5 Things I Learned From Dying

Angel Luis Santiago
7 min readJul 25, 2021

I took a vacation to the Pearly Gates; here is what I brought back with me

Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

I am a firm believer that death comes for all; mostly, when we least expect it to.

A normal day of working a summer job quickly turned into an unconscious trip into the great beyond.

“Why?”, you ask.

Well, I’ll tell you.

As someone with chronic, severe asthma, I am always at the mercy of each and every puff of my inhaler. When you lose access to an inhaler as an asthmatic, you then are at the mercy of the scythe that quietly floats above the heads of all that breathe. As someone who already has trouble breathing, that scythe was right on my neck.

The day started like any other; a long day of work attempting to pay the neverending stream of bills that come with being above ground. Without an inhaler though, the day became more and more difficult as I attempted to squeeze out whatever was left in my current inhaler.

What did its gauge read? 000.

I believed I could get another inhaler in time. Standing outside of the pharmacy gasping for air, I felt it.

The “You F*cked Up” moment.

This moment was bigger than any other “You F*cked Up” moments I had before. My body was actively communicating that the book that was my life was slowly and suddenly coming to a close.

“Call 911,” I asked my manager.

Now, this is where it gets hazy. The ambulance arrived, and I could no longer speak. My communications solely rested by the motion of my thumbs. Up and down, up and down, and up and down, until finally, quiet darkness.

So, what did I learn during my vacation to the Pearly Gates?

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  • Life never feels as short as it does before your last few breaths

Gasping for air in the ambulance, I felt myself slowly leaving my body.

The only way to explain this is like putting down the controller after a long session of gaming; Angel Santiago was just a character in an extremely complex world whose small story was coming to an end. I joked a lot about dying before I died. Oddly enough, my last thoughts before I completely left my mortal form concerned my grandmother, mother, and girlfriend, among others. I just hit my “Game Over” screen, so to speak.

My dreams of becoming a best-selling author? Gone.

My fantasies of starting a family? Irrelevant.

My rent and bills? Poofed. (Not my student loans though; those follow your family once you’ve hit the grave)

To my chagrin, my final thought centered around that. Not enough time to get any of those things done.

“Damn it, now my parents are going to have to pay my student loans…”

It is funny but I briefly thought of how quickly life had gone and I along with it. Vamoosh! I was freed from my mortal coil, for now.

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  • Dying isn’t scary at all

I thought dying was going to be some ceremonious thing in my head before it actually happened.

Realistically, it was black, and then it was white.

On the outside though, I was revived in one town, with tubed shoved down my throat after a seizure due to lack of oxygen that left a nasty gash in the back of my head. I was flown by helicopter to a city with one of the best pulmonologists in the state, to be quickly hooked up to a ventilator as I could no longer breathe on my own.

On my end? White.

In the words of Jim Morrison,

“Life hurts a lot more than death. At the point of death, the pain is over. Yeah, I guess it is a friend.”

I’ve tried to die a few times before this, so I wasn’t afraid.

I was finally at peace. All of the stresses of existence melted away, including Angel Santiago, whoever that was, with all of his demons, problems, and pains. To even the most fearful among us, you won’t be afraid when it is your time to go, I promise.

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  • You meet God (or the Universe)

In this realm of complete and total whiteness, I didn’t have a body, nor any sense of who I was before I croaked. In that great white expanse, I felt smaller than an atom in a grain of sand in the apparent infinity that we think of when we imagine the Universe.

The only presence I could detect during my time in this realm was what people would think of if when they think of God. I will not claim to any religious connotations of who God would be; on the contrary, meeting this omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent force further confused my conceptions of spirituality as it relates to religion.

I was given the choice to either stay, which I guess could be akin to quitting a game for the last time after a “Game Over”, or returning back to my mortal form to continue on.

Obviously, I picked coming back.

After I made my choice, which was communicated to the omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent force, I was left in that infinite realm for an eternity and a few seconds at the same time. The only thing that was with me was an “Indigo Asterisk” of sorts. From what I gathered, it could’ve been my Silver Cord; the thing that tethers your soul to your body.

The way I perceived it, I had to hold on to that thing forever before I could truly return to my body. Once it was over, I saw my mother and doctor garbed in white.

“I made it!” I thought. Well…

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  • You realize what is most important to you

As quickly as my mother and the doctor appeared, they disappeared.

“Haven’t made it out of the woods yet, have I?” I thought to myself.

I was back! But not in my body. I remembered who I was. The only figure in these illusions I could recognize was my mother. The illusions came to me like a disjointed film. First, my mother and the doctor. Second, my mother and I in some sort of cafe. Third, my mother by herself.

Every time I tried to get my mother to “notice” my presence, she would not react. After about the third repetition of this sequence of events, I came to realize that getting my mother’s attention was what would get me back to my body. Finally, after about the 5th or 6th sequence, I got my mother to react to my presence.

I firmly believe that thought of my mother is what brought me back to my body. I opened my eyes briefly to a doctor telling me what about my condition before falling back asleep.

“You have been gone for two days,” they said.

All of my greatest goals, such as becoming a best-selling author, starting a family, and becoming financially stable to support my family and my future stemmed from my mother.

“I figured it out,” I said, weakly to my mother.

So, what was the final thing I learned during my time floating in the aether?

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  • Life resumes as normal (or, as normal as it can be), with or without you

Within a week of leaving the hospital, I was back to preparing for my big move to another state, finishing up my duties at home, and laughing and joking with my friends and family as normal.

“Did you come back with some different sense of spirituality? Do you believe any differently now?” you may ask.

In short, nope.

Dying solidified what I had known about life along:

Taught to me by my grandmother, to love genuinely and deeply.

As a reminder, to not lose focus on why I do what I do.

When I was floating in the White with the God-entity, I experienced an overwhelming, all-encompassing sense of mercy. Mercy in its highest form. I was not judged for my failures as a human being nor was I praised for my greatest moments. I was reminded that I was human; fallible, prone to errors, and constantly evolving. I have not and will never say I cheated death that day; I was given the opportunity to come back to my body and I took it.

The stresses of life came back as soon as they had left. I was back to worrying about bills, annoyances, and my future once again.

I guess my biggest takeaway from this experience was that everything would have kept along even if I did not. I have a duty to my family and friends to continue on. While I could’ve been dead for a couple of months as of writing this, I am not.

I can still contribute my existence to making a world a better place for not just my family and friends but for everyone with what little power I have.

It sounds cliche, I know.

“Never take anyone’s life for granted because you never know when they are going to go.”

Well, I was one of those people that went and I am blessed enough to have returned.

Tell your friends and family you love them. Make the most out of every situation you are in. Squeeze the most that you can out of every second life of life you are spared. We don’t know exactly how many seconds, minutes, or hours we have until we die.

So, make those seconds, minutes, and hours count because once they are gone, so are you.



Angel Luis Santiago

I’ve written on Quora for 2+ years. I enjoy writing about Philosophy, History, and other random things.