Finding Strength After Tragedy: Jeff Olsen's Experiences
Inside This Episode
After a horrific car accident took the lives of his wife and youngest son, how did Jeff Olsen find the courage to survive over 18 surgeries and eventually heal both physically and emotionally? Hear how multiple Out-of-Body and Near-Death Experiences during his nearly six month hospital stay helped Jeff develop a deeper faith in God that kept him fighting for his life.
More about Jeff Olsen: www.envoypublishing.com
Eric Huffman: Today on Maybe God, it remains one of our most downloaded episodes of all time called Are Near Death Experience is for Real. And several listeners have asked us to revisit in greater depth the incredible story of Jeff Olsen.
Jeff survived a horrific car accident that killed his wife and youngest son. And during his nearly six-month recovery in the hospital, he experienced the afterlife, including the presence of God on more than one occasion. He's the author of a bestselling book called Knowing: Memoirs of a Journey Beyond the Veil and Choosing Joy After Tragic Loss.
If you'd like to watch this interview, head over to Maybe God's YouTube channel, and please share our video clips on Instagram and Facebook.
Eric Huffman: So welcome back to the Maybe God podcast, Jeff Olsen.
Jeff Olsen: It's so good to be with you. Thank you. Thank you so much.
Eric Huffman: Of course. Really glad to have you back. I just want to talk real quick about the impact you've had on our listeners. And I know your impact goes far beyond, you know, the reach of the Maybe God Podcast as you've shared your story elsewhere. But since we shared your story on our Near-Death Experiences episode, folks have written to us time and time again, talking about how changed they were by your testimony, by your account of what happened to you.
And even some of the people that have showed up to my church, not just podcast listeners, but folks have come to the church and joined the church after not going to church for years, they came looking to renew their connection to God after hearing your story, Jeff. So why do you think it is that your story impacts so many people on such a deep level?
Jeff Olsen: Wow. Eric, first of all, thank you for sharing that. I mean, thank you.
Eric Huffman: Of course.
Jeff Olsen: I never wanted to tell the story. I was very reluctant to even speak about it. And yet, God said, Share your experience and others will heal.
Eric Huffman: wow.
Jeff Olsen: And suddenly I realized it wasn't about me. It had nothing to do with me. It was about others and healing. And when you share things like that, I think what makes the story powerful, to address the question, I mean, gosh, death. You know, I think our greatest fear is our death or the loss of loved ones, or in my case, even the loss of a limb, which was nothing compared to the loss of loved ones.
And yet what perhaps makes it powerful, as I've realized, it they're never lost. We are looked over and watched over. And yet God is love and looks over all of us. I mean, you know, it's strange to say I was held in the arms of God. But having that happen, it changed me forever.
Eric Huffman: Wow. The last time that we had you on, we didn't have time to get into all the details of your story. I'd like to dig a little bit deeper if we could. So just kind of take us back to the early days of your life and what it was like to grow up in Utah.
Jeff Olsen: You know, it's interesting. My parents were divorced when I was very young—I was like three years old—and that caused insecurities. And my parents were great at co-parenting. You know, I mean, gosh, I would spend weeks with my mom going to school, and then weekends with my dad on the farm. And yet, you know, that was disruption in my life. What I believed was good, true, and forever, suddenly wasn't.
It was a rough and tumble life. I had two brothers, I was stuck in the middle, and it was a good life. I mean, I knew my parents loved me, even though they had split up. Boy, I knew my brothers loved me even though we would fight to fistfights. But boy, you know, we had each other's back all the time.
Eric Huffman: Was faith a big part of your upbringing?
Jeff Olsen: It was. My mother, devout. You know, devout. Now, my father during the divorce and all, he kind of stepped away from church. But my father was a cowboy. He's still living. My dad is almost 90. He was a cowboy. He was a soldier. He's a retired Lieutenant Colonel.
And although he may have not been in the church pew, he was about integrity and honesty and being straight with your fellow man and being straight with yourself. My mother is an earth angel. I mean, devout Christian woman, raised me, taught me to pray. Even in the near-death experience, it may have been the voice of my mother—I heard her praying over me—that kind of brought me back so to speak. But yeah, great parents, and it was all good.
Eric Huffman: When your parents got divorced, you said they did a great job of loving you still and co-parenting. And a lot of families managed to make that work. Were you negatively impacted at all by that divorce as a child?
Jeff Olsen: I mean, in a way. I fared very well but what it caused was insecurities. Like I say, what I thought was good and true and forever suddenly wasn't. It just may be common but then it's like, am I enough? Is this my fault? Should have I been a better boy? I was just a little, you know.
And that's probably why I dove into football, why I loved football was I could put on a number, I could put this mask. And the crowd could cheer but nobody had to know that it was really that little boy that was just struggling to be enough. "Will I ever measure up? Will I ever be okay? Will I ever feel self-worth?"
