alive and well in some beautiful afterlife. I know that I will see them again at some point. I know that will be reunited. My fear of death is greatly alleviated, if not gone. I see death completely different now, a sense that their life has a deeper sense of meaning and purpose that they are now going to be focused on. And Fifthly, grief reconciliation is completely transformed. In other words, the loss of a loved one is always painful. We can't take that pain away. I mean, that grief is the price we pay for loving deeply. However, the loss is held in a larger context that isn't viewed with meaning.

Wendy: Right. I imagine most of us, without having that kind of experience, there's always going to be a little or maybe a lot of doubt, like, well, maybe there is nothing after. You can have really strong faith, but you can also wonder, what if I'm wrong? What if consciousness doesn't survive death in some form or fashion? But when you have a direct experience like that, there's a knowing. You use the word “know." They know. There's almost like a certainty that their loved one carries on in some way. So it's not like wishful thinking. I guess it's a knowing coming from direct experience.

William: Wendy, I so appreciate the language you're using that term. Knowing is exactly what we hear over and over again. We'll even say, do you believe in an afterlife? No, I don't believe in an afterlife. I know there is an afterlife. The experience like, we hear this, too. And I've had these experiences. So it's like it's familiar to me. But the sense that in the research we hear, I know that we go on. I know that I will survive human death, and I know that that realm where we're uh going is the ultimate reality. It is more real than this human existence which fits inside that.

Wendy: It's trippy, right? I mean, I haven't had a near death experience. I've had visions of death experiences, but they haven't been a physiological experience. And I haven't had a shared death experience. But there's a hyper realness when you're in that it feels more uh real than real. And that's a really hard thing to articulate and try to help someone understand because it's such an intimate personal experience. And I think that's probably part of the issue. Right? That you're bumping up against with skepticism and stuff.

We all know that the mind can make up all kinds of shit. We can be quite delusional. And that people might equate someone's shared death experience or their near death experience with some sort of hallucination, some sort of made up way of describing what happened to them or whatever, when it was really something very different. It's a dismissal of their experience. And I could see why people would hold it really close to them, those experiences, because you don't want anybody to dismiss it. And I don't know if these people have talked about the farther they get away from it, that it's a little bit easier to maybe question, like, did that really happen? But then they go back into it and they're like that certainty comes back in. Does that happen?

William: I think you're right on. An important point is two things. One is people will describe that uh it's not an ordinary memory. It doesn't fade with time. They can access it again. And when they do go back and access it, it's largely the same and deeper. In other words, if they spend time with it, meditate with it, pray with it. However they're inclined, they realize there's other pieces to it. So it seems to live in another information packet that's accessible in a certain way. And the affirmation piece for people is that when they do receive Affirmation and it feels safe for them and they feel like they can share experiencers typically like to share because it's so profound.

And this is why I'm working so hard for advocating for this to be normalized in our culture generally and in healthcare and end of life care in particular, because so many will report that they feel like they're weird, even though they've had it. They know it's real. And I think the big step that my research has done is I've identified the patterns. And when you see patterns and people that have this experience that they didn't know it existed, that's convincing. Like, these people aren't making this up. They're not trying to fit into some diagnosis or trope or whatever. This is an experience that they're wondering, well, this is what happened, and this is what happened. You think I'm crazy. This is what happened. And then I saw this, and they're very cautious at first, but then when we see the pattern, we say to them, yes, what you have is this type of a shared death experience.
And in my book, I go through a variety of different types or some really different types that are just so important to know. We have one called a sympathetic SDE, and that is like your remote. It's really important and identify that two thirds of shared death experiences happen remotely, not a bedside, which is so time space continuum does not matter, or I should say, being in the same proximity does not matter.

