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'The day I met my dead son in heaven'

Michael Paterson was on patrol with the RUC in Belfast, in 1981, when his Land Rover was hit by a rocket-launched grenade. He now works as a psychologist.

"I was in west Belfast on a two-vehicle mobile patrol. An RPG-7 was fired at my vehicle. It came through the driver's door and killed the driver. It amputated both my arms and smashed my left leg. After a while, two army medics arrived. One of them parcelled up my arms. I then remember being in the operating theatre.

"I was suddenly aware of being in a dark tunnel, with a light at the end of it. I was travelling along the tunnel. I felt like I was moving at a steady pace, drifting along. The next thing I was in the light itself. I'm not sure if that was the point of me actually dying. Years later, I said to the surgeon, 'When I was in the theatre with you, did I die?' He said, 'You did, but obviously we got you back.' So I was dead for a while.

"There were ghostly figures around me. The features of the figures weren't clear. They were fog-like. If you can picture smoke or mist, and somebody's head and shoulders formed in it, that's what the figures were like. I felt very much at peace and felt very welcome. It felt like these were friends or relatives but who they were I didn't know. It was like a spiritual experience. I felt very close to God.

"I don't know how I came back. It was like a sudden return. I had a lot to live for. I was only married a few weeks. So when I was in the white light, I thought, 'It's not right for me to be here.' I felt, 'Thanks for the welcome but I'm not staying too long.'

"I am certain the experience was real. I still have that inner peace. And I have no fear of death. As a child, I would have thought it would be a terrible thing to die. But, now that I've been there, it's alright. The only sadness I would have would be leaving people behind that I love."

John, from Co Roscommon, had his near-death experience back in 1994. He was aged 18 at the time.

"I was in a takeaway with some friends. Suddenly I got a piece of burger caught in my throat. Panic set in. I clambered over seats and fell on to my knees. Somebody shouted, 'Get an ambulance!' Everything suddenly went black. I was conscious of being in a black void. It was like liquid black, the pure absence of everything -- of sound, emotion and feeling. I had no fear at all. I was no longer aware that I had a body. I remember saying to myself, 'This is what it must be like to be dead.'

"In the distance I could see this sort of white thing. It looked like a little diamond. It was pure white, unlike anything I had ever seen. I was saying, 'Maybe I should try and go towards it.' So I willed myself nearer to it. As I got to it, I felt a sort of joyous feeling.

"I suddenly saw little photographs of things in my life. It might be a face or an experience or a memory. There was one with my sister holding the white cat she had as a kid. They were crystal-clear photographs, one after the other. I could feel the emotion that was felt at the time when the various things happened. Like when I saw the photo of my sister with the cat, I could feel the emotion that she was feeling, even though I wasn't present at the time.

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"Then I heard a voice. It said, 'You are going to be OK!' Whoever said it put their hands out to stop me from progressing further.

"I then remember waking up on the floor of the takeaway with everybody standing around me. The piece of burger had come up on its own, out of my throat. I'd love to know what would have happened if I got to the diamond. People say that if you go there you can't come back. It's constantly on my mind. It's as vivid as if it happened yesterday, although it happened in April 1994."

Going Home: Irish Stories from the Edge of Death by Colm Keane (Capel Island €14.99)

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