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The Life After

A Tribute to Rickie Bradshaw

By John R. Audette, MS

When I opened the email from Ken Ring to learn of the passing of my good friend Rickie Bradshaw on November 24, 2015, it cast a pale shade of gray on an otherwise sunny day. Not so much because of Rickie’s passing, for he joyously returned to his true home in the life after, a home with which he was well acquainted. Rather, the remorse I felt in that instant was for humanity. We lost a really good, kind, sweet, giving and loving person at the lamentable young age of 59. His departure greatly diminishes us, for his kind are in short supply here on earth. At the time of his death, Rickie lived in Belpre, Ohio.

Heartfelt condolences are extended to his wife Donna Bradshaw and all who knew him and loved him. Those Rickie left behind grieve his loss, but it is a bittersweet grief. Bitter because we will miss the form, his physical form and presence, his gentle smile, his cheerful disposition and his abiding tenderness. Sweet because we know he has happily returned from whence he came, back to Source, to the place of bliss that is the ultimate destination for all of us when our time comes to leave our temporal physical form, which will be soon no doubt, in the blinking of an eye, whether it is tomorrow or 50 years hence.

Rickie was well-known to the first generation of IANDS  members and researchers, highly regarded and well-respected by all who knew him. His near-death experience was among the first to be published in the precursor newsletter to Vital Signs in 1980. It was a compelling NDE , complete with most all of the elements in the Moody model, including a vision of knowledge about the probable future. He attended many of the organization’s initial meetings in those early formative years and relished the opportunity to enjoy the companionship of others like him who had journeyed to the other side.

It was my great privilege to be the first of our clan back then to meet Rickie in Peoria, Illinois, in 1979. I was directing the world’s first ever prospective study of near-death experiences at two medical centers with a team of four medical doctors and a clinical psychologist. It is known as “The Peoria Study,” but the results were never published because the sample size was too small for proper data analysis.

Based on an advanced frequency study, we estimated that between the two medical centers, we would receive referrals from their combined medical staffs of at least 250 eligible cases from ICU, CCU and the ER…cases that would meet our bio-medical criteria during the year-long duration of the study. But, due to a lack of cooperation from the medical staffs, most attending physicians did not refer their eligible cases to our study, despite a glowing IRB endorsement and the encouragement of both hospital administrators and medical staff presidents.

It was 1979 after all, only four years after the publication of Life After Life, and the subject of near-death experiences was largely shunned by most medical doctors at that time. However, a few progressive doctors took note of our worthy effort with an open mind and referred 57 patients to us, all of whom met the study’s biomedical criteria for admission, of which 8 reported having an NDE .

One among these progressive physicians was Dr. Anthony Carbonelle, a plastic surgeon. One day during our research effort he generously took the time to call internist Dr. Michael Gulley, our physician team leader, to tell us about an extraordinary case he encountered a few years before in his practice. It was the case of Rickie Bradshaw, a young man who nearly died from being crushed by a car. Dr. Gulley thanked Dr. Carbonelle for the referral, but declined to include it in our study because it was a “retrospective” case, one that happened prior to the start of our study and was clearly outside of its sampling parameters.

Nevertheless, Dr. Gulley took note of Rickie’s contact information and passed it along to me. I was extremely busy at the time managing our research project and also the unfunded start-up precursor to IANDS, publishing its newsletter and answering correspondence as best I could, (being a volunteer staff of one), while also juggling duties as part-time faculty at Illinois Central College and full-time work as a health planner for the Illinois Central Health Systems Agency, and also spearheading the formation of Hospice of Central Illinois with Ruth Kopp, MD and Vickie Lannie, RN. It was one of the first hospices formed in the country, and certainly the first multi-institutional consortium approach to hospice care.

Despite being on extreme overload, I was compelled to contact Rickie to learn more about his case. I was struck by a comment Dr. Gulley made when he called initially to tell me about Rickie. He told me that Dr. Carbonelle was able to corroborate Rickie’s NDE . Apparently, Rickie had shared his knowledge with Dr. Carbonelle, shortly after his return from the other side, of actions and conversation that took place in the ER during the resuscitation attempt that ultimately saved his life. That was an extraordinary bit of evidence, not commonly found in those days. So, the importance of this case for research purposes was obvious to me even then even though it was “retrospective” and not eligible to be entered into our formal study. It was sufficient motivation to make contact with Rickie soon thereafter.

