The form of the account is an interview between Don and the editor of the book (Arvin S. Gibson, Echoes From Eternity, Horizon Publishers, 1993).
Don Lynn Wood's Story
Don had stopped off at the University of Utah Medical Center for a brief check up when I first met him in March 1993. He smiled and shook hands as we sat in the hall to conduct our interview.
Having read a little of Don's experience before meeting him, I knew that he had severe chronic health problems. When he joined me, therefore, I was unprepared for the vigorous, lively man who shook my hand with aggressive good nature. He was shorter than the average man, but his youthful appearance and energetic nature dispelled my preconception.
Don was born in October 1951 at the Utah Valley Hospital in Provo, Utah. Upon his birth, the medical people observed there was something wrong with his body. He was secreting excessive salt, and he was having severe intestinal and pulmonary problems. These problems ultimately led to a diagnosis of cystic fibrosis.
During much of his youth Don was raised in the Orem, Utah area where his family found a physician who could treat Don's disease. Until the age of five or six, Don was not able to eat normal foods; he grew up on liver, rice water, and fruit. His diet allowed no milk, no greases or fats, and no whole grains. This restricted diet was largely the cause of his short stature.
Don was the oldest of four brothers and one sister. All of the children were adopted so the genetic origin of his disease was unknown. He and his brothers and sister were raised in a typical Mormon atmosphere.
Both of Don's parents had obtained higher degrees. Don's father had a doctorate in chemistry, and Don's mother had a master's degree. Because of their educational status, they actively sought information concerning Don's symptoms in medical journals -- at the time, cystic fibrosis was not well understood. It was not discovered as a genetic disease until 1945, and most of the research was in the eastern part of the United States. Don was ten years old before they identified his problem as cystic fibrosis.
After attending high school in Orem, Don went to Brigham Young University where he obtained a Bachelor of Science degree. His education was interrupted by a two year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to the Florida South Spanish Mission, which included Puerto Rico.
During his youth and later, Don and his parents learned how to minimize problems with the disease. Diet was a primary control factor, and he learned to avoid excessive sun or heat. However, Don believes that there was another factor that contributed to the long-term control of his disease. I will let him tell his story from this point.
"By the time I was five years old, my parents had faced many crises with my health. Neither they nor the medical community knew what was the real cause of my recurrent health problems. My parents were concerned about my long term survival; consequently, one day my father sat me down on the sewing stool in our home and gave me a blessing. In the blessing he promised that if I remained faithful to the Lord, as a little boy, and later as a responsible adult, I would receive all of the blessings of a normal person. He told me that I would be able to go on a mission for the Church, I would be married, and I would live a normal life.
"Had my father known how serious my disease was, he might not have promised all the things that he did. As it was, since he was largely ignorant of the real implications of my illness, the blessing he gave was unrestricted. I still remember the promises as he gave them. The blessing has had an enormous impact on my life.
"Concerning the promise of marriage, I met a returned sister missionary in the Salt Lake City Mission Home where we were both teaching classes. This young sister was a superb teacher and I was impressed and attracted to her. At the time, we were both dating and engaged to separate fiances. We were each having trouble with our respective relationships. We used to get together and commiserate over our respective problems. It took me about three years to get my head togethr and ask my friend to marry me. We were married in July 1977 and have since adopted our two boys, who are now eleven and seven.
"After we were married, I fell ill with pneumonia and other difficulties related to cystic fibrosis, but nothing life-threatening until January of 1985. For one week I couldn't pass anything, and I felt very ill. I was not sure what the trouble was. It turned out I had a blocked bowel -- common with cystic fibrosis -- and it was a serious blockage. It got bad enough that I couldn't even stand up.
"My wife took me to the Utah Valley Regional Medical Center after I collapsed on the morning of January 10. The doctor examined me and said that he had to operate immediately or I would die. I doubted that my illness was that serious. He again assured me, with the utmost urgency, that there must be an immediate operation or they could not save me.
"They operated right then, and they found two liters of black sewer water in a gangrenous bowel. They removed the diseased portion of the bowel -- the appendix burst. I was in very serious condition, but I recovered. That was the first major operation that I had.
"Because of the severity of the disease I had in my bowel, and because of scar tissue from the first operation, one and a half years later the bowel became blocked again. I returned to the same hospital and the same doctor, and he operated again. Two days after that operation it abscessed, and they had to operate a third time.
