Chapter One

Notice and Disclaimer

Disclaimer: This book is a detailed accounting of my personal experience and in no way recommends foregoing traditional medical treatment. The content contained in this text is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and does not constitute medical or other professional advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read within this text.

Trigger Warning: This book contains graphic descriptions of suicide, suicidal ideation and its consequences. If you are sensitive to this topic or find yourself in distress, please do not read on. If you are suicidal, please call 911 or appropriate emergency medical personnel or emergency services for immediate help. There is a 24-hour hotline provided (in the US) by the National Suicide Prevention at 800-273-8255.

If you are concerned that someone you know may be in danger of hurting himself or herself, call 911 (US).

All written content found within this text is not intended to provide medical advice for anyone who requires medical care and/or mental health care. All information is provided on an “as is” basis without any representation or warranty as to accuracy, completeness, legality, or fitness for any particular purpose. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. For an accurate diagnosis of a mental health disorder, you should seek an evaluation from a qualified mental health professional.

Within this book, there are times that I mention Dodie Osteen’s book, Healed of Cancer. On page 13, Ms. Osteen talks about her decision to forego traditional medical treatment. This summarizes my views on this issue as well.

She writes,

If you have cancer, and you can be helped by chemotherapy, by all means take it if you feel you should. Do whatever you feel peace about in your heart. I do not advise anyone to do what I did just because it worked for me…God leads and directs each of us individually. This is the way that He led me in my faith (p. 13).

Chapter One

As soon as healing takes place, go out and heal someone else. – Maya Angelou

I died on a Wednesday night. For most people, that’d be the end of their story, but for me, it was a beginning.

Two years before my death, my husband had killed himself at our home. He used a gun. My husband’s last words were a four-word text message, blaming me for this horrible act.

We weren’t estranged. We were in love, or so I thought. We had big plans for his upcoming retirement. Many people, including me, thought we were well suited to one another.

After his death, I lost my mind. I had a mental breakdown. I couldn’t see any way out of this hell.

I pleaded with God every night to either let me die or to heal me. My life had been happy and now it was hellish. Two years after my husband’s suicide, I was diagnosed with cervical cancer and underwent a related “minor” surgical procedure. After the procedure, I bled out and died. I was dead (no blood pressure and no pulse) for more than ten minutes. I was unconscious at the time of my passing, and I woke up when I “died.”

One of my first thoughts in this new realm was that my prayers had been answered. I was so grateful that I had been granted a release from my hell on earth. In this new realm, I felt the presence of the angels and the Holy Ghost. I was enveloped in peace, light, and love. This experience went on for some time, and eventually, I came to a door. The angels stopped me there. As a lifelong reader of near-death experiences, I knew what that door meant. I had no desire to go back to my hellish life on earth and told my angelic companions this very thing. Even in death, I easily remembered the agony of my husband’s suicide.

The angels said that if I agreed to return, I’d be healed of the grief and the emotional pain and the grisly nightmares. It was made clear to me that I had been taken to heaven for healing, but for now, returning to earth might be the better choice.

Upon my return, I was a different person. The soul-shattering grief and despair that had been my constant companion was gone. The nightmares stopped.

During my subsequent hospitalization, it was affirmed that I had bled to death, and subsequent tests showed that every vestige of the cancer was gone. But the real healing was the restoration of my soul.

Less than 30 days after my discharge from the hospital, I began selling off all my worldly possessions, including my shiny new car and my beautiful home. Five months after my near-death experience, I was in an affordable used car, heading west on I-64. One thousand miles later, I landed in the Midwest, ready to start a new life.

I have experienced hell on earth and I have experienced God in heaven. With the blessing of retrospect, I can truthfully state that even though “it was a cross that raised me,” I am sincerely grateful for these experiences. Dying was the best thing that ever happened to me, and it literally saved my life.

Now, let’s talk about heaven.

We survive death. Of that, I am sure.

At the moment of my death, I popped out of my body like toast out of a toaster. The best word that I can use to describe my soul’s departure is catapulted.  I was unconscious when I died, but I “woke up” when my heart stopped. It’s been two years since this happened, and I still remember how it felt to awaken from that deep, dreamless, unconscious state into an instant awareness (perhaps better described as a “knowing”) that my time on earth had ended.

