Diane Corcoran | The near-death experience

Diane CorcoranDiane Corcoran, R.N., Ph.D., is a retired army colonel and president of the board of the International Association for Near-Death Studies, an international resource and support organization for people who have had near-death experiences, or who want to understand and support friends or family members who have had them.

Corcoran became interested in near-death phenomena in 1969, as an army field nurse in Vietnam, when injured soldiers first started telling her about them. This was before Dr. Raymond Moody wrote his classic book, Life After Life. Corcoran commanded a hospital unit for a short time in the 1970s, one of the few female officers to do so prior to the 1990s. Promoted to the rank of captain in 1976, Corcoran was the chief nurse at the 86th Combat Support Hospital (CSH) at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and was later appointed commander of the 86th CSH ahead of the traditional Medical Service Corps (MSC) officer. She left to pursue her doctorate at the University of Texas at Austin and to continue her interest in near-death phenomena—particularly as experienced by soldiers and by children.

Corcoran is a contributor to When Ego Dies: A Compilation of Near-Death and Mystical Conversion Experiences and the lead investigator in the Combat Veteran NDE Project. She consults and speaks widely on near-death experiences, appropriate hospital and hospice care support, and a variety of related topics.                                                                                            —Leslee Goodman

The MOON: What is a “near-death experience”?

Corcoran: A “near-death experience,” or NDE, is a term that came from the work of Dr. Raymond Moody, a psychiatrist, who, while in medical school, was struck by the similar experiences reported by patients who’d undergone cardiac arrest and seemed to have traveled out of their bodies. He called these phenomena “near-death experiences,” since the patients didn’t die; they “came back.”

Further research revealed that it wasn’t just cardiac arrest patients who had these experiences. Many others undergoing traumatic injury, an accident, near-drowning, illness, or even severe emotional stress, also reported many of the same profound psycho-spiritual experiences.

There are about fifteen characteristics associated with near-death experiences and not everyone who has an NDE has all of them. In fact, a person might only experience two or three of them. Nevertheless, an NDE is so profound that it irrevocably changes an experiencer’s life. The characteristics include a feeling of floating out of one’s body, looking down on their body and perhaps on resuscitation efforts, entering a tunnel, moving towards a bright light, experiencing intense colors and music, being met by others—who might be people they’ve known, or spiritual beings such as Jesus, or Buddha, or even someone unknown that the experiencer describes simply as “God” or “an angel.”

Another powerful characteristic is the sense of being unconditionally loved and at peace, even though they might also undergo a “life review” during which they realize the negative effect their actions have had on other people. For example, if you were a bully or hurt people, you would experience the pain you inflicted, yet without the sense of being judged. You would now just understand how it felt. Many people also report a “boundary” or “border,” which they know if they could cross they wouldn’t have to come back. There is often an unwillingness, or reluctance, to return to their bodies, but experiencers are frequently told they have to return because they’re not “done” yet. As a nurse, I would often wonder why people were angry at being resuscitated, but now I understand. Once you separate from the body, you feel no pain. I also understand that they “came back,” not so much as the result of our efforts, but because there was a higher power at work.

People also say that they were in a place where all knowledge exists. If you want to know anything, you just have to ask the question in your mind and receive the answer. Many people also describe a beautiful city of lights. The experience seems timeless. They have no idea whether it lasts moments or years.

There are also people who have near-death experiences—say, during a head injury—and do not remember any of the experience. They’ll experience the after-effects, however, so we’ll have to deduce afterwards that this is what happened to them.

The MOON: What do you mean, “after-effects”?

Corcoran: There are a variety of them. Some are physical—for example, many NDE experiencers have low body temperatures. The normal human body temperature is 98.6 degrees, but an NDE’rs might be two or three degrees cooler. They also frequently have changes to their electromagnetic fields which make them unable to wear battery-powered watches—the batteries die; the watches don’t work. They sometimes have trouble with computers—they shut down, or act buggy. One woman I know walks into a room and the lights flicker. Experiencers are often either acutely sensitive to chemicals and/or medications—or the opposite, standard doses of medication have little effect on them.

