Book review: Opening Heaven’s Door

Opening Heaven's Door: What the Dying May be Trying to Tell Us About Where They're GoingOpening Heaven’s Door: What the Dying May be Trying to Tell Us About Where They’re Going by Patricia Pearson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked up this book (well, it was an ebook, so the picking up was virtual) for three reasons:

1. It was on sale. Cheap is always a price I like.
2. I’ve loved these sorts of nutty topics (out of body experiences, telepathy, Bigfoot, ghosts, Bigfoot ghosts with telepathy, etc.) since I was a kid.
3. It seemed like good background material for a novel I’m writing that coincidentally embraces the subject of death and near-death experiences.

Journalist Patricia Pearson draws from a range of studies and personal accounts stretching back decades to dig into the near death experience (NDE) and other related phenomenon. The deaths of her sister and father serve as a framing device for the book and Pearson is up front about how their deaths and oddities around the deaths helped develop her interest in and shape her point of view on the subject.

Despite the title of the book, Pearson paints NDEs as more of a spiritual awakening rather than a religious experience. Indeed, more people have apparently turned away from religion after having an NDE while at the same time becoming more spiritual. Throughout the various studies and research Pearson shows how little science has been able to quantify what happens when someone comes close to dying and recovers or just plain dies. In the main the affected individuals seem to traverse into another realm or reality, out of their bodies, often meeting other people they know who are already dead, and for the most part the experiences are positive, even joyful. As you may suspect, conducting experiments around people who have just escaped death is a bit tricky, as scientists, smart and diligent as they may be, cannot hang around intersections indefinitely waiting for near-fatal traffic accidents to occur. Well, they could, but probably not with funding from a university.

My biggest issue with the book is its relative shapelessness. Pearson writes well and has put in a lot of research on the subject (the bibliography and notes are extensive), the tone remains respectful and she never makes declarative statements one way or the other (“The Buddhists are right, if you screw up in your post-life you come back as a dung beetle!”), but the book has no sense of progression. She documents the subject and then the book ends. Maybe I’m trying too hard to impose a narrative structure on something that doesn’t necessarily need one.

In any case, if you have any interest in the subject matter–and yes, most NDEs center around being surrounded by glowing light, a tremendous sense of love and no fear of death–this is a sober and serious look at it.

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