By Marivir R. Montebon
“The death of that beloved youth and his separation from you have caused the utmost sorrow and grief; for he winged his flight in the flower of his age and the bloom of his youth to the heavenly nest. But he hath been freed from this sorrow-stricken shelter and hath turned his face toward the everlasting nest of the Kingdom, and, being delivered from a dark and narrow world, hath hastened to the sanctified realm of light; therein lieth the consolation of our hearts. – ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i Writings
We had a tearful zoom-driven class on the evening of November 5, 2020. It was the day after the elections, and I presumed that like me, everyone had this post-election anxiety. But there wasn’t any chance to decompress, we had to absorb two Earth shaking testimonies in our class that night.
Dr. Charles Chesnavage, our professor for Models in Teaching, said that sharing of life stories in the fall is a special “teachable” moment because traditions like All-Souls and Saints Day and Thanksgiving are celebrated in this season.
Earlier on, our classmate Ron Pappalardo shared how he and his family coped with the death of his 17-year-old son who committed suicide. What a jaw-dropping revelation it was. The magnitude of self-blame and sorrow that Ron and his wife must have felt should be immense, I thought.
Going through pain and shock was difficult. Ron and his wife went through counseling and sought to communicate with his son in the spiritual realm through a medium. It was delightful to hear Ron recount how his son hugged him tightly and assured him all will be well through a dream.
Today, Ron has dedicated his time to helping people through their grief through mediumship and by being an advocate of suicide prevention. His book ‘Reconciled by the Light’ is a helpful resource material.
The pain of losing one’s child always brings me to tears. I shared my own grief when my daughter Leani Alnica died in my arms on November 17, 2019 at the hospital due to colon cancer.
Then we had a guest speaker who recounted to us how he died and came back to life, an experience that changed him for the better. Don Plunkett, a retired policeman, went through a deathly experience while in the line of duty in the 1980s in the Bronx.
It wasn’t my time yet
Don told us his story in a matter-of-factly manner, but the images in my mind were vivid, like watching an action movie.
That fateful day, he and his cop buddy responded to a radio alarm and chased four armed robbers in the south Bronx. They agreed to take over the speeding vehicle and shoot on the side (not on the rear) as a matter of protocol, thus they drove at top speed.
As they maneuvered to overtake the robbers, an equally speeding ambulance crashed on their car, flipping and slamming it into a huge tree. Their car exploded and was totally wrecked in a blink of an eye. Don’s police partner died instantly.
Don’s head was badly injured, he recalled, that no blood was able to get into his brain. With a burnt body and several bones crashed, he was pronounced dead on arrival and was taken to the morgue.
After several hours, his body twitched, as blood came to flow back into his brain. Luckily, there was someone at the morgue who noticed that his body moved that he was immediately taken to the ICU.
Don said that he laid in comatose for several days. He gradually regained consciousness and was hearing voices at the hospital. He said he initially had no recollection of what happened.
Days went on, he became more conscious of his surroundings and realized that he was in a hospital. Then he remembered about their chase with the robbers. He recalled that at the time the car was hit by the ambulance and slammed into a tree, he saw a vast blue ocean on one side of the street. “Like Jones Beach,” he said.
“It felt euphoric and good. I did not feel any pain. I felt there was higher intelligence and pure love above me. I was holding my 38 caliber pistol. I wanted to go to the ocean. But I decided not to go there. I woke up in the hospital.”
From that experience, Don realized that the brain could die, but the mind doesn’t. It wanders outside of the body.
On his bedside, when he awoke, there was a priest, a rabbi, and an imam who surrounded him. It was in compliance with his specification for faith service as a Bahai faithful in time of emergency or death.
“It became quite a light moment for us – a priest, imam, and a rabbi prayed for me,” he said.
Don was born and raised Catholic and then devoted himself to the Bahai religion which adheres that God is transcendental and could only be known through the lives and teachings of prophets like Bahaullah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus Christ, and Muhammad. He said his wife has remained Catholic while their two daughters have chosen their own faith practice. “One daughter decided she’d be Catholic, and my other daughter chose to practice Bahai. It is their decision when they come of age.”
Don’s coming back to life experience had changed him for the better. “I think it wasn’t the right time for me to die, despite how beautiful the ocean was. Maybe because I was impure for that state. I was holding a gun,” he opined.
Providing social support to policemen and people in the brink of suicide through a nonprofit have become his calling since then.#