This awakening wasn’t frightening or startling. To the contrary, it was indescribably pleasant.

It was akin to awakening from an intense dream, but far more enjoyable. In the split second that I went from “unconscious human” to “fully awakened spiritual being” I experienced the most profound mental acuity that I have ever known. It was as though a massive surge of spiritual power poured through every iota of my consciousness, and I went from 60 amps to 100,000 amps in an instant.

At the moment of my death, I sensed a sinewy elastic strand of silver running from the crown of my head to the bottom of my heels, and it was as though someone pulled back on that strand like an archer’s bow and let loose. With an audible pop, my soul left my body. And while it was dramatic and quick, it was also incredibly gentle and completely devoid of any unpleasantness or suffering.

As this separation occurred, I heard a “pop” or a “ping.” Mary C. Neal described it perfectly in her book (Seven Lessons From Heaven), as “the sound that water makes after a stone drops in” (p. 32).

One of my first thoughts was, “I’m awake but I’m no longer connected to my body.” After that separation occurred, I began floating away from my body with the softness of a feather on a summer’s breeze. The instant I felt that jolt, and then experienced the feeling of floating, I knew what had happened. I have marveled at this inherent knowledge so many times, but I knew what had happened. I knew the whole of it. I was conscious, and happy, and free, and the first words out of my mouth (my mouth in this new heavenly form) were, “my heart has stopped.”

This sudden death had been a surprise ending but the truth of the matter is, it was a good surprise. For 29 months, I had prayed every night, “Please God, let me go. My heart is broken and my soul is dead. Do not ask me to spend another day in this hellish existence.”

Twenty-nine months earlier, on the morning of April 18, 2016, my much-loved husband had come home for lunch, opened the fridge and retrieved two helpings of leftover Chicken Hassleback.

After finishing his lunch, he dutifully put his plate in the sink, stepped outside, sat down in his favorite lawn chair, and put a 9mm Glock in his mouth. His aim was perfect. My husband, the brilliant litigator with an IQ north of 180, killed himself with the same precision he’d used in every other facet of his life. He hit the brain stem, a sinewy piece of anatomy no bigger than your thumb, square and true. According to the coroner, he never even heard the gunshot. His death was instantaneous.

The last words he ever articulated in this earthly life were in the form of a four-word text he sent to me before he pulled the trigger. His text said simply, “This is your fault.”

My husband died instantly. I wasn’t so lucky.

In the interim 29 months, between his permanent death and my temporary death, I lost my mind, and suffered the torments of the damned.

By late summer of 2018, I was just starting to crawl out of this black pit of despair. I walked the dog and I rode my bike and I watched television and I gazed at the tall trees in my backyard as they swayed in the breezes from the nearby Nansemond River. I did a lot of yard work in an effort to stay in shape and also, to bring more beauty into my world.

While moving a 60-pound bag of rock from one spot to another, I felt something happen internally, somewhere deep in my lady parts. I went inside and saw that I was spotting. Soon thereafter, I visited a gynecologist where I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. A subsequent visit to an oncologist confirmed the gynecologist’s diagnosis, and said it was stage 2. The disease had advanced to a point where the flesh was distorted. A cervical biopsy was scheduled for September 5th to determine how far the cancer had spread.

Most people don’t die from cervical biopsies, but I’m not most people.

After the biopsy, I was sent home from the hospital even though I was bleeding profusely. Medical personnel told me that I’d “feel better” once I was home. Less than an hour after arriving home, I realized that I was losing too much blood, and an ambulance was summoned. As the EMTs loaded me onto the gurney for transport, the thought crossed my mind that I might not survive the day, but I quickly dismissed such thoughts as “devil talk.” I reasoned that the odds were good that I would be fine.

This “simple” medical procedure, compounded by multiple mistakes by multiple medical personnel, caused me to bleed to death. By 6 pm on September 5, 2018, Rosemary Thornton, a 59-year-old widow, mother of three, and author of nine books, was dead.

After hearing myself say, “My heart has stopped,” I then said out loud, “How do I know that my heart has stopped?” I thought about this for a moment and then said, “I don’t know how I know that, but I know that’s right.”