Eric Huffman: Wow, you're gonna change football forever for me. I'm gonna never look at it the same now. But I can totally see what you're saying. I mean, it's classic wounded masculinity, right? We just want to cover up and go to war.
Jeff Olsen: Yeah. And seriously, there was anger in me too. You know, I was aggressive and that was good therapy in a healthy way. You know, I couldn't haul off and hit somebody in society, I'd go to jail. Right? But somehow, on the gridiron, I could do that. That was healthy in my anger, in my self-consciousness.
Eric Huffman: You mentioned working on your dad's farm. What did you learn there?
Jeff Olsen: Gosh, I learned hard work and I learned accountability. I mean, my father used to speak in tongues. We had beef cows and horses but we also had dairy cows that had to be milked every morning at 4 a.m.
Eric Huffman: Wow.
Jeff Olsen: So we were up at 4 a.m. My father would get us out of bed in that military drill sergeant voice. But he spoke in the terms of heartbeats. He would say, "You've got 120 heartbeats out there waiting for you. They're counting on you. You've got to show up for them."
Eric Huffman: Speaking of the cows?
Jeff Olsen: Speaking of the cow, yeah. He didn't say, "You've got cows out there." He called them heartbeat. "You've got heartbeats out there relying on you."
Eric Huffman: Wow.
Jeff Olsen: So that's kind of the depth of my father. But it taught me hard work, accountability. And my brothers, I mean, we worked so hard together. My father would still go on active duty at times, and it'd be up to three teenage boys to run the whole operation.
Eric Huffman: Oh, wow.
Jeff Olsen: But it was good. It was a good life.
Eric Huffman: So what was college like for you? Were you a good student? Did you date?
Jeff Olsen: Yeah. I went and played Division One football. I studied art and design and psychology and marketing and ended up going into the ad agency business. You know, I was very shy and football was everything.
But probably the most important thing in college for me... And I was a good student. I went to class, you know, I had a decent GPA. I loved learning. But I fell madly, hopelessly, helplessly, head over heels in love with a young lady named Tamara. She walked in the room and it hit me like a lightning bolt. It was beyond love at first sight. It was a knowing. It's like, "Wow, there she is." I'd never felt that way. And it just overtook me.
And I think the biggest miracle was I introduced myself and spoke to her. And that became a friendship and then it became a relationship and eventually a marriage.
Eric Huffman: Tell me about it. What was it about it that really sparked that in you?
Jeff Olsen: She was gorgeous to look at. But it was her light. I mean, it was her light. You felt it when she walked in a room. I mean, she was so powerful and yet tiny. She was only five foot five and maybe weighed 110 pounds, I don't know. But she was such a light. And she was the one that, in many ways, brought me back to God.
Eric Huffman: Wow.
Jeff Olsen: She would invite me, "Why don't you come and sit in church with me?" And she'd rubbed the bruises out of my arms. I just liked sitting by her. But that was an awakening for me to return my consciousness from school and career and even this relationship to, "Wow, there's something bigger than me. There's something bigger than this out there." And that was a huge turning point in my life.
Eric Huffman: She sounds awesome. But I imagine a woman like that has many options. Why do you think she chose you?
Jeff Olsen: I have no idea, Eric. I was lucky. I think she saw the hard work. I don't know.
Eric Huffman: Tell me about your life together as husband and wife.
Jeff Olsen: Well, it was awesome. I mean, she taught high school and I was in my marketing career as a creative person and things were good. Gosh, we built a beautiful little house up on the hillside. It was like everything had just fallen into place.
Eric Huffman: Did you have kids right away?
Jeff Olsen: Spencer, our first son was born in our third year of marriage. Spencer came and he was so joyful and she was so elated that she wanted to have another child right away, but there had been complications. I mean, she ended up having a partial hysterectomy. We were told we would never have children again. I don't know if it's a hysterectomy, but they had to take one of her ovaries, but she was able to get pregnant again with Griffin six years after Spencer came.
Eric Huffman: So kind of a picture-perfect... Aside from the health scare there, picture-perfect life you had there suddenly. Two boys and-
Jeff Olsen: It was really good. And we used to look at each other and we knew it. We were like, "Wow, we're really, really not lucky but blessed." I mean, we worked hard, but we were blessed.
Eric Huffman: Sure. So just before the accident that we're working our way up to here that changed your life forever, Tamara, if I remember, had a dream, a dream that sort of shook her. Just tell us about that dream and how she told you about it.
Jeff Olsen: Well, it was interesting because regular morning, you know, and we were actually getting ready to leave on this little Easter road trip vacation to go see her family. And she was kind of quiet and contemplative. And I hopped in the shower and got out. And I said, "Is everything okay?" And she said, "Yeah."
But I knew something was up. And I said, "What's going on? And she said, "Oh, I had this crazy dream." I said, "Oh, yeah? I'm listening." In a nutshell, she said, "Yeah, gosh, I had this dream, and in the dream you were marrying someone else."
Eric Huffman: Oh.