"The third operation was on my hospital bed. They could not put me under anesthesia because that would have killed me."
"Did they use a local anesthetic?" I asked Don.
"They used no anesthetic at all. My surgeon instructed one of the three nurses to lie on my legs and hold me so that I wouldn't move. The other nurse was instructed to hold my hand and tell me when to breathe in order to keep me from hyperventilating. The third nurse was the surgeon's operating assistant.
"After disinfecting the area, the surgeon retrieved a pair of surgical scissors which he plunged into the abscessed area in order to reopen the incision. There was a crunching feeling throughout my body as he slowly cut through the abdominal wall. I was writhing in pain. Finally he stopped cutting and pinched open the abscess. The scene was so gruesome that the nurse lying on my legs passed out. After cleaning out the infected area, he sewed me up with rough catgut thread. When he tied the knot, the thread broke, upon which he ordered a larger needle and thicker thread. Needless to say, the entire process was extremely painful and emotionally traumatic.
"After that series of operations I recovered and resumed life. In November of 1988 I was admitted to Utah Valley Hospital with a moderately high temperature, pneumonia, and a severe sinus headache. They let me go home for Thanksgiving dinner; however I felt so bad and my teeth were hurting so much that I couldn't eat. I went back to the hospital. The next day I went to my dentist and had him take X rays, thinking I might need root canal work on my teeth,
"My dentist said that I had the worst case of sinusitis he had seen. He urged me to see an ENT specialist. I returned to the hospital and they had an ENT specialist examine me. Upon completing the examination he explained that I must have an emergency operation.
"Three hours later I was on the operating table. They asked me to count backwards from ten as they administered the anesthetic. Before I lost consciousness I remember thinking: I wonder if I'm going to wake up from this one?
"When I awakened, my wife, as usual, was waiting for me. She reassured me that I had behaved well and the doctors were pleased. Unlike other operations, however, I noticed that I had many wires attached to me. I was wearing an oxygen mask and there was an urgency about the people as they attended to my needs.
"I asked my wife: 'What's going on?' and she said: 'It was a difficult operation and you bled a lot. they had to give you two units of blood.'
"They put me in the Intermediate Care Section of the hospital and for four days I was in and out of consciousness. Blood continued to be lost down my throat, requiring that I receive three more units. This worried me because of the fear of contracting AIDS.
"I remained in IMC until Tuesday, November 29, when they put me in a private room. My doctor came into the room to remove the nose packing that had been tightly packed into my sinuses to minimize bleeding. As he was pulling the packing out of my sinuses through my nostrils, it seemed as if there would never be an end to the packing. The pain was excruciating. I was crying from the intense pain, but he just kept pulling and pulling. My mother left the room because she could not bear to see me suffer such pain.
"When the doctor left I just wanted to go to sleep and forget the pain. I was totally exhausted, both physically and emotionally.
"In the early morning hours of Wednesday, November 30, I woke up to the realization that I was no longer in my body. In fact, I was being drawn down a tunnel. Had it not been for the books I had read about near-death experiences, I would have probably been ignorant of where I was."
I interrupted Don's narration and asked: "You had read books about the near death experience, then, before you went through this?"
"Yes, for some reason I had a fascination with the subject."
"OK, so you were in the tunnel. What happened next?"
"I found myself being drawn toward a bright light that was down the tunnel. The tunnel was about seventy-five yards long, and as I was drawn toward the light, I finally realized where I was and I said to myself: Whoa, stop! I had to consciously say, stop. My movement wasn't by walking, it was more like floating. But it wasn't floating, either. It was a different process than anything I had experienced in mortal life.
"As I told myself to stop, I stopped moving. I was about half-way down the tunnel with the light at the end I was moving toward. Turning around and looking at the opposite end, I saw my family sitting there. My wife was there with our two boys sitting on her lap. I thought to myself: This is really strange.
