2005, Dr. Joyce Brown received a call through her suicide hotline
from a woman in panic: Her brother John was about to shoot himself,
she said. He had just said goodbye to her by phone.
Moments later, Joyce Brown called her brother. What she left on his answering machine made him put the gun down. The next day, he was engrossed in reading her life story.
What if life becomes unbearable?
Joyce Brown (b. 1933) grew up in the U.S. state of Idaho during a time of great economic hardship. Her single mother struggled to keep herself and her daughter afloat as a janitor. At school, Joyce was ostracized because of her poor clothes, and a teacher beat her so badly that she lost part of her hearing.
At 18, she married a cab driver she had met two and a half weeks earlier. Soon they had three children, but they were not a harmonious family: the marriage was unhappy, and after eight years they divorced.
At the age of 27, the young mother suffered a serious car accident, and a short time later a second one. During the following years, she had to undergo eight major back surgeries. She suffered almost constantly from enormous pain. When she was 39 years old, the doctors told her that she would never get rid of her pain. She would be paralyzed for the rest of her life and would only be able to move her arms and hands. Fortunately, this diagnosis did not come true. But just as she had painstakingly learned to walk again, an antibiotic caused her to lose her sense of balance.
She also suffered severe setbacks in her professional life: she abandoned a modeling career because she was repeatedly sexually harassed. As a real estate agent, she was initially so successful that her boss soon wanted to hire only women. But because of the numerous business trips, she had to end this career as well. So she became a consultant with a business idea for generating electrical energy from waste. She had already signed up her first customer, and other municipalities showed interest, when she was deprived of her shares in the lucrative business through legal tricks.
In all this, Joyce was accompanied by the thought that a way out was always open to her: to take her own life. That idea attracted her since she was eight years old. Back then, at a funeral, she heard people say that the deceased person was now "at peace." So to be happy in heaven, all you had to do was die. If it was that simple, why struggle in this world? This attitude was reinforced by her father, who raved to her about his paradisiacal near-death experience when she was 17, and who took his own life in 1980.
How far does the power of positive thinking extend?
On the other hand, however, Joyce also developed a positive, life-affirming approach at age 25: She discovered that she could overcome her negative thoughts through powerful positive reinforcement. She practiced this positive reprogramming of her consciousness very consistently from then on, even while sleeping. As a result, she gained considerable self-confidence.
But the setbacks did not stop. In December 1981 she had a serious fall; a little later she fell again; one illness replaced the other; she could no longer bear her antibiotics, had pains all over her body, suffered from muscle weakness and difficulty swallowing. At the time, she did not know that an incipient ALS disease was the cause. After losing the coverage of her health insurance, she could no longer afford even the necessary examinations - especially since her house needed costly repairs.
All of this was apparently too much for Joyce. Twice she tried to take her own life. Then, in January 1983, a doctor told her that she would soon die of natural causes. For a 49-year-old woman, this was a devastating diagnosis. But Joyce rejoiced, to her this was like a gift from heaven: she would soon be allowed to die without having to lay a hand on herself again.
A short time later, it seemed that the time had come: Joyce collapsed in her bathroom.
She found herself outside her body. Her pain was gone, her perception clearer than ever. Walls were no longer obstacles for her.
God was close to her. She learned that He loves us all unconditionally and is full of mercy and grace for us. Knowledge she had never known was open to her.
All at once she understood how silly and unnecessary are most of the quarrels we fight in this life. Quarreling couples were shown to her, hurting and dividing each other with careless words, even though they loved each other.
Looking back on her life, she was happy about the moments when she had managed to hold her tongue instead of letting an absurd argument escalate. In contrast, she was now sorry for every harsh word she had ever spoken to others.
Arguing about opinions now seemed pointless to her. Our opinions correspond to the level of mental development at which we find ourselves. Instead of attacking each other for it, we should listen to each other in an atmosphere of love and understanding. Being right is not desirable if it humiliates your partner.
Life is too short to hold grudges against others. Instead, we do well to forgive generously. We should not wait until the other person repents to do so. How sad if he or she dies before we have reconciled. Or if we die unreconciled, taking our resentment with us into the other world.
Instead of waiting for others to repent, we should repent for what we ourselves have done to them. In doing so, we do the greatest favor to ourselves. For in the other world our repentance acts like an eraser: all the bad deeds that Joyce had sincerely repented of in her life no longer appeared in her life review.
Let us not wait with reconciliation until justice has been done to us. We can confidently leave justice to God. He will confront every person with his or her injustice soon enough. Every person - including ourselves: As we judge, so shall we be judged. If you want to be forgiven by God, you have to forgive yourself.
We easily underestimate how valuable the small kindnesses are that we show to one another. Not only to our fellow human beings, but to all creatures. Even the smallest kindness makes ripples, like a stone we throw into water, touching many lives.
We cannot take our material goods with us to the other world. What we can take with us, however: How patiently and lovingly we have dealt with others, how helpful we have been.
Which religion a person belongs to is not decisive. God, Joyce learned, appreciates people of all religions who work on themselves to become better. Let us accept each other in the stage of development we are in.
We would love to have a life without problems and misfortunes. But that would not be good for us. Because the difficulties we face are our spiritual training program. With every challenge we accept, we strengthen our spiritual muscles.
Without need, however, we should not aggravate our problems either. Yet that is exactly what we do when we run away from them. Instead of taking refuge in drugs and alcohol, we should accept what life confronts us with. Accepted suffering strengthens our ability to feel for and help others.
All too quickly we become dissatisfied with our bodies, thinking them too fat, too old or too sick. In contrast, Joyce learned during her near-death experience how useful our bodies are, whatever ailments they may have: without them, we could not fulfill our purpose on this earth.
