Shiv Grewal, 60, an actor with the Royal Shakespeare Company who had just been cast as Don Pedro in the RSC's production of Much Ado About Nothing, had just returned to his London home from dinner with his wife Allison when he suffered a massive heart attack. Shiv was legally dead for seven minutes before he was resuscitated. He was put into a medically induced coma for a month to protect him from the oxygen deprivation to his brain caused by being dead for a while. After waking from the coma, Shiv says he remembers dying and what it felt like to have crossed the boundary from this world to the next. Since returning to the land of the living, Shiv has began painting what he saw during his near-death experience to help himself understand his experience and also "to capture what a person experiences when they cross the threshold of non-living and to, hopefully, convey that to others."
In an article on Shiv Grewal in the Daily Mail, where you can see some of the paintings he's produced (go have a look, they're fairly amazing), Shiv is quoted describing his experience in a way that will seem familiar if you've followed near-death cases for any amount of time:
"I knew, somehow, that I was dead. I was aware my brain was dying and crying out for help. But, at the same time, I felt things completely separate from my body. It was like I was in a void but could feel emotions and sensations. Despite knowing I was dead, I also knew that there was a chance of coming home.
I also understood that I'd be reincarnated, but I didn't want that just yet. I wanted to return to life, to the material world and to my wife. I demanded that I was coming back and I got my wish.
I felt there was a whole set of possibilities. Various lives and reincarnations that were being offered to me. But I didn't want them. I made it very clear that I wanted to return to my body, to my time, to my wife and to go on living.
I needed to be proactive. I said I was coming back. I said it as a demand not a request."
There's a couple of things in here that make me feel a little better about the whole inevitable end thing. 1.) retaining memories, emotions, and sensations, and 2.) the apparent ability to bargain with the void. Well, it's not even a bargain so much as the force of will of a man who wants to see the person he loves again.
It's also very interesting that Shiv mentions a choice being involved in reincarnation. Could it be that we actually have agency in what happens after death? That wouldn't explain the myriad terrible situations that people are born into. Could it be a test of some sort?
Shiv Grewal also describes other qualities of his experience:
I had no body as such. I suppose it was a bit like swimming through water, you feel weightless and disconnected from the physical world.
At one point I was travelling over the moon and I could see meteorites and all of space.
Whatever "all of space" might mean, it sounds impressive and terrifying. His paintings are full of color and strange geometries. They have more than a passing resemblance to depictions of other near-death experiences as well as experiences of psychedelic drugs, most notably DMT. His depiction of the afterlife is a far cry from the endless nothingness and non-being many of us assume.
If you're in the London area this summer, you can see Shiv's work displayed in a gallery show called Reboot at the Karma Sanctum Soho Hotel from August 15 to September 24.
Despite calling himself a scientifically-minded natural cynic, Shiv Grewal says the experience had a profound effect on him, and puts it in a way that, regardless of whether you believe Shiv saw the actual afterlife or not, is worth a attention:
I'm less fearful of death because of it, but at the same time I'm also more fearful, because I've realized how precious everything I have in life is.
I'm grateful just to be here. My drive for life has been boosted. I've always thought that kindness is essential for humans to evolve and become better, but after this experience, I now feel this very deep inside me - like a fundamental truth.