"Before I had this experience, and knowing how serious my disease was, I told myself that if I ever went through a near-death experience, I would ask a set of questions. My first question was: If I came into this world naked, how do I leave the world? I looked down and saw that I was dressed in a white garment, tailored like a jump suit. The material had a thick weave to it, yet it had the softest feel of any material I had ever felt. It was softer than silk and it glowed. The color of the material was the whitest white I had ever seen. The suit covered most of my body. Starting with a snug, yet comfortable neckline, it had full sleeves to my wrists, and full legs to my ankles. A curious part of the suit was that it had no openings such as those we need as humans. I wondered briefly about this aspect of the clothing, but then I focussed my attention on other questions.
"One amazing aspect of my experience attracted my early attention. Because I had suffered from cystic fibrosis since youth I was not aware that breathing could be a pleasant exercise. I soon noticed, in the tunnel, that I was breathing and it didn't hurt. I could actually fill my lungs and it didn't burn, it didn't sting, it didn't tickle! How exhilarating it was for someone who had never breathed without difficulty. Filling my lungs was such a pleasure that I stayed in the same place for a moment simply enjoying it.
"Not only were my lungs responding without pain, I next noticed I had no pain throughout my body. Pain had been a constant companion throughout my life; I had learned to accept it as normal. I learned there, however, that pain was not normal. For the first time I realized how intense my pain had been. It was a wonderful feeling -- to be without pain -- one that I sometimes have to force myself to forget when I am having painful sieges in the hospital.
"A second question that I had puzzled over was: If I am a spirit when I die, do I really have substance to me?
"To find out whether I had substance, I rubbed my hands together and I felt my face with my hands. In both cases I found that I had form and substance. I could feel myself. Looking at my hands, I saw that they looked like my hands normally did, except there was a glow to them. My feet weren't visible, I'm not sure why, but I knew that I didn't have socks or shoes on. These discoveries excited me. I remember thinking: Wow! This is great.
"Another issue that I had wondered about from reading the near-death literature was the physical characteristics of the tunnel. When that thought entered my mind I found myself at the side of the tunnel. My tunnel was about as wide as this hallway (about 30 feet), and it resembled a half-circle. The texture of the tunnel, which I felt, was rough and undulating. The side of the tunnel was cool. Indeed, it had temperature, texture, and form.
"One of my anxieties about death was that of fear. To my delight I found that the emotion of fear was nonexistent. There was absolutely no worry, no concern, no fear. My primary emotion was a feeling of security. I was alone, and yet I knew that I wasn't alone. There was something else there that was encompassing me. I felt warm and serene -- fear couldnt' exist in that environment. It was a wonderful feeling.
"At this point in my experience I became aware of a voice talking to me. My surroundings, and my analysis of them, had so interested me that I had not paid attention to the voice at first. It was a soft, fatherly voice that kept repeating my name. Facing the light, and then turning 90 degrees to my left and looking up at a slight angle, I looked to see where the voice was coming from. There was no one that I could see -- but the voice persisted, not in my ears, but in my mind. I finally responded by asking the voice: What?
"The voice didn't immediately respond. I wondered how I could hear with my mind and not my ears, and I learned that it wasn't necessary for me to understand the process just then. My mind next thought the questions: Why am I here? Why me? I'm a good guy -- why did I die?
"The voice answered: You are here because you have earned the right to be here based on what you did on earth. The pain you have suffered qualifies you to be here. You have suffered as much pain in 37 years as a normal person might have suffered in 87 years.
"I asked: It's pain that gets me here? and the answer was yes.
"This still puzzled me so I asked: But why was it necessary for me to suffer so? I was a worthy member of the Church; I kept all the commandments. Why me?
"Then I received a most startling answer. He said to me: You chose your disease and the amount of pain you would be willing to suffer before this life -- when you were in a premortal state. It was your choice.
"While I was hearing this voice, I became aware that it was a familiar voice -- it was one that I knew. It was a voice that I had not heard during my mortal lifetime. When it was speaking to me, though, there was no question but that I knew who it was. There was enormous love for me in that voice."
"You said, Don, that you knew who the voice was. Who was it?" I asked.
"It was my Father in Heaven."
"It was not Jesus Christ?"
"And you felt love in that voice?"
"We don't have a word that would describe what I felt from Him toward me. The closest word we have is love, but it doesn't begin to describe the feeling. There is no appropriate description in mortal tongue that can explain the feeling -- you have to feel it.