Jeff Olsen: And I was like, "Tamara, you know we're in love. You know that I'm faithful to you. I mean, what are you talking about?"
Eric Huffman: Don't punish me for a dream.
Jeff Olsen: Yeah. And that was the thing. I mean, how can you get mad at me for a dream you had and there's no reason for this? And she said, "Well, that's what bugs me." She said, "I was okay with it."
Eric Huffman: Wow.
Jeff Olsen: And I'm like, "What?' Now, we lived in Utah. This was my thought at the time. I thought, "Well, she's been reading these books on the early Mormons, polygamy, all that stuff." And I thought, "Has that influenced her?" But I was a bit perplexed. Why would she dream that? I've never given any indication. Like, I'm hers and we're together, and that's it. But yeah, she had a dream the day before we left on the trip. That would have been what? Four days before the accident.
Eric Huffman: And the accidents happened the day after Easter.
Jeff Olsen: That's correct.
Eric Huffman: What year was that?
Jeff Olsen: That was in 1997.
Eric Huffman: Take me through the story. I know you've told this a thousand times, and it can't get easier every time you do it. I'm sorry to put you through it again. For the sake of our listeners, if you would just tell us.
Jeff Olsen: Eric, you're kind. I can speak of it now. I couldn't speak of it for a decade. I can speak of it now. We went to visit her family on Easter. We had a beautiful Easter gathering. You know, family dinners, the kids, colored Easter eggs. We did all the traditional things that we had done.
And it was the Monday following Easter that we were headed home. It was about a five-hour drive. And I had buckled the kids in their car seats and we had said goodbye to everybody, and I loaded the luggage in the back of the car. It was interesting.
And I'll share this. As we were pulling away from the curb, Tamara stopped me. She said, "Stop. Wait." I thought she'd forgotten something. And I stopped the car, and she said, "I just need to go say goodbye to mom and dad one more time." And she jumped out of the car. I noticed how she ran up. And she not only hugged them both but she kissed them both.
Eric Huffman: Oh, wow.
Jeff Olsen: Which wasn't necessarily uncommon, but I noticed it. And then she joyfully came running back to the car and jumped in. You know, in the moment, I thought, "Gosh, women! We've already said goodbye, let's get on the road." But in hindsight and that's why I bring it up, she must have had a knowing. You know, some little whisper said, "Stop! Wait! I've got to go hug mom and dad one more time."
And she honored that. I mean, this is the type of person she was. I mean, we all get those whispers. And I bring this up because we got to honor that. Make that phone call, give that hug, say that "I love you", give that apology, send that text, whatever it is. But she got that message, "I'm gonna go say goodbye one more time." And as the day rolled out, that was the last goodbye.
Eric Huffman: Wow.
Jeff Olsen: So she jumps back in the car, she buckles up, I get on the interstate, I crank the cruise control up to 75 miles an hour. And I'm hurrying. 75 miles an hour's as fast as I could legally go. I wanted to get back to work. I was going to miss most of Monday and that would put me behind and all of those things that-
Eric Huffman: Sure.
Jeff Olsen: I've learned not to beat myself up too much about it. It's being a man. You're a provider. You got to get it done.
Eric Huffman: We've all done this.
Jeff Olsen: You gotta put your hands on the work. And yet all that was going on and yet there was a moment that I just got Just in the rearview mirror to look at traffic. And in that moment, I noticed Griffin, my youngest son. I just saw him and he was sound asleep in his car seat but it's like time just stopped. I mean, I looked at him and I thought, What a beautiful kid. We were told we may not have more children and there he is our miracle boy.
And even in this glance, I noticed details. I noticed how long his eyelashes were. And then I heard Spencer, my oldest son, playing in the seat behind me. He had gotten Little Star Wars action figures for Easter and he was having the grandest lightsaber battle in the universe. And I just thought, "Wow, what a beautiful kid!" You know, I felt the joy of my children.
And then I looked over at Tamara, who had also reclined her seat back and she was sound asleep but she was still holding on to my hand. And had this profound moment of gratitude. I thought, "Wow, we're 10 years into a marriage, two beautiful sons, we're pursuing our careers, and she's still holding my hand." I mean, she did when I had two extra bucks and took her to $1 movie in college, you know.
Anyway, there was this profound moment of gratitude. Just like, "Wow, look at what I'm surrounded with. How do I deserve this?" And it was an hour after that that it all came apart. There was reports of crosswinds. There was reports of a red pickup truck driving radically on the interstate.
I think, and this may be the toughest part of the story, I believe I may have just dozed off just for a second. I mean, we've been up late doing Easter stuff and with family and games and talking and you're working those 14 and 16-hour days as a man just trying to make it.
Anyway, I may have dozed off, Eric. I believe I may have just nodded off and then swerved to the right, overcorrected to the left, and I lost control of the car, and then the car began to roll, not off the road, but down the road at 75 miles per hour. And it was a horrible accident.
