Vicki Umipeg, a forty-five year old blind woman, was just one of the more than thirty persons that Dr. Ken Ring and Sharon Cooper interviewed at length during a two-year study just completed concerning near-death experiences of the blind. The results of their study appear in their newest book Mindsight. Vicki was born blind, her optic nerve having been completely destroyed at birth because of an excess of oxygen she received in the incubator. Yet, she appears to have been able to see during her NDE. Her story is a particularly clear instance of how NDEs of the congenitally blind can unfold in precisely the same way as do those of sighted persons. As you will see, apart from the fact that Vicki was not able to discern color during her experience, the account of her NDE is absolutely indistinguishable from those with intact visual systems. The following is an excerpt from Dr. Ring’s latest book reprinted by permission.
Vicki told Dr. Ring she found herself floating above her body in the emergency room of a hospital following an automobile accident. She was aware of being up near the ceiling watching a male doctor and a female nurse working on her body, which she viewed from her elevated position. Vicki has a clear recollection of how she came to the realization that this was her own body below her. The following is her experience.
“I knew it was me … I was pretty thin then. I was quite tall and thin at that point. And I recognized at first that it was a body, but I didn’t even know that it was mine initially.
“Then I perceived that I was up on the ceiling, and I thought, “Well, that’s kind of weird. What am I doing up here?”
“I thought, “Well, this must be me. Am I dead? …”
“I just briefly saw this body, and … I knew that it was mine because I wasn’t in mine”.
In addition, she was able to note certain further identifying features indicating that the body she was observing was certainly her own.
“I think I was wearing the plain gold band on my right ring finger and my father’s wedding ring next to it. But my wedding ring I definitely saw … That was the one I noticed the most because it’s most unusual. It has orange blossoms on the corners of it.”
There is something extremely remarkable and provocative about Vicki’s recollection of these visual impressions, as a subsequent comment of hers implied.
“This was,” she said, “the only time I could ever relate to seeing and to what light was, because I experienced it.”
She then told them that following her out-of-body episode, which was very fast and fleeting, she found herself going up through the ceilings of the hospital until she was above the roof of the building itself, during which time she had a brief panoramic view of her surroundings. She felt very exhilarated during this ascension and enjoyed tremendously the freedom of movement she was experiencing. She also began to hear sublimely beautiful and exquisitely harmonious music akin to the sound of wind chimes.
With scarcely a noticeable transition, she then discovered she had been sucked head first into a tube and felt that she was being pulled up into it. The enclosure itself was dark, Vicki said, yet she was aware that she was moving toward light. As she reached the opening of the tube, the music that she had heard earlier seemed to be transformed into hymns and she then “rolled out” to find herself lying on grass.
She was surrounded by trees and flowers and a vast number of people. She was in a place of tremendous light, and the light, Vicki said, was something you could feel as well as see. Even the people she saw were bright.
“Everybody there was made of light. And I was made of light. What the light conveyed was love. There was love everywhere. It was like love came from the grass, love came from the birds, love came from the trees.”
Vicki then becomes aware of specific persons she knew in life who are welcoming her to this place. There are five of them. Debby and Diane were Vicki’s blind schoolmates, who had died years before, at ages 11 and 6, respectively.
In life, they had both been profoundly retarded as well as blind, but here they appeared bright and beautiful, healthy and vitally alive.
And no longer children, but, as Vicki phrased it, “in their prime.”
In addition, Vicki reports seeing two of her childhood caretakers, a couple named Mr. and Mrs. Zilk, both of whom had also previously died. Finally, there was Vicki’s grandmother – who had essentially raised Vicki and who had died just two years before this incident. In these encounters, no actual words were exchanged, Vicki says, but only feelings – feelings of love and welcome.
In the midst of this rapture, Vicki is suddenly overcome with a sense of total knowledge.
“I had a feeling like I knew everything … and like everything made sense. I just knew that this was where … this place was where I would find the answers to all the questions about life, and about the planets, and about God, and about everything … It’s like the place was the knowing.”
As these revelations are unfolding, Vicki notices that now next to her is a figure whose radiance is far greater than the illumination of any of the persons she has so far encountered. Immediately, she recognizes this being to be Jesus. He greets her tenderly, while she conveys her excitement to him about her newfound omniscience and her joy at being there with him.
Telepathically, he communicates to her.
“Isn’t it wonderful? Everything is beautiful here, and it fits together. And you’ll find that. But you can’t stay here now. It’s not your time to be here yet and you have to go back.”
Vicki reacts, understandably enough, with extreme disappointment and protests vehemently.
“No, I want to stay with you.”
But the being reassures her that she will come back, but for now, she “has to go back and learn and teach more about loving and forgiving.”
Still resistant, however, Vicki then learns that she also needs to go back to have her children. With that, Vicki, who was then childless but who “desperately wanted” to have children (and who has since given birth to three) becomes almost eager to return and finally consents.
However, before Vicki can leave, the being says to her, in these exact words, “But first, watch this.”
And what Vicki then sees is “everything from my birth” in a complete panoramic review of her life, and as she watches, the being gently comments to help her understand the significance of her actions and their repercussions.
The last thing Vicki remembers, once the life review has been completed, are the words, “You have to leave now.”
Then she experiences “a sickening thud” like a roller-coaster going backwards, and finds herself back in her body.
Such reports, replete with visual imagery, were the rule, not the exception, among Ring and Cooper’s blind respondents. Altogether, 80% of their entire sample claimed some visual perception during their near-death or out-of-body encounters. Although Vicki’s was unusual with respect to the degree of detail, it was hardly unique in their sample.
Sometimes the initial onset of visual perception of the physical world is disorienting and even disturbing to the blind. This was true for Vicki, for example, who said:
“I had a hard time relating to it (i.e., seeing). I had a real difficult time relating to it because I’ve never experienced it. And it was something very foreign to me … Let’s see, how can I put it into words? It was like hearing words and not being able to understand them, but knowing that they were words. And before you’d never heard anything. But it was something new, something you’d not been able to previously attach any meaning to.”