After Losing Wife and Son in Fatal Accident, Man Asks God for Forgiveness, Receives Vision
It was a family vacation, and the Olsens had just been celebrating Easter. Jeff Olsen was driving home to Bountiful, Utah after visiting relatives; his wife Tamara was asleep in the passenger’s seat, still holding his hand, their 14-month-old Griffin was asleep in the car seat, and their 7-year-old son Spencer was awake in the backseat, playing with his toys.
Olsen felt his eyes grow heavy, and blinked. In an instant, his life upended: the car rolled over, gravel flew as they spun, he heard Spencer crying hysterically, felt horrific pain, and then he blacked out.
In the accident, Olsen lost the love of his life and son Griffin in an instant, as well as the use of his body. His body was mangled as he suffered multiple life-threatening injuries that would require at least 18 surgeries and the amputation of his left leg.
But it was what he saw and heard in the moment near death that gave him the strength to not only live on, but grasp joy once again, Olsen shared.
“Before the accident, I was a believer,” said Olsen. “The experience kind of shifted everything and turned it inside out and upside down and yet it expanded it in a beautiful way.”
Thinking back, Olsen says that morning was punctuated with interesting details. It was the Monday after Easter, and “I’ll never forget certain things about that morning,” he said.
They had been visiting Tamara’s parents, and after hugs and goodbyes and buckling everyone into the car, Tamara stopped Olsen, ran back to give her parents goodbyes once more, and “not only hugged them both, but she kissed them.”
“And I noticed that, I watched her as she hugged them and kissed them and then she turned and had this glowing smile on her face,” he said. “In hindsight, I see how critical and poignant that was.”
Then on the highway, there was an instant where Olsen glanced in the rearview mirror, and saw his toddler who had fallen asleep. “And it was like time stood still—I noticed the details,” he said. “I had the thought ‘wow we were told we would not have another child, and here he is, our miracle boy.’”
“And I heard Spencer, my 7-year-old boy playing, he had little action figures behind the driver’s seat where I was,” he said. “And I thought, wow I’m so lucky, I’m so blessed.”
It was about an hour after this that Olsen lost control of the car, overcorrected, and blacked out. He doesn’t remember, but the accident report says the car must have rolled six or eight times.
The next moment he was conscious was when he heard his son crying, and thought with complete consciousness that he had to get to his boy, only to realize he could not move.
He knew he was experiencing pain, but was unaware of his injuries. “I was unaware that both of my legs had been crushed. In fact, my left leg was eventually amputated above the knee. I had damaged my back, I had damaged my ribcage, my lungs were collapsing, my right arm had almost been completely torn off. And the seatbelt had cut through and ruptured all my insides. I was unaware of that, with the adrenaline and my child crying,” he said. “And that’s when the brutal reality hit that no one else was crying.”
“That’s the worst hell I suppose a man can be in,” he said. “I was driving the car. I mean, the guilt, the regret, the remorse. I kept thinking, ‘Can’t I just wind back those three seconds? Can’t I just wind back?’”
“And it was in that darkest, darkest moment, and I recall attempting to speak to my son Spencer and he was crying and I was able to share with him, and he actually remembers this but I said to him, I said ‘Son, it’s going to be okay,’” Olsen said.
He remembers thinking that was a lie. Nothing was OK.
“And then light came, it was like tangible light rushed to me and came around me,” Olsen said. He was surrounded and comforted, and felt himself rise up above the accident scene. He could breathe. And then Tamara was there in the comforting light.
“And she was fine—she was beautiful, she was gorgeous, she was radiant,” Olsen said.
“She was communicating to me and saying, ‘Jeff, you can’t stay, you can’t stay. You’ve got to go back,’” Olsen said. He remembers actually having a conversation and making a choice about what he should do. “If I stayed with her, Spencer would be orphaned.”
“We have no idea how powerful our thoughts are, because in me choosing to go back, suddenly I found myself moving about a hospital, a busy level one trauma center,” he said.
Olsen later found out that help arrived on the scene. His son had walked away from the accident thinking everyone was dead, and Olsen was airlifted to the nearest trauma center. Meanwhile, he was experiencing being inside a bubble of light, saying his most profound goodbyes, before witnessing the emergency room scene of his own body.
Back in the Body
“It’s as if I had a 360-degree awareness of what was going on around me, and yet everyone I encountered, every single person, I knew them perfectly,” he said. “I knew their love, their hate, their motivations, their struggles, their joy. I knew their hearts in such a way that it felt as if I was connected.”
A nurse he had never met before walked passed him, and in an instant he knew about the abuse she had suffered as a child and her choice to find her calling in healing. He said he felt this oneness with everyone he came upon—until finally he came across one man on a gurney he felt nothing from.
“That’s when I stepped forward to take a closer look and realized, oh my goodness that’s me—or that’s my body,” he said.
Olsen thought he must be dead, but felt more alive than he ever was.
“Yet as I looked at myself, I knew I had made that deal. I had promised my wife I would come back and raise our son, and I knew I had to get back in the body,” he said.
The moment Olsen had that thought, he was instantly inside his body. But together with the return came all the pain, grief, trauma, and regret.
“It was a very heavy experience,” he said. Olsen was surrounded by medical equipment for his severe injuries, and had to have his arms tied down so he wouldn’t accidentally touch it.
“I was in the hospital for five months,” he said. He had been in and out of the ICU, as he kept throwing up blood clots that were lodged in his lungs and suffered horrible infections that required his abdomen to be cut open again. He grieved miserably while his immediate family came to support him, and finally, near the end of that stay, he fell asleep.
