Spirit Leaves: Near Death in the suburbs of Philadelphia

The author as she appeared in high school.
The author as she appeared in high school.

Usually when we hear of Near Death Experience or NDE, we think of a hospital patient in an etherized state, surgical lamp poised directly above. Subtly, the scene begins to shift. The individual gradually enters into a deeper dimension, whirring just at the edge of consciousness.

My own excursion to the next world did not involve trauma, illness or hospitalization. I entered this uncharted territory at a time when I was too young to understand its significance or navigate its hazy borders with any skill. Still, I think the spirit is somehow able to grow — with or without the imprimatur of the conscious mind.

I was in eleventh grade at the time, an object of derision to the rude and clunky population of adolescents at Upper Dublin Sr. High in Ft. Washington, a northern suburb of Philadelphia. As a mature person looking back at old photos, the portrait I now see is that of a tall, slender, kind, beautiful, somewhat awkward, brown-eyed girl. My classmates saw, instead, someone who did not fit their standards. The most popular girl in the class had dyed platinum, silky, Barbie-doll-like hair in a trim little bob; I, on the other hand, had long, dark brown, wavy “ethnic” hair down to my waist. Sally was a petite and tidy 5’2″ with eyes of clear Cerulean blue; I was a tall and gangly 5’10-1/2″ with dark brown eyes and large black pupils. Sally had pink cheeks and pearly white teeth; I had an olive complexion and wore braces.

Forced into early seclusion by an inability to fit with the popular crowd, my primary relationship was with Nature and God, or The Great Spirit. I spent a lot of time reflecting, pondering and meditating. I never thought of myself as having “insomnia,” believing it was impressive to live as a “night owl” on the prowl for philosophic and spiritual consolation.

Late one night, I finally found solace in REM sleep. I was in a vernal scene, seated on a folding chair in the backyard of our suburban home. From the cement patio there was a slight drop and then a flat quarter acre of lawn that descended into a grove of trees. In this very setting, I was seated among a circle of people — friends from school and a few instructors. It was the middle of the afternoon. The lighting seemed ordinary and sober. My favorite weeping willow swayed languidly in a warm breeze. Everyone in the arc of chairs was engaged in conversation, so I got up and announced, “I’m going in.”

Everything was so vivid: the cellophane-bright green leaves; the textured white vinyl siding of the rear of our two-story brick colonial house; the light blue, cloudless sky above Roslyn, Pennsylvania. All of this really added to the impression I was in waking reality amid the usual landscape. I entered the back door which, in waking life, ordinarily opened into the laundry room. Instead, I found myself inside a castle-like turret that enveloped a winding staircase. I looked up and noticed the curved stairs receding into perspective, spiraling higher and higher, though I could not see the top of the landing. I grabbed the banister and began my ascent. Slowly, imperceptibly, the railing vanished, yet I kept climbing and climbing upward. An opaque, misty, veil-like fog of sweet, pure white light began diffusing all around and now became the reality through which I moved. I stopped for a second and stared in all directions in astonishment, uttering out loud to myself, “This is what God is. This is pure love.”

I continued my ascent and arrived at the top of the landing. To my left was a room with an open door, and I saw myself lying face down on the bed, my portable radio playing on the nightstand by the lamp. Gradually, the sense of the scene sank in: I had died. The next thought I had was of my parents, who would not be able to handle it if they found me this way. The scene just seemed too tragic — the music playing, the young dead teen girl alone in her room. I stood in the doorway for a few moments during which time I was both the body on the bed and the person standing in the doorway looking at myself — and I was the person dreaming, too. Entering the awareness of these multiple dimensions eventually “popped” me out of the reality into which I had “quantum-leaped,” and I woke up.

For decades, I could not figure out the meaning of the dream. I knew I had directly experienced death, and that it did not seem like a fearful process. Maybe that was the entire meaning. In our way of life — the Wanagi –we do not fear death; we embrace it. Death, for us, is a transformation. It is another portal in the journey through which we travel. It is not fearful.

Earlier in my journey, I recall more than once having panicked at the notion of losing my identity — my precious ego — in death. Who or what would I be if I were no longer me, this person named Janet? Now I know I will be happier than I am now. I will not disappear. I will become part and parcel of the soft loving white light that is pure unconditional love and acceptance. Love and light: that is our essential nature.

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Janet Michele Red Feather
Janet Michele Red Feather, J.D., M.A., is a ceremonial singer who has learned over 60 traditional songs in Mandan and Lakota and sings in nine different languages. Janet was a full-time defense litigator in California for nearly eight years. Her life changed significantly after she traveled to North Dakota in 1993 to fast and pray for a way of life. A regular columnist for The Edge, she has also appeared in Psychic Guidepost, FATE Magazine and Species Link. Her book, Song of the Wind (2014, Galde Press), dealt with her experiences as an empath, and her journey through Mandan spiritual culture. She is currently a full-time, tenured English faculty member at Normandale Community College, having taught Composition and Literature for a span of 20 years.


  1. I loved your story of your experience. I had my very own experience in 2010. It changed me forever and like you I no longer fear death.. Lovely. Thanks for sharing with the world.


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