What could be more idyllic than long sunny days, picnics and swimming? But when the swimmers are unsupervised children, playing in the river, anything can happen. Susan Finlay was only seven when she suddenly realised that she was drowning, and that nobody had noticed what was happening to her. This is her story.
My story happened way back in 1952, when I was just seven. Some people may remember that the care and the supervision of children were very different in those days. Most children were allowed to go and play with their friends all day long, without adults being present.
My childhood was spent in Oxford. Some days during the school holidays in the summer, when the day was warm and sunny, I was given a picnic. This was often no more than some bread and butter and a bottle of water. But a picnic meant that I could use the whole day to swim and play with my friends on the banks of the River Thames, without having to go home for food and a drink.
On Sundays I would go to the Sunday School at my church in Summertown. I was only seven, and I enjoyed it, but nothing of a spiritual nature had made any impression on me.
We used to play near one of the bridges that span the river. Some of the older children, once they had got bored with splashing in the water, would climb onto the side of the bridge. Then they would jump off the bridge, trying to land on someone’s head as they did so! It was never done in anger, but more to prove individual skill, I suppose.
All I wanted to do was to learn to swim. One day I had brought a big black car tyre to the river with me, which I was using like a rubber ring. I carefully splashed to and fro from the river bank to the deepest part of the river, feeling safe within my car tyre.
Then it happened. One of the children jumped off the bridge, and my head was the target! I was of course pushed under the water, and immediately felt myself drowning. Water was pouring into my ears and my mouth. I started talking to myself. I didn’t feel panicky, strangely enough, but I found myself saying ‘Susan, you are dying!’ I went to the bottom of the river, drank a lot of water, and then came back to the surface. No one had noticed what was happening to me as there was so much laughter and shouting going on.
Because no one had come to my aid I went down again, and felt I was drowning, before I struggled to the surface again. When I struggled to the surface for the third time I was near the river bank, and I just got out of the water.
The odd thing was that nobody else was around. All the children had disappeared, and I was standing on a riverbank on my own. I looked around in surprise. The trees looked wonderful, with leaves greener than I had ever noticed them before. And the grass! Why hadn’t I ever noticed how perfect every blade was, the most wonderful green one could ever imagine as the blades shone in the brilliant sunshine? The sky too looked wonderful, the colour as perfect a blue as one could ever wish for. But where was everyone? I started to wish that my mother was around to look after me. Everything looked wonderful, but it was odd being the only one around. I was of course no longer in Oxford, but had been given a tiny glance at what Heaven was like.
The next thing that I knew was that the riverbank and the countryside had gone, and I was sitting in a very large room with an enormous screen on one wall. As I looked I began to see my whole life go before me. At the age of seven my life story was not extensive, but everything was projected on to that screen, and I knew it was a summary of my life.
I was shown key moments during my brief period on Earth – what I had done, followed by what I should have done. Sometimes it was what I had said, followed by what I should have said. I didn’t feel condemned, but I knew that what I was witnessing was true – that what was being said or shown was not something that I could argue against because it was fair and right. I could hear a voice explaining things to me, but I did not see anyone or anything, other than this huge screen. Then, as quickly as it had started, the whole thing was over, and I was back on the riverbank in Oxford, with my friends standing around me, pumping the river water out of me!
After a while, I walked slowly back home, but did not tell my family what had happened. This was partly because I thought that I might be stopped from going to the river again, and partly because it was just something that I had experienced which I couldn’t really explain. Now I knew that the things that I was being told in Sunday School each week about Jesus and Heaven were true, and I started to listen with new interest and enthusiasm.
Life moved on, and I arrived at the age of 20. I’m not sure how much my drowning incident had affected me, but as I went through school I had found learning new things difficult. There seemed to be a sort of imbalance in my body, which nobody really understood, but I found really difficult to deal with.
Because of this imbalance I couldn’t function normally. I couldn’t stand normally. When I walked down the road, the road would appear to go downwards, and I felt that I was falling down. If I was in bed it felt as though I was falling.
Things just got too much. I just wanted to die. I ended up taking 100 barbiturate tablets together with some Valium and Librium tablets. I just wanted to be with Jesus. I spoke to the Lord and I repented in the best way that I knew how. I had never done anything like this before, and I asked forgiveness for anything that I had ever said or done that might have hurt anyone. Then I took all the tablets, and went to bed. I was still living with my parents at the time, and my brother lived in the house as well.
Five hours went by, with that evil cocktail of drugs doing their deadly work in my body. Then, just before my brother was due to come home, someone awoke me until I was fully awake. But then I realised that nobody else was in the house, and nobody could have gained access into the house, apart from my parents or my brother. Again it seemed that Divine intervention had stopped me from dying. My brother discovered me after I had been woken from my drugged state. I was rushed to the hospital, and my body was pumped clean of all the harmful medications taken as an overdose.
Then about six years ago, someone prayed for me for my balance problem, together with a spirit of fear that I had had for so long. Since then I have been able to live a normal life, and enjoy a normal sleep pattern, something that I was never able to do up until then.
Why did I not die on at least two occasions? Well, only God really knows that. But I now try and tell as many as I can that Jesus loves them, and can help them through their most difficult times. And one of my three children is now a Christian minister.
Had I realised that I was getting a glimpse of Heaven when I drowned as a seven year old I am sure I would have taken far more notice of what was around me. But I would have probably been scared too. In His wisdom God just let me think I was still in Oxford. Although it’s a pretty part of the world, I now know that it’s not a patch on where I know I’m going to live forever one day!
The true story of Susan Finlay is included, with kind permission, in the free e-book BEYOND THE FINAL FRONTIER which includes 27 similar true stories, and may be freely read and downloaded from this web site.