The guilt had been so heavy Olsen said it felt like he hadn’t gotten any real sleep in all that time. But suddenly there was peace, and he felt that comforting light again. It raised him up above the hospital bed, and then left him in “the most beautiful, incredible place.”
“I’ve heard people use words like heaven, or the other side, or the spirit world. The only word that comes close to what I was experiencing is I was home,” he said. “I was whole, and my leg was not cut off, I had both legs and feet and no pain. And I began to run.”
“I can’t emphasize, it was such a physical experience—what I believe happened is my soul had left my body but it was such a physical experience. I could feel the energy of the ground under my feet, I could feel the intelligence in the cells in my calves and thighs. I was joyfully running thinking ‘I’m home, I’m home,’ and then the knowledge came that I was not here to stay,” he said.
Down the Corridor
With the knowledge came the appearance of a corridor that Olsen knew he was supposed to enter. At the end of it, there was a crib. He raced to it, and saw his 14-month-old Griffin sleeping, looking as peaceful and beautiful as he did in Olsen’s last glance in the rearview mirror.
When he picked him up, he could feel the heat and weight of his son. “I was holding my little boy and I began to weep. I even leaned over and I smelled his hair, I don’t know if you’ve ever smelled a hair of a loved one but I was like, this is my boy, and I began to cry,” he said. He could feel Griffin breathe, and rejoiced in the knowledge he was alright.
“And at that time there was this presence coming up behind me. This overwhelming, cosmic, wise, powerful presence. And I began to be fearful.”
Due to his “conservative Christian upbringing, I felt like that is God and I am in so much trouble. My little boy is here because I lost control and crashed the car. His life was cut short because I overcorrected. And this guilt was bubbling up and this presence was coming closer and closer, and as it came so close, and I’m weeping, holding my child, I had the thought, ‘I hope I can be forgiven,’” Olsen said.
“The first communication was ‘there’s nothing to forgive. Everything is in divine order.’ And I thought, how can that be?” he said. “And then my life appeared. I saw things from my life, I saw my parents’ divorce, I saw the insecurities that created in me, I saw the way I attempted overcome or cover those up, for me it was sports and athletics, and if I just perform well enough then I’m OK. But there was this insecure, little boy, and I was seeing it in that innocence.”
“I saw things and I thought, ‘well, that was a mistake, I didn’t mean to do that,’ and this beautiful, divine being, God if you will, who held me, said ‘there are no mistakes. What did you learn from it?” he said. “I kept being asked, what did you learn from it? And suddenly I was seeing this review in such a different way.”
He felt God communicate to him “you are as precious to the divine as the little boy you hold,” he said. “And that was so powerful to me. Here I was, holding my child, who to me is perfect and divine and holy and precious and beloved, and yet here was God communicating to me, that not only me, it was a very personal experience, but every living soul is that precious, is that beloved, is that connected to the divine.”
He remembered his experience floating through the hospital, feeling connected to and love for everyone, and realized that must be how God saw every living soul, yet magnified.
“I was only asked one question the whole time by the divine, and the question was, ‘To what degree have you learned to love?’ It changed me forever,” Olsen.
“I was given a choice. Once again, I realized how powerful choices are. The divine communicated to me that, well you can be mad at God your whole life and feel like: wow, a divine force should have not allowed this accident to happen. I was told I could beat myself up my whole life. I could feel guilt about it. And that would have devastated me,” he said.
He was shown another choice.
“Here I am holding my child, and God says to me, I want you to exercise your will,” Olsen said. “Now given my upbringing, it’s no, no, no, it’s Your will be done! I mean, here I was, questioning the divine and I said I thought it was Your will be done, and the being who helped me said ‘your will is my will, that’s how much we love you.”
“He said, perhaps you can give your son to me. Perhaps you can hand him over and trust and realize it’s all love, and in all that peace and all that beauty and all that divine light, I was able to kiss my little boy, and I—I handed him over,” he said.
And suddenly Olsen was back in the hospital bed, back in the body that had suffered and undergone 18 surgeries, but his perspective had changed entirely. Instead of feeling like he had his son torn away from him, he had exercised his will and given his son to God.
“That experience was so intense it changed me forever,” Olsen said.
It had happened in March, this year marking the 26th year since the event. The question God asked Olsen is now one he asks himself constantly, a companion in his process of growth. It has been about loving one’s neighbor, but also cherishing himself as a child of God.
“I came back from that life review wanting to love more, wanting to somehow be in this realm, even on a small level, some manifestation of that unconditional love that I’ve experienced the arms of the divine,” he said.
Life has unfolded in a beautiful way since then, Olsen shared. He had worried about how his recovery would affect those around him, and saw the heroism of his brothers who helped him, as he stayed with his younger brother, learned to use a wheelchair then a prosthetic limb, and raised his son Spencer. He even fell in love again, and with his wife Tanya he raised two more sons. He shared his stories in the memoir “Knowing,” which became an international best-seller.
“One of the most difficult things about telling this story is choosing the words, but love to me is letting go of expectations, letting go of conditions, and leaning into pure, unconditional love, love without conditions, and loving myself. If I can love myself then that love radiates out,” he said.
“I don’t know if one needs a near-death experience to connect with that divine love and that divine energy of reaching out and supporting, and being kind and compassionate, and just being a person of love,” he said. “That’s my takeaway.”
With reporting from NTD News.