The reports say it probably rolled no less than six or eight times at that high speed. I blacked out for most of that. But when the car came to a stop, I was completely conscious. The first thing I heard was Spencer. My seven-year-old crying hysterically in the back seat. And as a father, I thought, "I gotta get to him. I gotta get to my boy," you know?
Eric Huffman: Right.
Jeff Olsen: But that's when I realized I couldn't move. I was pinned. I couldn't tell if it was the seat or the floorboard. There was a rancid smell of gasoline, all the broken glass. I was unaware of my injuries. What had actually happened is both of my legs had been crushed and shattered. In fact, the left leg was eventually amputated above the knee.
Eric Huffman: Wow.
Jeff Olsen: My back had been broken in two places. But ironically, the spinal column had not been damaged or severed, and it just cracked the vertebrae. My ribcage was damaged, my lungs were collapsing. My right arm had almost been torn off. And then the seatbelt had cut through and ruptured on my insides. I was a mess.
And I wasn't aware of that. All I knew was, "My son's crying. I've got to get to my boy." But that's when I became aware in a horrible way that no one else was crying. And I knew at the scene of the accident that both Tamara and Griffin were gone. They were killed instantly in the crash. That's the darkest hell I've ever been in, a man could ever be in.
I mean, here I was helpless, I can't move, I've got a hysterical seven-year-old, half the family is gone, and I was driving the car. You know, I just kept thinking, "Can't I get those three seconds back? What happened? What happened?"
Eric Huffman: How long did you have to sit there like that before someone came to help?
Jeff Olsen: Well, it was interesting because I was losing consciousness and I attempted to comfort my seven-year-old.
Eric Huffman: Were you able to talk to him?
Jeff Olsen: I spoke but all I could say and he still remembers this now, he's 31, I said, "It's going to be okay." And I thought, "That's a lie. This is not okay."
Eric Huffman: Yeah, just what you said.
Jeff Olsen: He remembers it in a much different way. He's like, "Dad told me it would be okay and that got me through." Now, at that point, I blacked out, and then I felt light come. I mean light. It was tangible light came and surrounded me and it felt as if it was comforting me in this horrible, horrible moment. And it felt like I was rising above or rising above the trauma, the accident scene. Literally like I was ascending above it.
And then in that light, Tamara, my wife who I knew was deceased at the scene, and I don't share this to be morbid or graphic but because she had reclined her seat back, the seatbelt had not restrained her properly and she had suffered severe head trauma. That's what took her life.
But in this light, and I was aware of that at the accident, and yet in this light, she was gorgeous, she was perfect. There was no trauma. She was beautiful, she was angelic. But she was emphatic with me, "You got to go back. You've got to go back. You can't stay here. You've got to go back."
Eric Huffman: Verbally speaking to you?
Jeff Olsen: Verbally. She's verbally speaking to me. In fact, it was so physical. I know that sounds odd, but it was physical beyond physicality. Like I could taste her tears. And she was emotional. She was hitting my chest, "You got to go back. You got to go back."
We literally had a conversation where if I stayed with her our little boy would be orphaned. And I knew Griffin, our youngest, had passed. He was not there in this instant. But we had a conversation, we made the choice that I would come back. I mean, I gave my word, "I'll go raise our boy." Oddly enough, I was comforting her, I said the most profound goodbye I'll ever say. And then we made a choice and I made a choice to come back.
And that's when it got really interesting because as I made that choice and said this profound goodbye, suddenly, I'm moving about a hospital and I'm seeing the doctors, the patients, the nurses, the families of patients.
Now, I have no concept of time in this bubble of light. I later found out that yes, people arrived at the scene of the accident, emergency services were called, they were able to get Spencer out of the car, my seven year old and he was banged up pretty good. He had bruised his ribs and his wrist was cracked but he physically walked away from the accident. Emotionally, he thought the whole family was gone.
They had to extricate me from the car and because of my injuries, they had to lifeflight me or airlift me to the nearest level-one trauma center. I had no idea of any of that. I knew I had crashed the car, I had said the most profound goodbye I'd ever say, and here I was moving about the hospital, encountering the doctors, the patients.
As I saw them, as I saw them, and it's almost like I could see everything, I was aware of everything. I knew them. I mean, I knew their love, their joy, their hate, their challenges, their motivations. I knew them. It was almost as if I knew them like I knew myself. They were me and I was them. There was a profound oneness.
Eric Huffman: Were they seeing you?
Jeff Olsen: No. No. I mean, and this is just a brief moment in it. Like a nurse passed by me and she was completely unaware of me. But as she passed, I was acutely aware of her. I knew. I felt as if it was my own experience. I felt the physical, emotional, and sexual abuse that she had experienced as a child. Now how is that in a moment?
But in that same instant, I saw her magnificence. Wow, look at what she's doing. She's here healing and serving. I mean, everyone I saw it didn't matter. The heroin addict to the saintly grandmother, I saw their magnificence. I felt their hearts. I knew them and they were part of me.
