Kimberly Clark Sharp, author of After the Light, is a social worker, lecturer, wife, and mother. She is also a survivor of diagnosed terminal breast cancer and two near death experiences. She works within the medical establishment to expand knowledge of the near death experience, or NDE.
Dannion Brinkley calls himself a spiritual warrior. He is the author of Saved by the Light and At Peace in the Light. His work is in helping to cure people of their fear of death. He does this through individual hospice work, training for hospice workers (through a program called Project Nightlight), and guest lectures.
During February, Zaralaya Heartwood saw and spoke with Mr. Brinkley in Eugene, Oregon, and with Ms. Sharp in Seattle, on behalf of The New Times.
The Tao Te Ching, by Lao-Tzu, begins: "The tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be named is not the eternal Name." (Stephen Mitchell translation)
This is true of those who have had near death experiences. Each one tries to express what s/he saw, felt, understood, and learned in those ethereal moments when the physical body died and the spirit went to the "other side." When the language attempts to encompass such numinous experiences, many disparities emerge. The description of what one experienced appears to be different from that of another. However, there is no disagreement about one aspect of the near death experience: it changes you.
When he had his NDE, Dannion Brinkley was ripe for a change. He was a long-term member of the U.S. Marines Special Forces, admittedly involved in high-level "black bag" [authorized but illegal break-in] operations. Brinkley is one of the most decorated persons in the history of the U.S. military. "Those decorations are only for the things the government knows about; I had jerkdom down to an art form," he says. "If anybody disagreed with me or got in my way, I just popped [shot] them."
Upon his return home from a mission in Nicaragua, where he had blown up a power station, Brinkley was struck by lightning through the telephone line. He was electrocuted. His heart was blown up. He was blinded, and burned over a large percentage of his body. "I wasn't enlightened; I was enlightninged," he now quips. He was dead for 28 minutes.
Kimberly Clark Sharp came to her experience from another perspective. She had been the self-centered oldest child of an affluent midwestern family. Having just graduated from college, she was planning a future as the wife of a man whose last name was already the same as hers; no changes required. Then, waiting in line at the Motor Vehicle Department with her father, Kim lost consciousness from heart arrhythmia. She was out of her body for several minutes while people attempted to revive her. After her experience, she rejoined her body, and awoke in the hospital feeling better, more alive, than before.
"The NDE changes you at your point of greatest resistance," says Sharp. "Mine was that I feared change. I took zero risks growing up. Now all I do is take risks. It's like being on the pointed end of a bloody spear."
Although her first NDE took place when she was only 22 years old, she did not tell anyone (except a couple of close friends) about it until twenty years later. Why? "All of it - the demon, the angels, the NDE - were my dirty little secret. It would bubble up and I would shove it down. I had to be dragged into these experiences. I did go, fighting it all the way. It was with tremendous resistance that I went into the near death business."
Kimberly Clark Sharp sees herself as a crusader within the medical fraternity on behalf of people who have had NDEs. "My audience is health care professionals. I've been teaching about the NDE to students in the University of Washington Medical School since 1977. A few weeks ago [in February 1997] I went to the faculty meeting and said I wanted to tell everyone about the NDE. This is a first. As part of the mandatory medical school course future doctors will receive information about the NDE. This will change medicine from the inside out.
"I am the only person who has had a near death experience who has gone into medicine and stayed there. I am the first person to be this credentialed, this recognized, held this credible a position in the medical field. I have done published research on the near death experience. I'm a Triple Crown winner: NDE'er, researcher, and clinician. I have a 27-page curriculum vitae from University of Washington." Her concern was that exposing her own near death experience would identify her to colleagues as a crackpot.
After his NDE, Dannion Brinkley spent three years learning how to walk again. Blind for six months after the experience, then partially blind and unable to care for himself for several years, the former Marine learned what it meant to rely on friends and loved ones. Unknowingly, he drove them away with his wild stories of the visions, the prophecies, the cities and beings of light he had visited. The people who heard about his experience thought he was crazy. "When you talk to God they call it prayer. When God talks to you, they call it schizophrenia."
The day in 1975 when he met Dr. Raymond Moody, author of Life after Life probably saved Brinkley's sanity. "He believed me. The wilder the stories I told him, the quieter Raymond got. He just kept writing and nodding. Finally he said, 'yes, I have heard about the cities of light from others who have been there.' What a relief!"