So this was how I came to meet Rickie Bradshaw. Soon after Dr. Gulley informed me about this case, I called Rickie and we arranged a meeting. I remember that initial meeting as though it happened yesterday. I had interviewed many NDE subjects prior to this encounter, but Rickie stood out in my mind as a very special case for many reasons. Right from the start, I was impressed by his candor, authenticity, sincerity, expressiveness, compassion and sensitivity. He was forthcoming with all the information he could remember from his experience, eager to get it all on record, delighted to find a sympathetic, understanding and non-judgmental person to share it all with enthusiastically and unreservedly. He was also suffering from homesickness, yearning to return to his true home and not at all comfortable being back in this world. He told me about his NDE  and how it came about.

As a young man set on doing daily good deeds being the good Eagle Scout that he was, Rickie worked as a bag boy for a local grocery store in Peoria. One day, as he was loading groceries into the trunk of a patron’s car parked parallel to the front of the store, another parked car behind him sped forward to crash into the car in front, pinning Rickie in between the two vehicles, rendering him unconscious and within inches of losing his life. The elderly woman driving the car that struck Rickie said her foot accidentally slipped off the brake and onto the accelerator, speeding her forward into a collision with the car in front of her, crushing Rickie in the middle at the level of his knees or lower thighs.

Upon first impact, Rickie fell to his knees in excruciating pain. Then, all of a sudden, Rickie’s horrible nightmare went from bad to worse. The elderly woman driver of the other car panicked after she realized she had struck Rickie. She quickly put her car in reverse and backed it up. Then, the unthinkable happened. She unwittingly put her car back into drive and pressed on the accelerator thinking it was the brake. Once more, the car lunged forward to collide again with the car parked in front, this time striking Rickie at chest level, pinning him in between the two vehicles, nearly killing him.

Rickie was brought to the ER by ambulance, and there to assist with his care was Dr. Carbonelle. Unconscious and in full cardiac and respiratory arrest, Rickie had to be resuscitated. Also, there was life-threatening damage to some of his major organs. A major artery had been severed as well. “Clamp it right there, dammit! Clamp it right there!” shouted Dr. Carbonelle. Hovering above the chaotic scene below, Rickie took note of all the hurried goings-on below in an astral or out-of-body state.

Soon after, Rickie entered the tunnel and traveled into the realm of light to encounter loved ones who died before and a supreme divine being. He also underwent a life review, and was shown a vision of the probable future, one most disconcerting, which could be avoided, he said, if we could learn to love one another. Rickie was troubled by the lack of love in this world. He was distressed by what people do to one another, to animals, to nature and to the earth. He said he had been sent back to help others develop a better understanding of who we really are and why we’re really here in order to create a kinder, gentler, more loving world.

Dr. Carbonelle was awestruck that Rickie was able to accurately recall precise details of what was said and done in the ER throughout the long ordeal to save his life. Dr. Carbonelle confirmed Rickie was unconscious and unresponsive, bleeding profusely and in both cardiac and respiratory arrest. In this life-threatening, compromised state, Dr. Carbonelle could not understand or explain how Rickie was able to “see” and “hear” anything. Based on his medical training and knowledge, there was simply no way for Dr. Carbonelle to explain how Rickie was able to accurately recall what was said and done around him in the ER during the successful resuscitation attempt.

After several more successive surgeries, Rickie regained most of his feeling and function. His resilience was truly astounding. But one cannot say he returned back to his normal self, better than ever. To be sure, he made amazing progress. And he made the best of his situation. He did not let his physical challenges weigh him down. He worked hard with tenacity to pick up right where he left off.