"When He told me it was my choice, in a premortal environment, to suffer when I came to earth, I was both astonished and incredulous. He must have understood my incredulity, because I was immediately transported to my premortal existence. There was a room that I was viewing from above and to the side, but at the same time I was sitting in it. In a sense I was both an observer and a participant. About thirty people were in the room, both men and women, and we were all dressed in the white jumpsuit type of garment.
"An instructor was in the front of the room, and he was teaching about accountability and responsibility -- and about pain. He was instructing us about things we had to know in order to come to earth and get our bodies. Then he said, and I'll never forget this: 'You can learn lessons one of two ways. You can move through life slowly, and have certain experiences, or there are ways that you can learn the lessons very quickly through pain and disease.' He wrote on the board the words: 'Cystic Fibrosis,' and he turned and asked for volunteers. I was a volunteer: I saw me raise my hand and offer to take the challenge.
"The instructor looked at me and agreed to accept me. That was the end of the scene, and it changed forever my perspective of the disease that I previously felt was a plague on my life. No longer did I consider myself a victim. Rather, I was a privileged participant, by choice, in an eternal plan. That plan, if I measured up to the potential of my choice, would allow me to advance in mortal life in the fastest way possible. True, I would not be able to control the inevitable slow deterioration of my mortal body, but I could control how I chose to handle my illness emotionally and psychologically. The specific choice of cystic fibrosis was to help me learn dignity in suffering. My understanding in the eternal sense was complete -- I knew that I was a powerful, spiritual being that chose to have a short, but marvelous, mortal existence.
"While I was marvelling at this new-found knowledge, or rather, from the reawakened knowledge that I had previously had, I was again transported to another era. This time I found myself looking on a different scene -- the scene was the Garden of Gethsemane. Looking down from above, I saw Christ undergoing his ordeal of pain with dignified endurance."
"When you were transported to these different scenes in time, Don, did you ask to see them?"
"No, they were completely automatic. The first one seemed to be in response to my astonishment when the voice told me that I chose the disease, cystic fibrosis, in a premortal life. I suspect that the second scene, in Gethsemane, was to teach me more about the value of a dignified endurance of pain."
"Did you feel anything when you saw Christ suffering?"
"I felt bad that he had to go through it, and I felt empathy for him. I also realized why he was doing it; I understood that it was his choice, just as cystic fibrosis had been my choice.
"When the scene in Gethsemane closed, I found myself back in the tunnel. At this point I realized that I had come home. Everything was familiar -- especially God's love. His voice was a familiar voice of unlimited and unconditional love.
"The knowledge I was obtaining, too, was knowledge that I had held before. The events in my experience merely reawakened in me a dormant part of my memory, and it was wonderful. I no longer felt picked on because of my pain and illness. I understood the choices I had made and the reasons for them. And I understood the tremendous love that God had for me to allow me to make those choices -- and to suffer pain.
"The realization that this was all by my choice had an enormous rejuvenating effect on me. I was no longer a victim of chance, or worse yet, of some punishment for wrong doing. In the broadest sense I now saw myself as master of my own destiny -- if I lived up to the possibilities of my choices. Instead of looking at cystic fibrosis as a severe disability, I was now able to look on it as my truest mentor.
"It was astonishing, the speed with which I was learning. Knowledge that had somehow slumbered deep in my soul was released, and I was extremely exhilarated by this reawakened knowledge. Light and knowledge were flowing into me from every direction. I could feel it. Every part of my body was reverberating with the light gushing in. Even my fingertips were receptors of light and knowledge. It was as if I were drinking from a fully engaged fire hydrant. I was excited with the thought of going further into this wonderful world of knowledge and love. So I turned, expecting to travel toward the light at the end of the tunnel.
"The light was overwhelming. It was at the end of the tunnel, and it lighted the inside of the tunnel. It was pure white and it was the brightest bright I have ever seen. I was drawn to it, and I turned to move in that direction.
"As I turned, I heard my youngest son, who was three at the time, ask: 'Daddy, what are you doing?'
"I asked: What? and he repeated: 'What are you doing?'
"I answered: I donít know. What am I doing?"
"The Voice then said: 'What do you want to do?'
"Evidently I was going to have to make another choice, and that choice would involve returning to my family or staying where I was.
"Speaking to the Voice, I asked: 'If I choose to go back to my family, can I go back, and what will be the consequences?'
