For the AJC
On a recent CD she recorded with Rob Robinson, Atlanta singer-songwriter Pam Reynolds Lowery included a couple of tunes she wrote from the standpoint of an acknowledged expert. Their titles are "Coming Back to Life" and "Side Effects of Dying."
Ms. Reynolds Lowery, you see, had a vivid near-death experience on an operating table in Arizona 19 years ago, and her story has been retold numerous times in scientific journals and television documentaries.
Her out-of-body recollection is "the single best instance we now have in the literature on near-death experiences to confound the skeptics," according to Kenneth Ring, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Connecticut and a chronicler of these episodes.
Before and after that brush with death, Ms. Reynolds Lowery was a fixture at the Atlanta recording studio of her husband, William "Butch" Lowery. She sang; she did arrangements; she played backup piano or guitar or keyboard; she gave counsel.
"Just like the Maharishi was the guy the Beatles sought out for inspiration, Pam was the Maharishi for people who came to Butch's studio," said Tim Wilson, a comedian from Louisville. "Spend an hour of conversation with her, and she would pump you up and set you straight. She had so many life experiences to draw on."
Pamela Reynolds Lowery, 53, died last Saturday of heart failure at Emory University Hospital. Her memorial service is at 2 p.m. today at H.M. Patterson & Son, Oglethorpe Hill.
In 1991, Ms. Reynolds Lowery was diagnosed with an aneurysm at the base of her brain. Informed that it was inoperable, she chose to try a novel procedure developed by Dr. Robert Spetzler, chief of neurosurgery at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix. To prevent a rupture of the aneurysm during surgery, her body temperature was lowered to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and blood was drained from her brain. Her heart was stopped, and brain activity ceased. Clinically, she was dead.
Afterward, Ms. Reynolds Lowery was able to describe the procedure in minute detail -- including the little dent in the device the surgeon used to open her skull -- even though her eyes were covered with surgical pads and plugs were inserted in her ears.
In a 1999 Atlanta Journal-Constitution article, she described her out-of-body episode:
"I came up out of my body. I realized it was my body, but I felt less attached to it than to some cars I've had to get rid of." At one point, she said, she felt she was looking over her surgeon's shoulder.
She said she saw and heard things more clearly and distinctly than ever before. She sensed a presence -- a light at the end of a vortex -- pulling her away. She heard -- or, more precisely, sensed -- her grandmother calling. "She passed away when I was 19," Ms. Reynolds Lowery said. "I saw behind her uncles, aunts, cousins, a good friend of mine who was murdered young, a distant cousin I didn't know had passed."
As the surgery ended, she was resuscitated, and her heart began beating again. At the same time, Ms. Reynolds Lowery's conversation with her grandmother and other deceased relatives and friends drew to a close. "I wanted to go into the light," she said, "but they stopped me. They communicated that if I continued to go into the light, I would change and would not be able to get back into my body."
The experience had a profound effect on her. She told the AJC she became more idealistic and less judgmental. Once a colorful dresser, she chose more subdued clothing. A self-described liberal Christian, she said she did not pretend to know the nature of God, "but I know for a fact that God exists and permeates everything."
Mike Dyche of St. Simons Island, a fellow singer-songwriter, considered Ms. Reynolds Lowery his mentor in the music business and a close friend. "After her near-death experience," he said, "she would call me from time to time to find out if something was bothering me -- and she would be right! In her phone conversations, she could describe the rooms of my house, even though she'd never been in it."
Mr. Lowery said his wife had a highly developed sense of empathy. "She could be standing in line a grocery store and detect people there who were troubled, some of them so much so that it could move her to tears, " he said.
Survivors also include four daughters, Danielle Emanuele and Michelle Lytle, both of Braselton, Kerry Loy of Tucker and Lisa Beale of Midlothian, Va.; a son, Michael Najour of Lawrenceville; her mother and sister, Alma Warner and Lennie Reynolds, both of Clarendon, Texas; two brothers, Al Reynolds of Anniston, Ala., and Joey Reynolds of Lubbock, Texas, and six grandchildren.