In fact, a biblical verse came to me, one I knew very well. It's the famous verse where Jesus said, In as much as you've done it unto the least of one of these, you've done it unto me. And I used to believe that was a nice verse about being nice. In this experience, there was a connection, there was a deeper knowing to what Jesus was saying there. I mean, they were me, I was them. And I realized what He was saying is I am the beggar in the street, I am the man in prison, I am the stranger that's just looking for acceptance.
Eric Huffman: Wow.
Jeff Olsen: I call it the oneness. I was them, they were me, and we were connected, and there was nothing but profound love.
Eric Huffman: Had you ever experienced anything like that before this traumatic event?
Jeff Olsen: No, no. I mean, in fact, I was probably judgmental. I mean, I was kind, I was fair, but I was probably judgmental.
Eric Huffman: Just like the rest of us, right? It's like-
Jeff Olsen: Yeah. I'm glad I got what I got. I'm glad that I'm right. You know, I'm glad that I know and they don't. You know, I was grateful but I was probably judgmental at the same time. And in this experience, all of that was disrupted, it was turned inside out and upside down. It shifted me forever.
Eric Huffman: So at that point, just to make sure our listeners are with us, you're having something like an out-of-body experience. So they're not seeing you, you're floating around the hospital.
Jeff Olsen: Yeah.
Eric Huffman: Did that strike you as odd that you were not embodied?
Jeff Olsen: Well, I was so caught up in the experience. What actually happened is then I came up on a body or a man laying on a gurney that I didn't feel anything from, which was really odd, given the connection I was experiencing with everyone I saw. So I stepped closer and looked, and that's when I realized, that's when the reality really hit that's me. I'm out of the body. But that was not me. That was my body.
And there was such a sadness looking at my body. And I now refer to it as my temple. I'm like, wow, I took it for granted. I didn't realize. I don't have to remind my heart to beat or tell my lungs to breathe or teach my ears to hear. I mean, I was aware of the miracle that our bodies are and yet mine was so broken.
And I knew I'd got to get back in. I gave my word. I told Tamara I'm raising our boy. I didn't have to figure out how to get back in. I just chose to get back in the body, but then boom, back in the body to the pain, to the grief, to the regret, to the trauma.
Eric Huffman: How do you respond to people that would say that that was not a real experience that you had, that it was...?
Jeff Olsen: There's a lot of skeptics. Here's the thing. I've had people say, "Well, the oxygen was cut off to your brain. This was all a hallucination." And that's okay. But to me it was so real. And to go from that back into the body, the heaviness, the denseness, of physicality. All I can say is that was my experience. It was so real to me. In fact, it was more real than this. This is a weird dream. That was reality to me.
Eric Huffman: One of the most interesting parts of this to me is that you saw what you saw in other people, you saw this magnificence, as you say, and this oneness with everyone and saw their stories, and felt it. And then you go back to your own body, and you enter back into this struggle and it puts you into this crisis of faith. And I'm like, it would fit a narrative. But it would be a neater narrative if you had that experience and then you never doubted God again.
But you had that experience and then you went right back to real life and started doubting God again. Tell me about that and how that struggle with pain affected your faith.
Jeff Olsen: Well, okay, so I'm back in the body and I'm like, "Wow, that was weird but that was so real. And how can I be so conscious when apparently I'm unconscious?" But the why questions. You know, why God? If there's a loving God, how could you allow this to happen?
I was doing everything right. I mean, this was the thing that thoughts in my mind. I thought if I did everything right that I would be blessed. And I thought blessed meant protected. And I thought blessed meant financial security. I thought all these. There was a war in my head about God, about faith, about belief, and yet there was this undercurrent of "Yeah, but I had that experience. I was out of the body. What was that?"
Eric Huffman: Yeah. While you're at the hospital recovering?
Jeff Olsen: While I'm at hospital. And it's probably worth bringing up too because I was given a lot of morphine in the hospital, but this experience happened at the scene of the accident. The narcotic were administered. And the hospital was horrible. I was there for almost five months, I had 18 surgeries in all, trying to rebuild me and put me back together. I was on morphine and narcotics, and I had horrible infections, and I kept throwing pulmonary emboli or the blood clots that lodged in your lungs, I was in ICU and out to surgical recovery and back in ICU. And it was horrible.
Eric Huffman: Did you have any more of these supernatural encounters or drifting to the other side?
Jeff Olsen: I did. I would have these moments in the hospital when I would have that feeling again. A nurse or a doctor would come in and I would feel them in that way. But the most profound thing that happened was at the end of my hospital stay.
And when I say the end, I'm out of ICU, I'm out of surgical recovery. I was actually in the rehabilitation wing. I was only weeks away from going home. In fact, I think I was about 10 days from going home, and I was off of all the heavy narcotics.
They were attempting to teach me how to dress my... My right arm was in a sling, they were trying to do stuff to get the nerves to regenerate and get use of my right arm. My left leg was locked off or amputated above the knee, my right leg was in a brace, you know, so holding it straight out. I had a colostomy bag because of all the abdominal injuries. And so they were trying to teach me how to care for myself with one working arm.