Experiencers often “come back” with skills or abilities they didn’t have before—a heightened sense of intuition is common, as are healing abilities, and an increased sensitivity to the world around them. Virtually all have experienced “the oneness,” the profound sense that we are all connected—to each other and the natural world. Some have the ability to hear colors, or see music. They also come back with information, a clarity about their life’s purpose. Many take up new interests, often in spiritual pursuits. They typically become more altruistic, more loving, less materialistic; they no longer want to hold on to grudges. Most of all, they want to tell you about the love. That life is about love. And most of them no longer fear death.

Although these after-effects might seem positive to us, they often create disruptions in the lives of experiencers themselves. Imagine you are a soldier who comes back from a near-death experience and now you can’t stand violence, bright lights, or loud noises. You get choked up just hearing a bird sing. Obviously, you are no longer suited to being in combat. This can become a real problem for their families, because now the experiencer has different values and goals.

One man drove four hundred miles to talk with me and he said, “There’s something wrong with me. I can’t watch television. I cry at commercials. I used to love boxing, but I can’t watch it anymore. There’s just so much violence and commercialism everywhere. There’s nowhere I can go to be at peace.”

As I mentioned, some people meet a superior being during their NDE. If they are Buddhist, they’re more likely to see Buddha than Christ, but even people who are atheist, or agnostic, will often report meeting someone they recognize as a superior spiritual being. They might call them “the Light that was God,” or “an angel,” or even say, “I spoke to God.” They may be told by this superior being that it is not “their time” yet; they must go back. They also may come back with a clearer idea of their purpose in this lifetime.

The MOON: You’re trained as a healthcare professional. I wonder how you respond to the controversy that has surrounded, for example, Dr. Eben Alexander’s book, Proof of Heaven, which several reporters have “debunked.”



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11 Responses to Diane Corcoran | The near-death experience

  1. James Patrick Johnson November 7, 2013 at 8:51 am #


    I am a contributor to the Moon and multiple NDE experiencer. This interview is spot-on! You have validated what so many of us have experienced. I would like to be in touch with others who truly understand.

    Apology for just now reading this interview,

    Thank You for your Work

    James Patrick Johnson

  2. Jean Zellweger November 7, 2013 at 7:24 pm #

    Thanks, Diane, for this wonderful and profound sharing of your experiences with NDE. I look forward to hearing and reading more about your organization and its progress in our medical world. Jean Zellweger

  3. Kelly Thompson November 8, 2013 at 2:57 pm #

    Thank you for this article and your work. I had an NDE at age 19, 39 years ago. Changed me forever.

  4. Judy Jung November 11, 2013 at 8:57 am #

    Am an NDEer. Just received into about deathcafe.com … haven’t investigated it yet, maybe you have … appears to be an international org. Will have a Guest Speaker on deathcafe at our Ladies Of The Light gathering the first week in Dec. She is Susan Randall is Associate Director of BSU Television Productions. Sounds very interesting … am looking forward to hearing Ms Randall on the subject, and if or how it may intertwine with IANDS/NDEs.
    Thank you Diane, and ALL the IANDS staff and volunteers who keep us up-to-date!! Now to go back and read the (I’ll bet) very interesting interview … and learn more about The MOON, this is the first I’ve heard of it. No, I do not live under a rock … just busy shining The Light wherever and whenever I can! xoxoxo