In my six decades upon earth, I’ve never known anything so perfectly as I knew that simple fact. It was as if I’d said, “The sky is blue and grass is green.” There was no emotion attached to this observation.

As to the instantaneous knowing, my friend (and fellow NDEr) Ellen Dye says that the psychic connection between my body and my consciousness was still strong at that point, and that’s how I knew what was happening.

In the movie Always with Richard Dreyfuss and Holly Hunter, Dreyfuss’ character dies suddenly while flying a plane through a forest fire. An engine catches fire and the plane explodes in mid-air. Next thing he knows, he’s in heaven, but he’s very confused as to exactly what happened in that fire, and has no memory of the transition or how he ended up in such a different place. An angel (played by Audrey Hepburn) appears and gently explains where he is, and helps him remember the events that led to his death.

There’s a belief that when death is sudden, tragic and unexpected, the soul gets confused as to what has occurred, and can even get stuck on earth, wandering around trying to sort out the mystery. Perhaps the most famous incident involves Flight 191, which crashed at O’Hare Airport on May 25, 1979. For days afterwards, there were multiple accounts of residents at the nearby mobile home parks being haunted by the recently deceased, who showed up at their doors and asked about their luggage, connection times and delayed flights. Seconds or moments later, the ethereal beings simply disappeared.

In my own transition, there was no mistaking what was happening. But there is this: I had spent at least 40 years of my life reading every near-death experience book that I could get my hands on. I found the topic to be enthralling and captivating. (In the midst of my own “temporary death experience,” I would come to understand more about the reasons for my fascination with these NDE books.)

As I took in these new surroundings, I was talking, and I could hear myself, and it was comforting to observe that not only could I hear my voice, but I sounded just like I’ve always sounded.

After a verbal declaration that my heart had stopped, my next comment was, “Well, actually, you’re not dying. You’re dead.”

That struck me as quite funny. Here I am, going on to my reward and my predominant thought is correcting my tense? I laughed out loud, and I heard myself laugh. I heard my spirited, goofy and unique Rosemary giggle. And then I thought, “I don’t have any breath sounds, and I don’t have lungs and vocal chords, so how am I producing sound? And how am I hearing sound?”

As a former reporter, life-long researcher and devoted historian, I’ve always thought of myself as something of a smart cookie with a keen and intense curiosity about the world around me, but this was a lot to take in. I was trying to figure out what this new life would be like, but I was also thoroughly enjoying the ride. It seemed like I was thinking a dozen thoughts at once, so specifically defining the timeline or sequence of events is difficult.

With childlike wonder, I rejoiced in the realization that every single thing I was (and am), had made this transition. I was still me, right down to my quirky humor, deep voice, and funny little giggle. It’s part of the human experience to wonder what life is like when the body dies, and being an anxiety prone, over-thinking-every-single-thing writer, I had ruminated on this topic more than most. This realization that nothing about me had changed was immensely comforting.

Even at this early point in the experience, one of the thoughts that flittered through my mind was, “What exactly did I leave behind on that gurney?”

I was still floating away from my body but I couldn’t see my body. In fact, I was floating in something that I would describe as perfect blackness. It was black, but it wasn’t. It was the silkiest, softest and most comfortable and comforting atmosphere I have ever experienced. (I heard someone else describe it as “black velvet” and that’s a good description.) I remember thinking, “I don’t like the dark but I’m not the least bit frightened. In fact, I feel great.”

With what I have since learned, it’s become clear that not seeing my body was God’s mercy. Not only would it have been distracting, but I learned later that my death was messy. My friend Milton, who was a witness to this event, explained that after he was shooed out of the small room and into the hallway, medical personnel emerged from that room four times, carrying armloads of linens soaked in blood. Even after I was resuscitated, and prepared for transport to another hospital, Milton observed that I was literally “white as a sheet,” and that my lips were deep blue, as was the space under my eyes. As Milton, a former army medic told me some time later, “I’ve seen corpses that looked a lot better than you at that moment.”

Truthfully, I’m glad that I didn’t see that either. And from what I’ve learned, it was electricity that restarted my heart. I wouldn’t want to bear witness to any part of that process.