Eric Huffman: Wow.
Jeff Olsen: Long story short, in that instance, and because they had finally closed up the abdominal injuries and put the colostomy bag to take care of all that, I was able to sleep on my side. And on this one particular night, and I'm still so stuck in the grief... I mean, the physical stuff was intense, but nothing compared to the emotional grief of what had happened.
I rolled on my side and I fell into a deep sleep. And sleeping, I became aware of "Well, I'm sleeping." I mean, I've been unconscious and certainly I've gone to sleep, but this was a peaceful sleep. And then I felt that light come again. Just like at the accident scene, it swirled around me, it was comforting me, I felt as if I was rising above the hospital bed.
But in this experience, the light went away. It dispensed like fo... I've seen fog lift off a lake. It was like that. It's like the light slowly went away and I was in the most gorgeous, beautiful place. I mean, people say heaven or the other side or the spirit world. There's lots of terms. There's only one word that comes close to what I was experiencing. I was home. I was home. I mean, it felt so welcoming.
And in that thought, I had the knowing "you're not here to stay". And at that same moment, there was this corridor off to my left and I knew intuitively I'm to go this way. And I began to work my way down the corridor. And as I did at the end of the corridor was a crib.
Now Griffin, my little boy who passed in the accident, he was 14 months old. He was still sleeping in a crib at the time of the accident. So I rushed to this crib. And I looked in it and there was my little boy. And he was sleeping as peacefully as when I glanced in that rearview mirror literally. I saw him there sleeping and I could see that he was breathing and I noticed details. I noticed how long his eyelashes were and I whisked him up and I held him in my arms.
And when I say that the physical sensation... I don't know if you've ever picked up a sleeping child. But there's a weight and a heat to them. And I picked him up and I held him and he was solid against me. And I could feel him breathing. I could feel his breath on my neck. I even leaned over and I smelled his hair.
Eric Huffman: Nothing like it.
Jeff Olsen: I'm like, "This is my boy." I begin to weep. I'm crying. I'm holding my son, I'm weeping. And I felt this intense, powerful cosmic presence coming up behind me. And the presence is getting closer and closer as I'm holding my boy and just relishing the fact that I get to hold him. And then the guilt begin to bubble up.
I mean this presence was so powerful, I'm thinking, "That's God. That's God coming and I'm in so much trouble. I cut my son's life short because I lost control of the car he passed because I overcorrected. I mean, the guilt and the presence is coming closer and closer." I had this thought. My thought was, "Is there any way I can be forgiven."
And as I had that thought... This felt physical as well. As I'm holding my child, these divine arms wrapped around and just hold us. And that's when just the whole... It's like a lid came off and there was just this down pouring into me of love and connection and knowledge of... There are not words to describe what I experienced. But there was so much love. And I had the thought, "I hope I can be forgiven." The first message was, "There's nothing to forgive. Everything's in divine order."
Eric Huffman: That was the message?
Jeff Olsen: And I thought, "How can that be? Yeah, but how can that be? Half the family's gone? Am I dead? What's going on here? And then I began to see my life. I saw the divorce, I saw the insecurities, I saw how my brothers had shown up for me. I saw things where I thought, "Well, that was a mistake. Oh, I didn't mean to do that."
And this beautiful being who I called God, holding me said, "Well, what did you learn? What did you learn from it? How did it change you? And God, in this loving way, that there was words, but it was like nonverbal, powerful communication, He said, "You are as beloved, you are as perfect, you are as divine as that child you hold on to us."
And I'm looking at my boy thinking, "Wow, he is perfect. He is divine. He is beloved to me." And it was this multiplicity where God's saying, that's how we feel about all of you.
Eric Huffman: That's beautiful. Before we get too far down the line of what happened next, in the hospital, there was something that happened that I recall with the doctors and nurses confirming some of the supernatural experiences you were having in the hospital. Having seen what you were feeling, you know, in accessing the other side, what was that like and what did they say?
Jeff Olsen: I'm so glad you brought that up. Because you say, you know, skeptics would say, Well, gosh, it was all an illusion. It was infliction of your imagination. In fact, the attending ER physician in the level one trauma center I was flown into, and one of the nurses who were in the operating room, both of them... And they told me this later. As I was there, and I suppose as I'm saying goodbye to Tamara, they're saying hello, they both witnessed and say they saw my wife's spirit in the operating room.
And when they came and told me that I thought, "Wow, you mean I'm not crazy. They had an experience, too." I knew I wasn't crazy. I didn't need the validation. But it was so interesting that clinicians, strangers, I didn't know these people, came in and they said, "We felt compelled, we felt moved that we should share this with you." And the doc and I have become dear friends. I mean, we are friends to this day.
Eric Huffman: Wow.