  5. Rochelle Radlinski November 11, 2013 at 10:31 pm #

    Loved this article. I had seizures as a child after falling off a swing. I had one out of body experience as a child where I went to a tropical place. I was aware that someone, an angel? was with me just as we were leaving that place. Upon our sudden departure I also realized that the beautiful flowers had faces and weren’t flowers at all, but people and they were all watching me leave with much curiosity. I could still feel the humidity, and smell the flowers when I came back. Like many other children you mentioned, my parents barely even acknowledged what I was trying to tell them and it was very frustrating. I later had a NDE when I was 21 years old. It was about 3am when I got up to see what the cat was yeowling about. Perhaps the cat had a premonition… I had a seizure, and according to my doctor was clinically dead, left my body and watched from somewhere up around the ceiling. I saw my parents frantically trying to revive me, but I was not emotionally affected by the scene. Something I rarely hear anyone report is how painful these episodes can be. Leaving feels like something(my soul) is being twisted and wrenched out through the top of my head. Coming back is a major struggle. I remember pleading for help to “get back in”, “I can’t get back in” it was exhausting, and painful. I am left with a kind of extra sensory perception, that manifests itself through dreams. I cannot decipher what it means until after the fact, but I know the difference between such a premonition and a regular dream. They are not positive foreshadowings. I held it all inside for years lest anyone think I was crazy, or worse, possessed.

  6. Glenn Brymer December 13, 2013 at 8:55 am #

    I first met Diana over 30 years ago. I was a disabled veteran. I I was retired out of the Army after having my left arm torn off during an alert on a Hawk missile site. I had an NDE at that time. I told the doctors, they sent me to the psych doctors. They told me it was a nightmare. Later, I told doctors at the V.A., they gave me drugs and told me I had imagined my experience. I was having heavy after affects. I felt I was either crazy or going insane. I read an article in a Sunday paper about Diana Corcoran talking about NDEs. I went to see her as soon as possible. After talking to her and reading a book she gave me called ‘Coming Back to Life’ by PMH Atwater. All my unanswered questions were answered! I was not crazy, I was not imagining things. I had had a core NDE experience. Back then not one doctor or therapist out of the dozens I had talked to believed my story. It was terrible being told that the most incredible thing to ever happen to me, was not real. I was hallucinating I was told. Doctors would write in my notes: Pt. believes God speaks to him, he is hallucinating or is schizophrenic. Then they would drug me. Diana Corcoran not only changed my life, she saved it! Thank you Diana, for your help long ago and for your friendship since then.
    Glenn Brymer USA (Ret.)

  7. Mark Green February 27, 2014 at 7:57 am #

    I am not comfortable with your claim that a person who has an NDE and who may subsequently be adverse to violence creates a problem. I do understand what you are perhaps trying to address – the pragmatic issues relating to soldiers and their families when such a person refuses to fight in future conflicts. But whatever those issues are, aren’t they more than offset by the fact that there is one less person in the world prepared to play their part in helping to implement America’s aggressive and at times imperialistic foreign policies. I am not demonizing the military, and I make a sharp distinction between those who create the wars – the politicians – and those who are made to fight in those wars. But if more people were prepared to make a stand against state sponsored violence this world would be a much better place. Don’t you think?

    • Leslee February 27, 2014 at 9:13 am #

      Hi Mark, I believe you have deduced Diane’s meaning. I don’t believe she means that soldiers who have experienced “the Oneness” are a problem for the world; she means they have a problem reconciling their old selves with their new understanding. They wonder if they are crazy; they need support. She agrees that if NDE experiencers were listened to, we wouldn’t engage in the violence and war policies we do now, and says so explicitly in her interview.

  8. Mark Green February 27, 2014 at 11:23 am #

    Hi Leslee. Thank you for correcting me. I made the mistake of only reading the first bit of the interview and reacting strongly to it before giving myself chance to read any further. You see I am a bit sensitive regarding the issue of war and violence. I live in the UK and come from a military family, and consequently have very strong feelings about some of the Anglo-American military interventions of recent years. And these strong feelings have been somewhat exacerbated recently after reading some books by an American NDEer who, at least according to my interpretation, was incorporating some of her political and ideological views within her NDE testimony. So at the moment I am a bit primed to overreact to any situation that to me seems a bit similar. However I see in this particular instance it is a case of misinterpretation on my part, so I retract my prior statement.
    I do believe that NDEs are genuine spiritual experiences, but perhaps I should be more tolerant of NDEers who unwittingly conflate what they learned from their NDE experience with their own former worldview.