Within two weeks after her "death," Sharp decided to change locations and change her life. Instead of making a career of being the life partner of her childhood sweetheart, Kim threw all of her plans out. She and girlfriend Mary Sue got into a VW bug and moved from Kansas City to San Francisco, and then on to Seattle. Kim initially found work as a housemother for twenty-two emotionally disturbed children and adolescents. She discovered that she really cared, and could give comfort, qualities she had never experienced in herself before.
Later, while working on her master's in social work, Kimberly Clark Sharp landed a job as a social work intern with Seattle's Harborview Medical Center coronary care unit (CCU) and medical intensive care unit (MICU). Her life had now taken another left turn, from her plan of studying child abuse to working with patients in acute care. "We called it the Harborzoo. It was here that I learned to recognize the light in people as well as the evil. I had to learn to love scum, because that's what many of our patients were. At Harborview, we served all." Sharp's book After the Light, begins with a scene in which a wino urinates on her office door.
It was at Harborview that Sharp discovered her knack for saying just the right thing at the right time to people in crisis. "I know this came from the NDE. Now I had empathy. I knew what people were feeling." She began to see angels around people, what she calls her "angel vision."
She also saw demons. "Dark material exists. Look at our world. I have come across people who were more than evil. It is opportunistic. That's the key. Evil can't function without opportunity."
Just as Jacob wrestled with the angel, Kimberly Clark Sharp wrestled with her demon. She was stalked in her own home by a being that was the essence of evil. "It first materialized as my sister and as other people I knew and trusted. Ultimately it came in the form of a male but it wasn't male, it was actually reptilian. Its eyes contained heart-stopping, breathtaking terror. It never could disguise its eyes: black, gelatinous, cold. Its purpose was to take my destiny. It intended to turn the dial just enough to lead people into hell; into hellish experiences. It loved scaring me." Eventually, Sharp defeated the demon through resisting its taking over her life.
Dannion Brinkley also wrestled with a demon, but that demon was himself, the man he had been before the experience. "I was the sort of person who wouldn't have listened to you if you had tried to talk to me about the near death experience. No way. So this all came as a big surprise to me. When I went to the other side the first time, in my life review I saw everything I had ever done. I felt the feelings of all the people I had affected. It really made me sit up and pay attention. I didn't want to feel that ever again. Nobody judged me except me. If you doubt me, believe this: you are the toughest judge you will ever have."
Brinkley works with his demon on a day-to-day basis. He tries to love everyone he meets, and to leave people feeling better than when he met them. "I know what God likes. God wants us to love each other. When I went back the second time, I had another life review. It was indescribable how good it felt - all the love I felt from all the people I had loved. There's nothing here to compare with that. If I do anything important here, it's to love and be loved."
What did Kimberly Clark Sharp experience in her NDE? "When I died, I was in dense foggy material and I could adjust my vision. It was made up of light and black holes. That was my exposure to both light and darkness. I feel it was a physical place that can be found.
"Science Magazine printed an article about quantum physicists who have discovered something smaller than quarks. Eventually science will discover smaller things until we get down to where light meets dark."
After the foggy place, Kimberly Clark Sharp says (in After the Light), "Suddenly an enormous explosion erupted beneath me, an explosion of light rolling out to the farthest limits of my vision. I was in the center of the Light...It reached the ends of the universe, which I could see, and doubled back on itself in endless layers. I was watching eternity unfold...I immediately understood it was entirely composed of love, all directed at me. Though I had never seen God, I recognized this light as the Light of God. But even the word God seemed too small to describe the magnificence of that presence. I was with my Creator..."
Dannion Brinkley also mentions the gray foggy place in his NDE. His physical body was on fire, and he was blind. "I found myself in a blue/gray place. It was cool and quiet and I could see. Suddenly I was going through a tunnel, where there was light but it didn't hurt my eyes. The closer I got to the light, I could feel love, more and more love, the farther I went up the tunnel, into the light. I was met there by a tall being of light, like a silvery cocoon. As it approached me all I could think was how small I felt. When I got right up to this great spiritual being of light, I realized it was myself."
Kimberly Clark Sharp has studied others who have had these experiences, thousands of them. Her work with NDE survivors began with a woman named Maria, a Hispanic migrant worker. After her recovery from a massive heart attack in Harborview's CCU, Maria began to describe, in halting English, what she had seen while she had been floating around the hospital, out of her body. One detail, a tennis shoe on a high ledge, intrigued Sharp. After considerable detective work, going from room to room throughout the hospital looking out of windows, the tennis shoe was discovered on a ledge that would only be visible from above. Nowhere Maria had been was above the ledge. Maria's agitation over this incident convinced Sharp that doctors and patients both needed to be educated about the near death experience.
