Vail Symposium event explores near-death experiences in Vail |

Vail Symposium event explores near-death experiences in Vail

Kimberly Nicoletti
Special to the Daily
Jeff Olsen survived a car crash that proved fatal to his wife and infant son. He and Dr. O’Driscoll became close spiritually while Olsen was in trauma care, and the two discussed their experiences in two Vail Symposium events on Monday and Tuesday.
Special to the Daily

Upcoming vail symposium events

Oct. 3: Tabor and Gallagher: Power to the People or Fiscal Stranglehold?

Oct. 7: To Infinity and Beyond: America’s Space Program Now and In the Future

Oct. 21: High Country Sci-Fi: Explore the Literature of Ideas with a Panel of Science-Fiction Writers

After a summer filled with programs ranging from health and history to art, politics and social issues, the Vail Symposium is rounding out the season with talks on the afterlife. On Monday night, Jeff Olsen and Dr. Jeffrey O’Driscoll shared their stories regarding near-death and afterlife experiences, and Tuesday night they led a workshop focused on communicating with departed loved ones.

The final three upcoming programs will discuss Colorado Proposition CC, the nation’s space program and science fiction literature.

Olsen has written a few books on near-death experiences, including his latest, “Knowing: Memoirs of a Journey Beyond the Veil and Choosing Joy After Tragic Loss.”

On Monday, Olsen told the story of his car accident in 1997, in which his youngest son and wife died. Olsen, the driver, lost his left leg above the knee, barely survived internal organ injuries and needed more than 18 surgeries to heal. In a near-death experience, Olsen met his wife, who told him he must return to his body. During that time, he “knew” unconditional love and immediately recognized everyone’s perfection and unity, he said.

When O’Driscoll witnessed Olsen in the trauma unit, he saw Olsen’s wife hovering above her husband, communicating her profound gratitude for the medical care doctors provided. The physician’s vision affirmed Olsen’s near-death experience at a time when he was questioning his sanity and attempting to make sense of everything.

“These things happen all the time in the emergency department, and some people speak of them and most people don’t, and the people that do speak of them often speak of them in hushed tones in small groups or individual one-on-one conversations,” O’Driscoll said in a YouTube interview on Oct. 11, 2018, adding that it’s typical for people to wait five to seven years before talking about near-death experiences. O’Driscoll waited more than 20 years to publicize his experiences with afterlife in his award-winning memoir “Not Yet,” which focuses on his spiritual encounters in the ER.

O’Driscoll first experienced profound communication with his brother, Stan, who died at age 15. At age 16, as O’Driscoll sped down a narrow country road, he heard his departed brother say, “You need to slow down.” O’Driscoll hit the brakes and met a pair of headlights.

“There was plenty of damage, but no injuries,” O’Driscoll said. “Had I not heeded his warning, I might have been killed.”

He continued to sense messages from the invisible realm as a teenager and as an emergency physician, where he received information that helped him care for patients. “Occasionally, they led me to a diagnosis I hadn’t considered,” he said. “And when a patient died, sometimes I saw their spirit — their eternal essence — leave their body.”

O’Driscoll said that studies indicate 4-5% of the general population has had a near-death experience, which equates to about 10 million people in the United States. His mission involves helping people find their own spiritual answers to promote healing.

Tuesday night, the pair began their workshop by asking people to “simply be open to all possibilities” as they talked about the importance of living in the present moment; finding purpose; helping others; choosing joy; and tapping into how everyone — both on this earth and departed from it — is powerfully connected in ways our ordinary human minds cannot quite conceive.

The pair also talked about the importance of feeling and accepting pain, which ultimately deepens empathy, an essential quality to connect with, and aid, others. Then, they led participants in an emotionally stirring exercise of writing a letter to a deceased loved one, telling him or her things previously unspoken. The evening continued with open sharing and an exercise involving “listening” to the deceased provide messages, or answers.

“We have a huge contribution to give to this world. There’s a reason you’re here,” O’Driscoll said Tuesday night. “It’s little groups like this that are going to change the world, that step forward and take a stand for love.”

The Vail Symposium will continue to present talks on human consciousness, as well as science, politics, medical issues and more. Organizers plan to announce the Vail Symposium winter season in three to four weeks, and brochures will come out in early December. For more information about the event, visit

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