We make our self-esteem dependent on how we look, what others think of us, or what we have in our bank account. Yet none of this is important to God. He loves us as we are. We are His children: that is what counts. That is what we should base our self-confidence on. When we do that, we throw off the chains we have put on ourselves.
Our mind is more powerful than we think. Only if we constantly provide it with good suggestions will it work for us. We should therefore avoid discouraging thoughts.
We tend to underestimate our ability to learn. If we are on a wrong path, we can realize that and change the direction of our life. Looking back, this will fill us with great joy in the other life.
We are measured only by
our actual possibilities
But how free are we really? Aren't we limited by our circumstances?
Yes, we are. But we should not focus our attention on that. Because one day we won't be asked, "What did you do with the opportunities you didn't have?" but "What did you do with what you did have?"
We are not in unfair competition with people who had more favorable starting conditions than we did. For it is not by them that we will one day be measured. We are in competition solely with ourselves. Therefore, it makes no sense to blame other people or unfavorable circumstances for our own mistakes. To make the best out of what we have - that is always up to us.
Therefore, no one has the power to defeat us. No one can take away from us what matters: to keep going against all odds, to look for solutions, to strive for a life in harmony with the eternal truths, to toil and persevere as long as we live.
Suicide is not the way
Making the best of any situation is something we can't do that if we throw our lives away. That's why Joyce warns: the hope of finding peace through suicide is deceptive. During her near-death experience, she saw suicidal people who were horrified by the suffering they had caused their loved ones. They wanted to ask their loved ones for forgiveness, but their loved ones could not see or hear them.
Suicide is not the path to peace, Joyce has been convinced since her near-death experience. If we want to experience our death as a transition to our true home some day, then we must first face the challenges of this life as they come. Death is redemptive only if we have not willfully brought it on ourselves. Not even near-death experiencers can return to the peaceful place where they were so happy by taking their own lives: Like all of us, they must first take upon themselves whatever befalls them, until the end of their lives.
Pain over missed
For Joyce, the time had come: her earthly life was over. She painfully realized how many opportunities to do good she had missed. How she would have loved to return to her physical body to tell her family how much she loved them. Now it was too late. Never again would she be able to seize the opportunities to grow spiritually that only this earthly life holds. Everything she had not said would remain unsaid forever.
But then she got her second chance after all.
After the near-death
As abruptly as Joyce had left her body, she found herself in it. Overjoyed despite the pain that had returned, she wanted to take on every challenge from then on, to grow from it.
And the challenges were not long in coming: to be sure, Joyce initially made health progress that doctors had not thought possible. But in 1988, at the age of 54, she received a diagnosis that is considered a death sentence: she had the incurable nerve disease ALS. Doctors gave her only a few more months.
But Joyce managed the impossible: That same year, she assures, she overcame the disease completely. She had fought ALS through holistic nutrition and medicine, prayer, and the belief that she could be cured, supported by meditation and positive reinforcement while awake and asleep.
Legal disputes with her former business partners sapped her strength for years. It was not until 1992 that a less than favorable settlement was reached. After that, Joyce focused entirely on helping people with their spiritual, mental and health concerns. As a Naturopathic Medical Doctor (N.M.D.), she worked with renowned medical experts and became involved in a group to cure ALS.
In 1998, her second husband Earl died, 14 years after doctors diagnosed him with a life expectancy of a few weeks. In 1999, she founded the non-profit organization Stress and Grief Relief, Inc. which, among other things, is dedicated to fighting suicide and its causes.
Through this commitment, Joyce Brown has prevented many suicides. But to her great pain, she was unable to stop her half-sister from taking this step: Shirley took her own life in late June 2003. Joyce agonized over feelings of guilt until one day Shirley appeared to her and encouraged her to leave grief and feelings of guilt behind.
Joyce Brown's warning against suicide, then, should not be misunderstood: Not at all does it mean that those left behind by a suicide should despair. God unconditionally loves people who have taken their own lives as well. He understands how they came to this. Joyce is confident that they, too, will eventually experience forgiveness and peace. Nowhere does she speak of eternal damnation.
The strokes of fate in her life did not cease: in 2003 she suffered another traffic accident with serious health consequences. In 2006, her house burned down shortly after she had married a third time. Her husband suffered from kidney disease, which soon worsened so much that doctors estimated his life expectancy at only two months. But once again, Joyce succeeded a miracle: He survived his diagnosis by ten years. And when Joyce went "terminally" blind in November 2011, she regained her sight the very next year.
"There is nothing more we can do for you" - accepting such a medical finding is not Joyce Brown's thing. In 2022, at the age of 89, she continues to be active. Despite her severe back pain, she continues to share her experiences and insights, teach techniques for overcoming depression, anger and stress, and save lives in suicide prevention.
And what became of John, who had been about to shoot himself in 2005? He went on to study psychology and now works in suicide prevention himself.
What had stopped him from taking his own life back then? It was Joyce's words on his answering machine: "Don't you want to know where you're going before you pull the trigger on that gun? What if it's worse for you after you die than it is right now?" She found out personally, Joyce continued at the time, that it wasn't always nice on the other side regardless of what we have done here on earth.
Dear reader, whether you believe in life after death or not, there is one thing we can perhaps agree on: This life is an opportunity that is quickly over and that will never return. We should not let it pass by unused. We will die soon enough.
Dr. Joyce Hunt Brown (1997, new edition 2022): Heavenly Answers for Earthly Challenges: Near Death Survivor Shares Simple Lessons for a Miracle-Filled Life
YouTube videos under the search term „Dr. Joyce Brown Suicide Prevention“
This translation from German is based on DeepL.