I learned about death in 1923. During lunch on August 14 of that year I fainted in our home in Brinkley, Arkansas. My husband, Ted Clemons, rushed me to the hospital where doctors found that my appendix was ruptured and gangrenous. I was immediately prepared for surgery.
As the ether cone brought oblivion, I discovered I could see through walls! I was high above the people around me and seemed to see everything at once.
I saw the nurses and visitors moving through the hall and heard two student nurses whispering about the terminal surgery in progress. The small hospital had only one operating room, so the terminal case had to be me. How silly! I felt fine.
Suddenly I remembered my mother. I approached the nurse who had prepared me for surgery and touched her arm, saying, "Nurse, please ask my husband if he has called our families."
She didn't seem to have heard me, but she shuddered slightly and said to an aide, "Ask Mr. Clemons if there is anyone he'd like us to call. He's so upset he probably hasn't thought of it."
The aide went to Ted, whose face was very white. He left briefly to call.
After several hours, the door marked "Surgery" opened and a sheeted cart emerged, guided by an anesthetist, a nurse, and my surgeon, Dr. Blanton. Ted held open the door to my room and, as they passed in, I went along. I stood in a corner watching as they carefully placed my inert body in bed, tucking the covers close but leaving an opening for the stethoscope, which Dr. Blanton quickly applied. He listened for a few seconds, then turned to Ted.
"Mr. Clemons, we have done our best but it may not be enough. She'll be unconscious for several hours. Sit with her if you like but don't try to talk to her. She can't hear you."
Unconscious indeed! The doctor left and the nurse took up her station beside my bed, constantly checking my pulse. Bored by the talk of my imminent demise, I moved into the hall. Never had I felt more alert and alive.
Several hours later my mother, Rhoda Russell, and my sister, Ellen Turner, arrived from Poplar Bluff, Missouri. When I saw how worried they looked I wondered if I might be buried alive. That was not an idle thought; in those days only the rich were embalmed. As these thoughts went through my mind, the room started to fade and I found myself outside, moving very fast.
I rose above the building in a wide spiral. The sun was more colorful than I'd ever imagined. The trees were green and everything seemed to have a bright glistening look. I gained momentum until I actually soared, and then I felt suddenly that I should go back. I didn't hear a voice of command or any sound, but I knew I had to return.
I had no wish to return to the bondage of my body and bed, but a strong tug at the nape of my neck pulled me backward very fast.
Then I was flowing—that's the only word for the feeling—though reluctantly, into my inert body, and feeling each part and organ activating as I did so. The narrow, confining area of my body was uncomfortable. I was not at all happy about it.
When she saw my eyes move the astonished nurse ran for the doctor. I was dismissed from the hospital on September 3, 1923.
I shall never forget that wonderful experience. If death is like that, what is there to fear?
—Grace R. Jaco, Cape Girardeau, Missouri, July 1970
Excerpted from Strange But True, edited by Corrine Kenner and Craig Miller