A Mercersburg man is planning what he hopes will be the first in ongoing meetings of a local chapter of the International Association for Near Death Studies.

It will be held at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 9, in the Lilian S. Besore Memorial Library in Greencastle.

Robert Cook was introduced to stories of near death experiences after his wife of 42 years, Marilyn, was diagnosed with cancer in September 2010 and given four months to live.

He purchased 14 to 15 books about near death experiences and would read to her every day.

"She took great comfort in having an idea where she would be going and what she would be doing there," Cook said of his wife, who died in January 2011. "My interest continued after her passing."

He has read accounts of about 2,000 near death experiences and was involved in IANDS in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The accounts have similarities and differences, but may include a tunnel, light, guide, introduction to the other side and being met by relatives and friends. Individuals may also go through a life review, seeing and experiencing their life from beginning to end.

"They experience emotional sensations ... love and compassion on steroids," Cook said. "Most who are told to go back don't want to leave the magical place."

He admits near death experience is a delicate subject and there are different perspectives, including that it just the brain shutting down.

But others "will take comfort in knowing there's a joyous place, it's real and it's a fantastic," Cook said. "I'm convinced deceased family members go on."

He moved to this area four and a half years ago and "was disappointed there was not a local chapter so I finally decided to seek the OK for a local chapter."

Cook, his wife and children lived in Shippensburg for eight years, beginning in 1975, and met the Dr. Carl and Cherie Pedersen family through the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"Carl was my bishop for three years and we were good friends," Cook said, explaining Carl Pedersen passed away from cancer 5 1/2 years ago.

Cook and Cherie Pedersen reconnected and were married on May 24, 2015.

In Salt Lake City, IANDS meetings were held in city hall, which seated 200 and was filled regularly. Cook is hoping there will be enough response to the first meeting to continue meeting regularly. The possible formats include speakers, those with near death experiences and people knowledgable in the field, as well as question-and-answer time.

The March 9 meeting will feature Neil Helm, who retired in June as the scholar in residence at Atlantic University in Virginia Beach, where he taught and assisted faculty and students with their research.

His first career of over 40 years was as a space scientist in commercial, government and academic research centers. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995 for his research and development in global satellite disaster and search and rescue systems credited with saving tens of thousands of live.

His second career is in psychology and he received in Ph.D. in transpersonal psychology from Sofia University in Palo Alto, California, in 2018.

At the age of 5, he drowned in a hot spring in central Montana and had a profound near death experience that dramatically changed his life, according to the bio he gave to Cook.

For more information, call Cook at 801-884-6477.