Living the near- death life

Support: A Columbia couple has a shared interest in spirit and life after life.

April 26, 1999|By Alice Lukens | Alice Lukens,SUN STAFF

It was a match made in heaven -- or at least someplace other than Earth.

Stan Triplett had had a near-death experience at age 15 and believed he communed with spirits. Shelly Shafer believed she was developing the ability to talk to people after they had died.

She was a regular at the Near Death Experience Support Group in Columbia. He was coming for the first time, two Augusts ago, wanting to meet others like himself -- and secretly hoping to meet the love of his life.

The group, one of some 50 around the country, felt like a spiritual home to him, where people could discuss intimately, without fear of ridicule, the mostly uncharted territory between life and death.

After that first meeting, she sent him telepathic messages to call her. He heard them, he said, but they were incomplete.

"I was waiting for you to call," she said, when he finally did.

"It would have been nice if you had left your name," he retorted.

They fell in love, and married last September. He moved into her Reisterstown townhouse, where they say they have put positive auras around the appliances to keep them from breaking and where they say they regularly converse with angels and spirits in their bedroom.

Shelly Triplett has never had a near-death experience, but she and Stan have similar views on life -- this one as well as all the others.

They believe they were married in a past life, in the 1600s, and had a son together named Gregory. Throughout the ages, they say, Gregory has worked to bring them back together and finally succeeded a year and a half ago, via the Columbia support group.

"Stan and I are twin souls," says Shelly Triplett, 44. "We are more than soul mates. We are twin souls. We are exactly alike and completely the opposite. It's as if we are standing in a mirror."

They both like the spiritual atmosphere at the support group, where the conversation quickly becomes intimate and stays that way for two and a half hours or longer because people don't want to go home.

Participants might talk about their fear of or desire for death, their opinions on the meaning of life. They might talk about their failing relationships -- there is a high divorce rate among those who have had a near-death experience -- their deepest moments of prayer and longing, or their anguish at watching a loved one die.

"A lot of people put safeguards up, and we don't have that," Stan Triplett says. "We don't judge, where a lot of people judge."

Almost 30 years ago, when he was a 15-year-old living in Oella, he cut his leg with a jagged bottle and lost so much blood, he says, that his spirit left his body and entered a tunnel filled with an overwhelming sense of peace and love.

"There's a sound in the tunnel -- it's like music but it's not," he says. "And it's swirling colors, very bright colors, it's like colors here all mixed together and changing. Like stardust. Like strobe lighting. Kind of like that. And they are swirling around. It's like standing on the Starship Enterprise and looking out with nothing around."

But then, he says, a voice stopped him: "Go back. Not your time." And, against his will, he was back in his body. His sister called an ambulance and he was rushed to a hospital.

Triplett, 43, says he had a hard time adjusting after that.

"I was angry to a degree because I came back, because you can't find love here that way," he says. "And other people just didn't understand."

Back then, he says, people didn't talk much about near-death experiences. Now, almost 25 years after the publication of "Life After Life," Raymond Moody's best-selling book about near-death experiences, they have come into vogue. There are numerous books about them, an estimated 13 million Americans who say they have had them, and even an International Association of Near Death Studies (IANDS).

The Columbia support group, 3 1/2 years old, is the only one in Maryland; others are in Richmond, Va., and Philadelphia, according to the IANDS Web site ( California has 11 groups.

People who have had near-death experiences often see themselves as leaders, as the chosen ones who somehow live on a higher plane. With the millennium approaching, many, like Stan Triplett, believe they will be called upon to help avert disaster.

"In many ways we are a lot stronger than a lot of people," he says. "We could be called upon to help guide people, help them along."

The Tripletts think of themselves as "spiritual consultants," only they don't charge for their services. He works at the Dorsey's Search Giant supermarket in Columbia. She is a bookkeeper for a Baltimore museum.

The Columbia support group meets the last Saturday of each month and attracts not only those who have had near-death experiences but their spouses, nurses, caregivers, hospice workers, those who are grieving the loss of a loved one and anyone else with an interest. At a typical meeting, 20 or so people might attend -- half regulars, the other half one-time or occasional visitors.

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