So take Sarah M in the book here. She wakes up one morning and she's sweating and she's nauseous, and she starts vomiting. And her family members say, we're taking you to the ER. She goes, yeah, let's go. And as she's getting ready to go, she starts feeling a little better. She goes, well, hold on a second. And then about an hour later, because I don't know what that was, but I feel like I was run over by a truck, but I'm okay. And then she gets a call to Sarah from her sister, and she says, I have very sad news that your niece died of unexpected drug overdose. Oh, wow, an accidental drug overdose. So at first here's Sarah, she's got this experience, and she's like, well, does this sound crazy? I kind of think I was picking up on her a little bit, like maybe I was having her experience. All said very cautiously. And now we have more than a dozen of these cases. Now we can say no. It appears, based on the literature and our study, that people like uh you seem to have shared in their physical experience before departing. It's also important to note that after she had this experience, at the very end of it, she got a sense that everything would be okay. And so we have a lot of these accidental drug overdoses. That's a common one. And then we also have cardiac arrest as being a common one. People like having heart attack symptoms and then find out that someone close to them die of a heart attack. so intense.

Wendy: So intense. I can't imagine what that would be like to be having that type of sympathetic shared death experience where you're actually physiologically having the same symptoms. Holy cow. Right?

William: Holy cow. Absolutely.

Wendy: Going to the emergency room.

William: Yeah. Well, in emergency rooms will tell you that they get these types of experiences. I mean, they get these sympathetic experiences stress related. But our data suggests at a time of death, the sympathetic is a very relatable symptomological presentation.

Wendy: Well, this conversation has just illuminated, which is not surprising, how complex consciousness is and how much we don't really understand it in the way that we think we'd like to understand it. And also the nature of reality is super complex, too. And you got to have some direct experience of that through your near death experience. I'm floating above my body. How does that work?

William: Yeah.

Wendy: So I am so thankful that we were able to make the Internet work for the entire conversation! And I'm really thankful that we were able to have this conversation. I think it's incredibly helpful, and hopefully uh we'll bring comfort to people and they'll check out your book.

William: Well, I hope so. I hope that brings comfort to people because we know these experiences are out there. How many experiences are out there either a not knowing that they had this or had it and questioning themselves and all the rest of it. The goal here is to normalize these so that people realize these are not just, I don't want to say common experiences. We don't know how common they are, but they're normal. Like, they happen in normal minds and bodies, and they bring comfort and peace and joy knowing that our loved ones are okay.

But I would encourage your listeners to come to our website because we have videos of people sharing these experiences. We have lots of resources. We aim to this is just one of the many ways that we want to raise awareness and educate people about these experiences. Of course, I appreciate that people read the book. The book is the most developed description of these. So that's another way to do it. And then if you're really interested, you can get our email list. Our list serve and we reach out and give updates, tell people about programs and things like that because we have a whole learning Institute uh about this that we're coming online now. It used to be only in person but now because of COVID, we're realizing we need to bring this and we have interest from people all over the world.

Wendy: Yeah, I bet.

William: Yes, that's the other thing. These are cross cultural.

Wendy: Well, that would be weird if it wasn't.

William: Really weird.

Wendy: Yeah. That would be really weird. So what is the website?


Wendy: Okay and I will put a link in the show notes for folks as well.

William: One other thing, Wendy if people have experiences anywhere on that continuum of life experiences, whether it's visions, dreams, synchronicities, please reach out to us on our contact page, share your story or at least begin a relationship with us because we continue to study these and we're very interested now.

Wendy: Awesome. Yes, that's great. William, thank you for coming on the show.

William: Oh, I'm so glad to have done it. I loved our interview. Thank you, Wendy. It was a real pleasure.

Wendy: Good stuff.

If you'd like to learn more about William's SDE research or his new book At Heaven's Door, please visit If you haven't listened to my conversation with Sharon Prentice about her very powerful shared death experience, look for episode 11 in season 2 of Lucid Cafe.

Thank you so much for listening and a big thank you to John for his donation to the podcast.

Until next time…

Reimagining Death with Author William J. Peters
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