  9. Macayla April 27, 2014 at 11:39 am #

    At the end of September 2012 a month and half before I turned 18 I went out of a moving vehicle and hit my head. I do not remember the accident. So I could not properly tell you what happened because of not so reliable witnesses, and others involved. I underwent brain sergery an hour or so after hitting my head so they could remove a blood clot. They induced a coma and put me in ICU to recover. After a few days they took me off the medication inducing the coma. By te second day off the medication I still did not wake up. They told my mother at this point if I woke up at all I would more then likely never be able to walk, talk, paint, or do anything for myself again. I woke up a few days later. I only remember vague things from bein awake in ICU an it was only a half a year later I was able to remember where I went in that coma. I experiances the void. I could not find my hands, or my body. What seemed to be or felt like my ankle seemed to have something tied around it so I could not “float” away. I drifted in the blackest of black in a coil of smoke/vapor like substance that went on an infinity one why and the other. I saw no light at “the end of a tunnel” only void and the one feeling of being tied to something. I have taken with me only the knowledge “I am, because we are” and “we are perfect because we are the broken part of ‘what is god’ that is infantile and ever flowing” all I wanted to do when I finally regained contiousness after being awake for 2 weeks was tell people I loved them. To embrace what it is to live on this natural world. I stayed in the hospital until Halloween 13% brain damage, learned how to walk again. Turned 18, 11 day post discharge. I spent 4 months doing out patient rehab. Occupational thearpy, physical thearpy and speech thearpy. I searched very hard to find and understand what was missing after coming back into the world. I couldn’t talk to people the same way no matter how well I’ve been able to verbalize. After I ended thearpy, I had begged my mom to let me go back to school and I was told going back would be stupid and was sure to fail. I left home with a backpack on not long after being denied the chance to try. I couch hopped among friends who still struggle now to understand and communicate with me and stayed in a shelter for a few months till the end of the school year during witch time I set up and went back to school full time and applied for Social security disability. Though I had left the hospital with a new understanding of love and oneness I felt more alone and still feel more alone then ever. I had drank a few times during this time, and then taken 1500mlg Vicodin at some point, witch I don’t deny probably set me back some with shool, but I never missed a day and I only passed two classes by the en of the semester. Before the school year was over though. I gave up on all my medication before the shool year was over, due to some serious suicidal idealastion. I didn’t want to die, I truely wanted to live and began to feel I was only surviving and getting by in this world. I started using marjawana again in small amounts for the migraines I had aquired post accident. I never used enough to be stoned all the time just enough to calm down head aches and slow down the sadness when there was no one to talk to. All of these people who had visited in the hospital had disappeared from my life, no one seemed to have time for me. I was accepted for social security disablity in June 2013 and set out looking for an apartment. By this time I had gone an stayed with my dad for a month in desperation to help him after a bad break up with his girl friend. I realized I wasn’t being much help to him after a month so I left once more and state with my mom again for 3 months before getting together and moving in with a man I’ve been waiting around for, 2 years. I had a lot of bad this past year an half, but a lot of bliss, that agony always follows. I want to hug people and to not fear the world. But being misunderstood, and not being able to get the right help has now left me at a place in my life where I cannot explain to anyone what I am talking about or how I feel as well a I don’t understand why people are still hurting each other. I’ve given away almost all my possessions that have been unessisary for years of my life. I only eat organically now as well. I would gladly trade in this apartment for a place with no electricity next to a stream in the woods somewhere. If there is anyone who has any information on any one I could talk to it would be most helpful. This artical is extreamly current though. I don’t believe there is anything wrong with me I simply just care. I love everyone and every living thing even if it doesn’t have a heart beat. Anything I do onto myself I do onto you and onto you I do onto myself. I did not survive what I did to be a proud survivor. I survived so that I might live and that I might teach life. Death is a question, love is the answer, hate is a choice.

    • Leslee April 27, 2014 at 1:53 pm #

      Dear Macayla, Thank you so much for writing and sharing your experience. I would suggest contacting http://iands.org/home.html to see if there is a chapter located near you. If not, you might call or email them. Their purpose is to support those who’ve had NDEs, as well as to research the phenomena. I love your closing line; Death is a question, love is the answer, hate is a choice. Thank you again.

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