Can We Choose to Stay or Go?

RuthAnn Shallert-Wygall - Jan 19

RuthAnn wrote last April about witnessing an elderly patient’s joyful leap from this life to the next and of her gratitude at having been given the opportunity to witness that woman’s departure.

But, what of RuthAnn’s own choice, as a brand new mother, to live? In the paragraphs that follow, she tells of a near-death experience four decades ago. Newly married and having recently given birth, her choice was clear—but not so easily accomplished.

Here’s how RuthAnn tells it:

“Following the home birth of my daughter Lila in 1977, I began to run a fever. Upon seeking medical help, we discovered I would need a routine post-birth surgery. The procedure took hardly any time at all but my body was unable to clear the anesthetic and, forty minutes later, I was still paralyzed. The doctors were unable to rouse me or remove my breathing machine.

“I had wakened midway through the operation and realized all my muscles were paralyzed. I was frightened and recalled that as a nurse’s aide, I had cared for a young woman who was permanently paralyzed due to a reaction to anesthetic for a routine surgery.

“Gradually, though, I began to realize I did have sensation in a few areas of my body. I could feel the breathing tube in my throat and had some feeling in my arms.

“Occasionally I could hear snatches of what the doctors were saying. One complained that he had an event to attend that evening and was not happy I was keeping him late. “This would happen tonight… one in ten thousand!” I heard him say.

“At one point, I concentrated really hard and managed to move my right arm a little, trying to signal that I was conscious, but one of the doctors dismissed it as a reflex and I was unable to repeat the movement.

“A short while later, without experiencing any sense of movement, I found myself as a point of awareness near the ceiling. I was close to the fluorescent light fixture, which buzzed harshly. I knew my body must be below on the operating table but was unable to see in that direction.

“As the buzzing continued, I became aware of a bright, loving presence. I knew it was the inner form of my spiritual teacher. In a nonverbal way that I clearly understood, my teacher posed the question: Do you want to leave this lifetime now, or do you want to remain?

“In my teenage years, I had been troubled and, at times, toyed with suicidal thoughts. But this time there was no question: I was eager to stay. Recently married, now with a new baby girl, I very much wanted to continue this current life path. I was deeply in love with my husband and we had just welcomed our new daughter into our family. The most exciting time of my life was just beginning! Emphatically, I chose to stay.

“In the meantime, my husband John was in the waiting room wondering why the operation was taking so much longer than expected. Having studied various religions, spiritual paths and meditative systems, he was highly attuned to his inner states of consciousness—and to mine. He later told me he became aware that I was out of my body and was being given a choice to stay or go.

“John surrendered the situation and all his feelings to Divine Spirit. He did not want to impose his personal wishes upon what he understood must be my choice as a spiritual being.

“Back in the OR, I focused all my attention on my physical body. Though I could not see it, I was nonetheless fully aware of what was happening in every part of it. The physical me was still completely paralyzed with the breathing tube in place. So, I braced myself and ‘jumped’ back in, pushing hard on the lungs to start them moving again.

“It required tremendous effort and, to this day, remains the most difficult thing I’ve done in this lifetime. After a couple of attempts, I began to get the hang of it and heard one doctor tell the other I was beginning to breathe on my own. The tube was removed (what a relief!) and my next memory is of waking up in a hospital room to John’s big smile. He was so glad I’d decided to stay.

“Later that day, one of the doctors explained that I had an enzyme deficiency which had caused the anesthetic to remain in my bloodstream ten times longer than normal. It paralyzed all my muscles, including the ones for breathing. Fortunately, I had been given only enough for a five-minute surgery.

“After this experience at the border of death, I gained a new appreciation for life, and for my family. I knew with certainty that Soul can exist outside the body and does not require a human form to see, hear and feel the world around it.

“And I am sure that my spiritual guide will be with me always—indeed, will be with me when the time comes to depart this body for good and move on to higher planes of reality.”

The Meaning of Forever Project continues to accept stories of comforting experiences with loved ones who have passed on, and of near-death experiences that have helped to show the continuation of life beyond the physical body. You can email your story to us at and you can find more about our project on our Facebook page, and our Meaning of Forever Website.