"The Voice responded: 'You may return, but you may lose your reward.' My reward flashed before me, and I saw that eternal happiness would be mine if I chose to stay.
"The Voice also told me that there were no guarantees if I returned. He said that if I chose to go back on earth I would have greater pain than I had ever felt in life to that point. Puzzling over the risks of returning, I then asked: 'What gives me the right to go back?'
"The Voice said: 'You have learned accountability and responsibility. If you choose to go back you have the obligation to teach those principles to your family and your employees.'
"I wondered about that charge and asked: 'What do my employees have to do with it?' He didn't answer the question. I later learned that my employees were included so that I would, over time, overcome my fear of telling others about this entire experience. They, too, were part of my 'family.'
"When I finished asking questions about returning or staying, I again analyzed the risks and rewards of staying or returning. After I was satisfied that I understood the options, I said: 'I choose to return.'
"The Voice asked me: 'Are you sure?'
"My response was: 'Yes, I'm sure.'
"He asked, again: 'Are you sure?'
"My answer, this time, was: 'Yes, I think so.'
"A third time the Voice asked: 'Are you sure?'
"This time it hit me. My answer must be certain -- I must not lie to myself or try to conceal my real intent from Him. I looked again at my family. I thought about it, and I said: 'Yes, I choose to return.'
"The next thing I knew, I was back in my hospital room. The pajamas I was wearing and the bed linens were soaked. The doctors and nurses seemed concerned, and one of the nurses asked me what happened. Not wanting to tell her about the experience, I said that I must have choked. She responded: 'You did more than that!'
"The night nurse came into my room, to stay the rest of the night with me. I asked her to watch and make sure that I didn't go to sleep -- I was afraid to sleep. The experience I had just been through was so traumatic I was afraid to repeat it.
"Settling in a chair behind me, the nurse talked to me for awhile. Her chair was far enough behind me that I couldn't see her without twisting to an awkward position on the bed. Suddenly, however, I could see her. Finding myself sitting up in bed, I waved my arms at her to see what she would do. I was amazed that she didn't see me.
"During this brief period, I was acutely aware of many small events happening around me. It was about 2:00 am, and the clock in the room was ticking loudly. I was conscious of people in the hall outside my room and of the light in the hall. It was an increased sensitivity of my complete surroundings. Sounds were much clearer than they normally were.
"Wondering what was going on, I turned my head and saw my body lying in the bed. The real me, the spirit self, was partially removed from my body. I was sitting out of my body from the waist up.
"Thinking to myself, Here I go again, I wondered what to do. I offered a little prayer in which I said: Lord, I don't want to leave. The impression came to me: Well, then, lie back down in your body. I lay down -- I felt no transition -- it was as if I had just woke up.
"Without moving a muscle, I said to the night nurse: 'You can't just sit there and knit. You've got to help me stay awake.' She responded: 'How do you know I'm knitting? You can't see me.' I told her that I knew everything that was happening in the room.
"The nurse commented that I had scared her that night. Six months after the event I asked the same nurse what her experience with me was during this period. She said that when she first came back into the room and found me, I was cold and gray, my mouth was open, my eyes were glassed over, there was no pulse, and my skin was clammy. That is when they called for the crash cart and the doctor to resuscitate me."
In order to better understand some of the events in Don's experience, I received his permission to ask questions. I began: "When you first moved into the tunnel, you mentioned that breathing was pleasant for you. Were you breathing air, or what?"
"I donít think it was air, but I have no idea what it was. The pleasantness and reality of my breathing, though, is still vividly clear in my memory."
"When you found yourself in a premortal environment, what did the room look like?"
"It was a rectangular room, everything was white, and we were sitting in desk type chairs. I was assimilating the teacher's instruction as fast as he gave it to us. Notes were unnecessary. I simply absorbed everything I was told instantaneously."
"Did the information you were getting seem as if it were new information?"
"The procedures we were being taught were new, but the principles guiding those procedures, I already knew. The "how to" portions of the earthly experience were new. I remember thinking about it and wondering if I were ready to pay the price, and then deciding that, yes, I was willing to pay the price."
"So, when you saw yourself in the premortal environment, you could actually remember how you felt in that earlier time?"
