By Saraana Jamraj
Near-death experiences may be terrifying, but for some, however, it’s a learning experience that has lead some towards a broader community to share these experiences.
Such is the case for members of the South Florida International Near-Death Studies (IANDS) who meet once a month in Tamarac. Led by Reverend Gail Fein of Miami Gardens, she began her spiritual studies in 1975, while working as a cosmetologist.
“It’s going to sound funny, but you know how everyone confides in their hairdresser? Well, when I stand behind a person, I can feel their energy. They would share with me an experience or situation, where they didn’t know the outcome, and I’d have a premonition,” she said.
Fein would have a strong feeling about what was going to happen, without knowing how or why. Three or four haircuts later, she said, her clients would confirm that she was right.
These experiences led her to explore spiritual work, and she ventured into studying astrology and tarot, which became tools for understanding herself with more clarity and depth. After multiple meetings with the other side, she describes it as a place of unconditional love, compassion, and learning.
After 20 years of attending the IANDS meetings in Tamarac, last year, she took over and began leading them, and is now dedicated to the group. As a reiki master and spiritual minister, she has continued to progress in her studies in the quest of helping others.
“It’s been a challenge, especially as a woman. Even though I’ve done all my studies, and have experience facilitating, some people do challenge my knowledge,” she said.
Her goal is to help people have a better understanding of their experiences and to recognize them as blessings.
The group size varies from month-to-month along with the ages of those who attend; Some because they have had a near-death experience or a spiritually transformative experience, and others because they are interested in the study of those topics. The group is open to all.
According to Fein, near-death experiences are brought upon by several factors: drug overdoses, medical operations, and accidents.
“Many people express that they saw tunnels, others saw loved ones who had passed over waiting for them, and all express that the colors were very vivid,” said Fein, referencing common themes in the meetings.
For many of the group members, the meetings can be cathartic and emotional. Often, people cry recounting the moments they thought would be their last. Fein believes that this emotional release is part of the gift of a near-death experience.
“I think they’re finally allowing the love to flow. They’ve never had a way to express it or to feel accepted. I think that’s more important — the acceptance,” she said.
A significant role involves teaching people that near-death experiences are not necessarily what makes them unique, but a reminder that everyone is connected, and that all people have a purpose.
“Near-death experiences give awareness towards that higher connection. [People] come back because they have unfinished business,” she said.
Fein knows that there are skeptics and people who would view the group and spiritual studies in general as being strange.
“A dear friend of mine says I’m eccentric. I don’t think so. I’m just logical. There’s a whole other plane of existence, and I’m just tapping into it.”
She believes that people can be hesitant to confront this particular school of knowledge because it is deeply unfamiliar.
“Sometimes the unknown is frightening, but as long as you have a strong connection a higher power- you’ll grow, you’ll expand, your intuition will develop. It’ll prevent you from stepping into situations you don’t want to be in,” she said.
For those who want to improve their intuitions, she recommends meditation, journaling, writing down dreams in detail, staying alert, gracious, and praying.
“The message I received is that when the universe hears our prayers- it’s like little butterflies they’re catching,” she said.
The IANDS group meets on the first Sunday of each month, from 4:30-6:30 p.m. in the Pavilion Gym at University Hospital in Tamarac.
- Selene Raj is a writer and a Florida International University graduate. Born in Trinidad and raised in America, she completed her Master's in Mass Communications in 2020, and has been living in Coral Springs since 2004. She is passionate about the communities she lives and works in and loves reporting and sharing stories that are as complex and meaningful as the people who live in them.