It’s as though my tender-hearted heavenly Father had shielded me from this gruesome scene, just as a loving parent would put their hand over a child’s eyes and say, “Dearie, you don’t need to see what’s happening right now. Let’s close your eyes.”

The blackness in which I was floating was neither hot nor cold; neither damp nor dry. I sensed that I could feel those things, but this “environment” was utterly perfect and again, both comfortable and comforting. I remember thinking, “This is so wonderful. How could this get any better?” It seems like a silly question now, but this thing of floating was that glorious and that comforting. And yet I knew I was just stepping into the front foyer. I couldn’t wait to see what was coming next.

I also thought, “My entire life, I have been frightened of dying and I’ve wondered how I would die, and now it is happening and this is great!” I was experiencing the most perfect peace imaginable. And then I thought, “This is really cool! I wish I’d known the end would be like this. I wish I could have known that my death would actually be so peaceful and easy! I wouldn’t have been so worried all those years!”

Make no mistake about it; the dying process had not been fun. In the eight hours it took to bleed to death, watching my life’s blood flow out was extremely discomfiting. I’ve talked with two other women who nearly died from a “lady parts” hemorrhage and they shared similar thoughts.

Because of this bleeding, my anxiety had been severe, but from a physical perspective, there wasn’t much pain. Either that or my anxiety was taking up 100% of all available resources on my emotional hard drive. For anyone who’s experienced this level of anxiety, you’ll understand that a panic attack can shove everything else right off the desktop.

Floating further and further away from my body, I felt no attachment to my former life, and not one smidge of sadness about what I was leaving behind, because I knew – in that moment – that I was not truly leaving anything behind. I was just moving from one place to another. Just slipping from here to there. This may seem hard to understand, but in that place, there’s not a thought of loss or sorrow or sadness. Not a single thought.

In January 2002, my beloved mama – also my soul mate and best friend – died suddenly and unexpectedly in her sleep. A few days later, I collapsed into the arms of a sagacious friend (Marilyn) and sobbed like a child. I knew that years earlier, Marilyn had died in a car accident and had been resuscitated at the scene. Marilyn let me carry on for a bit and then she stroked my hair and whispered, “The pain is all on this side. Over there, it’s bliss. It’s joy and peace and calm and light. The pain is all on this side. Your mother is at peace.”

Marilyn was right. There is no pain over there. None.

Even now, I do wonder how it is that I didn’t worry about my three grown children or my little Sheltie or my friends, or maybe my shiny new car, or my beautiful house or my little red golf cart, but none of that mattered in the slightest.

In the midst of this experience, I felt no attachments of any kind whatsoever, and I also felt the most perfect peace I’d ever known.

It was almost as though I ceased “playing the part” when my heart stopped. The word “personality” comes from a Latin word meaning mask, and when the mask was gone, so were all the typical attachments. In this new place, I wasn’t “Mother,” “Friend,” or “Author.” All of those personas had been earthly attachments, and now I was leaving earth and returning to my Creator, and at this point, I was just me, a child of the Most High God returning home. As the old Christian song says, I was “just going home.”

It was as though my essence represented one billionth of one drop of water in the ocean, and I was re-united with the ocean, and it was an ocean of comfort, peace and familiarity. I’d always felt like such an oddball in this world, but now, finally, I was in a place where I was well-known and well-loved and well-regarded.

As I floated away from my body, the people and places of my earthly life were nowhere on my mental or emotional horizon. I didn’t think about my buddy Milton, waiting patiently in the emergency room. I didn’t think about his sister Mable, on her knees at my home in Suffolk, Virginia, praying assiduously that God would spare my life. I didn’t think about what a surprise this would be to anyone who knew me. I didn’t think about my memorial service (a topic I’ve always found a little intriguing) or the fact that my lifeless body was now laid out on a gurney looking pretty rough.

Prior to being dead, I was a relatively healthy female who’d gone into the hospital several hours earlier for a very simple 30-minute procedure. I hadn’t told anyone – other than Milton and Mable – about this medical procedure. My children had no idea.

None of this crossed my thought as I floated within this comforting blackness.