William Peters has dedicated his life to the study of end-of-life phenomena. He holds master’s degrees in education and counseling psychology, and is the founder of the Shared Crossing Project, an organization that educates people about mystical happenings during the dying process. He sat down with Mysterious Ways to discuss the Shared Crossing Project’s research into a type of end-of-life phenomena known as the shared death experience and what it teaches us about our enduring connection to each other and the mysterious journey from this life into what lies beyond.
What is a shared death experience?
A shared death experience, or SDE, occurs when a living person observes the transition of a person who is dying. They experience the initial stages of the afterlife together. During an SDE, living experiencers are allowed to witness a dying person’s journey from this life into what lies beyond.
An SDE can happen to caregivers, loved ones and bystanders —seldom between total strangers. They occur between people who may not know each other well, such as a dying person and a nurse, when the experiencer was often a source of comfort for the dying person in the final stages of life.
How did you become interested in studying SDEs?
In 1979, at 17 years old, I was in a skiing accident and had a near-death experience, or NDE. I went out of my body, saw my life in review and went toward the light. I asked God to go back. After I recovered, I had no language or context for my experience and told no one about it.
In 1993, a blood disorder nearly killed me. I had another out-of-body experience, in which I floated over my body in bed. After that, I realized how profound these experiences were and became more curious.
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The Christmas Clock
It was December 2012, a week before Christmas. I was sitting alone at my kitchen table in Missouri, watching the hands of my Christmas clock tick toward the hour. I was waiting to hear it play “Silent Night,” which it did every night at 11 o’clock. The tune always lifted my spirits. But the second hand passed the hour mark without a peep. My heart sank. The music mechanism must have broken. You couldn’t have picked a better metaphor for my life—I kept on ticking, but the joy was missing.
Q&A: William Peters
A CONVERSATION ABOUT THE HEALING POWER OF SHARED DEATH EXPERIENCES
We were only 48 hours into our family’s three-week road trip when the car broke down. White smoke billowed from the engine. The dashboard warning lights went on.
“I saw a butterfly,” my mother said with a shy smile. It was the first time I’d seen her smile since my father’s death the week before. After a seven-year period of steadily declining health, he’d passed away in his bed at home, surrounded by his wife and three daughters. It was a peaceful end to his suffering, but saying goodbye was still difficult. We all missed him terribly. Especially Mami.
Wings and a Prayer
I heard the front door to our apartment open and walked over to see my mom returning home from the laundromat. She had tears in her eyes.
It was a sunny October day. My husband, Anthony, and I sat with our three kids—Ella, seven; Luca, five; and Zoe, two—as they drew with sidewalk chalk in the driveway. The whole family was enjoying the last bit of nice weather before the winter. Everything felt warm and peaceful.
Secrets of the Labyrinth
I WAS AT THE ENTRY OF Battery Park’s Labyrinth of Contemplation in New York City. A winding pathway of rocks and grass stretched out before me. After studying labyrinths for weeks, I wanted to try one. I’d learned that these fantastical, circuitous pathways can act as prayer tools, helping calm the mind and soul. I sure needed that. Beyond this quiet park, the city had been hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. Though cases were down and things seemed to be improving, I still felt overwhelmed and uncertain about the future. Will I find the spiritual comfort I’m looking for? I wondered. Adjusting my face mask, I took a deep breath and began….
An Unexpected Visitor
I couldn’t even sort through the first box of our dog Bama’s toys without bursting into tears. My husband, Alan, found me sitting on the floor in our utility room, clutching our late boxer’s favorite squeaky. He gently pulled me to my feet. “It’s okay, Lisa,” he said.
Whenever I think about the Transfiguration, my mind travels back to the fifth- and sixth-grade Sunday school class I once coached to act it out for the congregation. The task seemed nearly impossible.
I stepped out of the federal prison in South Dakota after a decade behind bars and breathed a sigh of relief. I’d served my time. But I wasn’t just free. I was a new man. Honestly, I doubted anyone who knew me before would recognize me. I hardly recognized me.
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