Jeff Olsen: And I asked him, I said, "What was she communicating?" And he said, "She simply was sharing her gratitude for what we were doing to save your life." And I just burst into tears. I said, "That's exactly what she would do." And they had no idea that I'd made this deal, that I'd given my word. And yet for them to have that experience.
In fact, Dr. Raymond Moody, who studies out-of-body or near-death experiences and has for years, and he's a researcher, like he's a... I think he's got three PhDs in psychology and medicine and all these different things. He said that they weren't having a near-death experience, the oxygen wasn't cut off to their brain. And yet, they had this profound thing happen at the same time you are having. They now have termed it "a shared death experience".
Eric Huffman: Wow. That's cool. People often think of doctors and maybe nurses to a lesser degree being sort of cold and clinical in their approach. I've met so many medical professionals who are scientists by trade but are very open to the spiritual world because they've seen too much to deny it. I think it's fascinating that that happened to you. And another way that this experience, at least this part of the experience you had was a gift.
Jeff Olsen: Yeah, it was nice. Because I didn't talk about it, Eric. I didn't speak to people about it. I mean, the only people that knew what I was experiencing was my clo... I told my mother and my brother and I eventually told my other brother.
And then all of a sudden, when the doctor showed up, he became a safe place for me to talk because I thought, "Well, if he hadn't an experienced, I'm going to share with him what happened to me and if I'm crazy, he'll put me in the psych ward and get me the medical attention I deserve." And yet we became friends based on that, you know—on me talking and having a safe place to share.
Eric Huffman: Amazing! What did you do as you're getting released from the hospital? What did you do to start rebuilding your life and putting the pieces back together? Where was your son that whole time and kind of what did you do in the aftermath?
Jeff Olsen: Well, my son, he was staying with my younger brother and his wife. And both my brothers jumped in with their wives and just took him on as if he was one of their own. My parents were very supportive. I was so lucky. I had family. I had community. The guys at work would support me. They didn't fire me, you know. They held my job. I had a lot of support rebuilding.
I mean, I left the hospital in a wheelchair, with the colostomy bag and the leg lopped off. One of the big things was attempting to learn to walk again. I was eventually fitted with a prosthetic. My son Spencer at the tender age of seven, you know, he was such a hero to me. I mean, he would assist me. He was running and getting things around the house when we eventually got home. He was incredible.
But rebuilding, I had this huge motivation. It's like I gave my word: I gotta raise this boy, I got to do this. And that was my focus. I didn't date. I was incredibly lonely.
Eric Huffman: For how long did you not date?
Jeff Olsen: Here's the funny thing. I never dated. That's the crazy thing. I never really dated. And then I was at work one day and I had learned to walk, I had a cane. This was a year or so after the accident. I was still in grief. We were invited to go to this luncheon. I'm incredibly self-conscious about my body and the amputation-
Eric Huffman: Sure.
Jeff Olsen: ...and in comes this woman. And it was just like when Tamara walked in the room. This woman came in and there was a knowing. It's like a lightning bolt went off and boom, there she was. And oddly enough, in a room of about, I don't know, 50 people, the only seat open was the seat across from me.
Now she was moving away to Arizona. We were more like pen pals at first. We'd write emails and we talk on the phone and yet that turned into a friendship to a relationship to a courtship and we eventually got married.
Eric Huffman: Wow.
Jeff Olsen: But that was rebuilding. And then we adopted two boys. I don't call them my adopted boys. They're just my sons. They just came and we rebuilt this family. There's always challenges. I guess rebuilding is sometimes just getting from one breath to the next and then from one minute to the next, then one hour to the next, then one day to the next, and then one month to the next, and then one year to the next. But boy, have I been watched after I think!
Eric Huffman: How did Spencer adjust to having a new mommy and eventually a couple of new brothers?
Jeff Olsen: Spencer's incredible. And it's funny when this all first started happening, I had guilt about that. I thought, How can I possibly have feelings for another woman? What's wrong with me? I think I have a guilt complex, Eric, because I ended up at my wife's grave. Well, I'm in a fighting mood. I'm like, How dare you! You left me you know, you're in that beautiful place and I'm down here limping around attempting to raise our son.
And I'm like pouring my guts out at my wife's grave. And I know she's not in the grave but based on my experience, that was a place I could go and I needed to connect. And as I lamented, I swear she came to me and put her hands on my back. I felt them. I couldn't see her. And she communicated to me. And it was interesting what she said. She said, "My little boy deserves a mom."
Eric Huffman: Wow.
Jeff Olsen: And then she begged me. She said, "Please choose joy. Please choose joy." She said, "You can choose wherever you want but I'm held hostage in your grief and I am in a beautiful place but I'm watching you suffer. And I sent Tanya your way." So take a look at that. And of course, that propelled us into a more serious relationship and we eventually got married.
Spencer did great. He started calling her mom probably a week into the marriage. I mean, because he was involved in all the courtship and the dating-
Eric Huffman: Sure.