"Yes. I knew my thoughts from the premortal experience. I could see myself sitting in the room, yet I knew what I had been thinking and feeling when I was in that room. I can remember thinking: Be careful about that choice -- you don't even know what pain is.
"So it was as if you were two different people, yet you had the feelings of both?"
"Yes. They were simultaneous feelings."
"When your son talked to you in the tunnel he asked you what you were doing. Have you asked him about the experience?"
"Yes. He is unaware of having talked to me."
"But you are convinced that he did talk to you?"
"Absolutely. He never opened his mouth, but I heard him call my name, and I recognized his voice."
"You mention the tunnel as a short one. You didn't feel that you travelled a great distance?"
"No, it was about the length of a football field. There was a drawing power, like a magnet in the center of my chest that drew me into the tunnel and toward the light. I didn't travel far."
"When you returned to your body, did you feel pain again?"
"Most certainly. There was no pain associated with returning to my body. I didn't feel that process: I just woke up. The pain associated with my operation was severe and instantaneous, though. Of course, I've had other pain related to my disease since then."
"What was your recovery like?"
"I was out of the hospital within the next few days. My energy was up, and I felt invigorated. That didn't take away the pain, however, I just dealt with it better. The experience has helped me over time to deal with pain better."
"Have you had greater pain than before?"
"I thought when the doctor used scissors -- to slice into me without anesthetic -- that I couldn't experience worse pain. This past winter, the winter of 1992-93, I was in the hospital over ninety days. They almost lost me twice. Again, I had a blocked bowel in which they used barium while X-raying my bowels. I was unsuccessful in cleansing my bowels of the barium, and it set up like rocks in my intestines. Passing those rocks almost killed me. I became allergic to most of the pain killers they were giving me, and I had to pass the barium rocks over a period of four days without pain killer. The pain was so bad that if it hadn't been for my Dad, I don't think I would have made it."
"What did your father have to do with it?"
"My father died in March 1992. He came back and gave me a blessing, and that relieved me of the pain."
"What do you mean, your father came back and blessed you?"
"My father and I were very close. He was the one that gave me the blessing when I was five years old. When he died, I became aware of it before the doctor called. The same voice that I heard in the tunnel told me, during the night, that my father had died (Dad died early Monday morning.) My father came to me at 1:30 am Tuesday morning, and told me several things, including why he had to go, what I should be doing, and what my mother should do regarding our genealogy. Then Dad said he would be with me when I had medical emergencies.
"In August 1992, when I was in so much pain from the barium (morphine shots administered every two hours were not helping), one night at three in the morning, I cried out: 'Lord, what did I do wrong?' I also cried: 'Dad, you promised you would be here!' Suddenly my father was at my bed and I felt him put his hands on my head. Within a few seconds, there was a feeling as if someone were pouring something warm over my body. It cascaded from my head to my toes, and the pain left. My father smiled and then he left. The next day I began passing the stones."
"You said that your choice was to come back to earth despite the knowledge that you would be subjected to greater pain. Do you know why you made that choice?"
"I wanted to be with my family -- I would do anything to be with my boys and my wife."
"Did you have a feeling for any mission you might have?"
"Yes. My purpose for being, now, is to teach people accountability and responsibility; to teach them that they are agents with freedom to choose; and to let them know that there is a Father in Heaven who loves them beyond all description."
"Because of this experience, have your feelings about life or death changed?"
"Absolutely. Life has greater meaning, since I no longer look at myself as an unfortunate victim of disease. Nor am I the victim of other circumstances caused by family, parents, neighbors, and others -- or of 'accidents.' Instead, I make the choices that decide my fate. That is a wonderfully liberating feeling."
"Has the experience changed your religious perspective?"
"Yes. It is still my knowledge that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Church of God. Nothing I saw or heard during the experience contradicted what I had previously learned in the Church. My priorities have changed, however. I am more people oriented than I was before. I used to be program oriented, but now I know that people are far more important than programs. My experience taught me that the Lord had boundless love for all people, whether or not they are members of the Church."
"Is there any message you would like to leave for others?"
"Yes. Despite what the world teaches, there is a loving Father in Heaven who loves every person. that love, which I have experienced, is indescribable. We are literally the children of God, and He knows each one of us by name. He is willing to bless us with any righteous desires that we have. All we need to do is ask -- and be willing to pay the price."