Nevertheless, Rickie was sad and disheartened when I first met him about the lack of love and kindness in the world. He was bitter about his divorce from his first wife and that she had somehow legally managed to take possession of the lion’s share of his insurance settlement from the personal injury claim against the driver of the car that struck him. He was having a great deal of difficulty reconciling himself to this world having experienced the next. He longed, even then, to return to that place, the life after, and be spared the “outrageous slings and arrows” of this place. But, he knew in his heart of hearts he had been sent back for an important reason, and like a true Eagle Scout, he was fully committed to doing his duty.

I was so impressed by Rickie’s account that I encouraged Dr. Gulley to interview him and to record the interview on videotape, which he did. Somewhere in my files from those days, I still have that recording on ¾ inch video tape in beta format as I recall. Now that Rickie has passed, I feel compelled to find that video and have it transferred onto DVD format if possible. I viewed it only once soon after it was recorded. It is time I view it again if only to hear Rickie’s voice once more and the telling of his story again in his own words.

Rickie was thrilled to learn about the organization I founded that later became known as IANDS . I read him accounts of others who reported NDEs and he was comforted by their stories. He was glad to learn he was not alone. He was elated to find others who understood what he had experienced. He attended many of the early gatherings and met other experiencers, some of whom he formed deep lasting bonds with, like the late Tom Sawyer. He also met Ken Ring, Raymond Moody and Bruce Greyson, fellow IANDS  co-founders. He became instant friends with everyone, so much so he felt compelled to relocate from Peoria to a home he bought in Waynesboro, VA, near Staunton, not far from where Raymond Moody and Bruce Greyson lived at the time in nearby Charlottesville, and in close proximity to the Monroe Institute in Afton.

One of the last times I saw Rickie was at his home in Waynesboro. I vividly remember taking a long walk with him down a bumpy dirt road in the recesses of the sloping countryside. As usual, we were lost in deep thought and conversation about how to change human nature and hence the world for the better. Rickie loved having deep conversations with me and others on that subject. After all, it was the only reason for being, his being and mine. We both shared this burning fire in the belly to help engender an optimal sustainable future for earth and all its inhabitants while we still have the time and opportunity to do so, lest we should fall short and suffer the tumultuous probable future he foresaw during his NDE .

As we walked down this old dirt road, we passed by a herd of cattle grazing in an adjacent field. They took notice of us and started walking toward us en masse, not in a menacing sort of way, but rather, we thought, to enjoy some kind of spiritual resonance or kinship. Watching the movement of the herd, Rickie commented that he could sense anxiety among them, that it was plainly visible in their eyes, as if to say they were sensing the coming of a storm, as if they were beseeching us to do something about it for their welfare and the welfare of all creation. Rickie drew a parallel to his own sense of foreboding about the dark future we will be forced to endure in the coming storm if we do not learn to love one another and live as one, as foretold during his NDE .

I never forgot those words from Rickie, and from other people like him who reported NDEs  that featured a vision of a potentially dark future for humanity. As I view the events of today, I can only conclude we are inching ever closer every day to the edge of the precipice, about to fall into the abyss of a most dismal future, one foretold by Rickie and other experiencers whose extensive NDEs gave them a flash forward of what might happen here on earth in the near future unless we undergo a greater spiritual awakening and very soon.

It is because I had the good fortune to meet Rickie, and many others like him, who have also reported extensive NDEs  and the vision of future knowledge, that I was inspired to conceive IANDS and later Eternea. In that sense, one could say that Rickie and others like him fulfilled the purpose for which they were sent back into their bodies from the other side, which is to inspire people like me and millions of others around the world to benefit from the insights and wisdom they brought back from the other side.

It is because of Rickie and others like him, that all of the books have been written, all of the movies made, all of the lectures, workshops and conferences organized, all of the interviews conducted, all of the scholarly journal articles published, and organizations like IANDS  and Eternea  brought into being. For this, and so much more, we owe Rickie and others like him the deepest debt of thanks and appreciation for being the brave trailblazers they were/are, helping the rest of us to see better through the glass darkly and to find our way to a better life here and to the life after.

In their honor, it is past time for us all to end the incessant mind-numbing debate about whether our consciousness survives bodily death and, instead, turn our energy/attention promptly to the more important question of what does it mean that we do.

Godspeed Rickie. Thank you for the much you have given to me and so many others. See you again soon my dear friend.