In collaboration with Melvin Morse, author of Closer to the Light, she documented case after case of people who she encouraged to speak about their NDEs. She now leads the world's oldest and largest NDE group, Seattle's IANDS (International Association of Near Death Survivors). Started in 1977, it now boasts 100 to 150 in attendance at each of its monthly meetings, and a newsletter circulation of several thousand.
But she put off telling about her own NDE for over twenty years, until a talk show host cornered her. "I was asked, 'Have you had a near death experience yourself?' And, after a long, long silence, I had to tell the truth."
Like his life, Dannion Brinkley's "death" was so spectacular that nobody could get him to stop talking about it. Rather than studying others who had had such experiences, Dannion was the subject of study by Dr. Raymond Moody. Because Brinkley had been dead such a long time (28 minutes), he had been through almost every aspect of the NDEs reported by others. The particulars of his life review, his visit to the cities of light, and his nearly two hundred predictions of future events were received into the records of classic near death experiences.
When Brinkley returned from his NDE, he not only knew many details about the future of our world society, including the Chernobyl disaster, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and Desert Storm, he also had clear vision (clairvoyance) of the internal "movie" of people he touched. While he does not do readings per se, he spontaneously offers people who attend his lectures and training sessions fond advice, based on the deeply personal information that they psychically share.
Sharp has been party to advance knowledge of major events in her own life. She was aware of the impending death of a loved one. When she met her future husband, she knew it the moment they first kissed each other. He was her mate for life.
What was the net result of Sharp's experience as compared to that of other NDE'ers, particularly that of Dannion Brinkley? "I want to live. I have a life that has involved suffering at a 'gaggy' level. But I am grateful for everything." Her family are born-again Christians who believe these are the end times. "They think I'm going to hell. The rapture is coming, they say. I say that the here and now is the suffering. The rapture is in how you cope with change and how you can help others to cope with change."
From her perspective as a member of the medical community, Sharp feels that heroic efforts should be made to prolong life. Kimberly Clark Sharp cautions that many people waste their lives in fearing death. "I have survived terminal cancer because of my NDE. I used all the energy that is not lost in fearing death to survive cancer. I survived the unsurvivable."
Dannion Brinkley, on the other hand, advocates the so-called "living will." As he puts it, "The first sign of death and I'm out of here. You hook me up to a machine and I'm going to get you some way. I don't want anybody mortgaging their house, or their future, so they can keep my body alive one second longer than it has to be. When my consciousness has left the body, I don't want to have to come back. I say, let me go. I'm ready." Part of Brinkley's Project Nightlight is to train people to be able to help their loved ones, in their last hours of life, to make the transition into death without fear.
A few have questioned Brinkley's calling during his lecture tours around the world. "One woman said to me, 'Mr. Brinkley, God sure was scraping the bottom of the barrel when he picked you for a prophet.' And I told her she was probably right. They had a conversation up there and decided, 'Let's find us a jackass, a hillbilly who can make people laugh so hard they will forget to fear death.' God called on the telephone to give me the good news. The only burning bush I saw was me."
After being struck by lightning and killed twice in preparation for his work as "God's fool," Brinkley says he was told by the beings of light, "If you do my work I will provide for you."
This support from the light comes in a different form than Dannion Brinkley might have chosen. "It's not much while you're down here - but the retirement benefits are out of this world."
Kimberly Clark Sharp will be speaking at 11:00 a.m. at the Boeing Psychic Fair on Saturday, April 19. For information, call Lou J. Free at (206) 927-8366. She is the founder of Seattle International Association for Near Death Studies, the first support group for NDE survivors. IANDS holds free meetings on the first Saturday of every month from 1:00 to 4:30 p.m. at Catholic Community Services, 23rd and Yesler, in Seattle. They can be reached at P.O. B ox 84333, Seattle, WA 98124. Their phone number is (206) 525-5489, and they have an interesting web page at www.SeattleNDE.com
Dannion Brinkley's address is P.O. Box 1919, Aiken, SC 29802.
The national office of Project Nightlight is at 1313 Vine Street, Los Angeles, CA 90028. They can be reached by phone at (213) 993-1350, fax at (213) 993-1598, or on the web at
Zaralaya G. Heartwood is a crystal keeper, psychic, Reiki Master, and publisher of the Kuan Yin cards. She writes for several publications from her home near Eugene, Oregon. She can be reached at (541) 747-4999 or on the Internet.