Jeff Olsen: Tanya knew she was taking us both on. It wasn't about me. It was about both of us. And she's an incredible woman. I remember overhearing a conversation they had very early on. In fact, we had a trampoline out in the back and I was up in the bedroom and she was laying on the trampoline with Spencer.
And she kind of put it like this to him. I don't know where she got this inspiration. But she said to him, "You are such a special boy and you're going to be such an incredible man." She said, "Me and your mom made a deal. We had a contract. She would get you for the first part of your life and I would get you for the rest of your life as you go into adolescence and as you become a man." And she said, "You were just too good not to share. So we both got to be mom."
Eric Huffman: Wow. That's perfect.
Jeff Olsen: So Spencer always said, "I got two moms. I got one up there and one here."
Eric Huffman: Wow.
Jeff Olsen: But his adolescence was tough because he never had an experience. You know, he didn't have an out-of-body profound experience. His mom died, his little brother died, his dad would never be the same. And when he grew up and got a little older, he was probably, I don't know, 19 or 20, he came to me and he's like, "Look, I don't get it. You speak of this higher power. You speak of God. You speak of these visions or these dreams or these out of body experiences." And he said, "I didn't get any of that, Dad."
He said, "I did this thing you called prayer. I begged God for 12 years just to see my mom." And he said, "I got nothing. I beat my knuckles bloody on that door, and it never opened." And he said, "So either you're full of it and lying and making it all up." I mean, he knows me better than that. Or he said, "If there's a higher power, it doesn't care about me because I begged and I got nothing."
That was a moment of truth and a dark night of the soul. That brought me to my knees. I went home that night and I begged. I said, "God, look, I'll give all up, I'll give it all away if you give him something." Here's the interesting thing.
And I don't profess to talk to God every way, every day. But the answer came very pure and profound. And I was asked, "Why are you judging your son? Why do you think your experience is better than his? Why do you think that what you got is more powerful than what he got? Stop judging your son. Don't you know I've got him?? I've got him. He's in good hands. And your job, dad, is to love him. Love him unconditionally. Do you not get that yet?" And anyway, it turned out beautifully.
Eric Huffman: Wait, did you go back to Spencer and share that with him?
Jeff Olsen: No. No.
Eric Huffman: What was your response to his sort of dark night of soul?
Jeff Olsen: It wouldn't have done any good for me to say, "I talked to God again." I just went back and told him how much I loved him, and how proud I was of him, and that I knew he's a magnificent man that will make magnificent decisions in his life. And he did.
You know, my job was to love him unconditionally and stop putting conditions on his experience. And he has become the most compassionate man I know. Well, in fact, we just wrote a book together, where called Where Are You?"
Eric Huffman: I'm holding it right here. Spencer's 31 now?
Jeff Olsen: Thirty-one, yeah.
Eric Huffman: And he teamed up with you, dear old dad, to write a book called Where Are You? Which is a great title, by the way, because it's multi-layered. I love multi-layered titles. But fathers and sons play games where we look for each other and say, Where are you? But I know this is about us and God too. Like, where are you God when we are...
Jeff Olsen: You get it. It's a simple book. You're a dad. You get it. Spencer even says it's introspective. Where are you? Meaning where am I?
Eric Huffman: Right.
Jeff Olsen: Where am and where am I going?
Eric Huffman: Where are you at? That's right. Now, since all of this has happened to you and the years since, have you still had some of the same experiences of the other world of the spiritual realm? Do you still see people like you did that day in the hospital? Do you still see everyone's sort of essence and magnificence?
Jeff Olsen: You know, Eric, I wish I did. And sometimes I do. You know, there was a profound moment actually. I was leaving work. This was years after I had remarried. Tanya was coming to get me from work, I'd taken the bus into the city and it was gonna be date night. We're gonna go have dinner. So she was coming to pick me up.
And I came out of the office and there was a homeless guy, you know, and he came up and started asking me for money. And I kind of said, "Hey, look, I gotta go on. My wife's waiting there." And it was that whisper. Something just said, "Look at him." And I looked at him right in his eyes. And suddenly he was my brother's... He was me. Had I not had the support that I had, that would have been me on the street corner strung out, wondering what happened in my life.
And then in a moment, forgive the tears, he was divine. There, I was looking at the master. It's like, wow, there's God right there. I threw my arms around him, I just held him and I began to weep. And he just hugged me back. Then we separated. And I'm sure my wife was thinking, "What is he doing?" But we just embraced.
And then I pulled back and looked at him again and he looked at me and suddenly, you know, I'd have given him everything in my wallet. He didn't need the money. He just wanted to be acknowledged. He wanted to be recognized. There's that verse that says, Beware of how you entertain strangers when you may be entertaining angels unaware. Well, maybe he was that-
Eric Huffman: Or maybe he's just made in God's image and image bearer, you know?
Jeff Olsen: Maybe we are created in God's image. But that was one instance where it took me by surprise. But it has happened but it's not an everyday occurrence and it's not everybody I run into.
Eric Huffman: I think a common theme and your story is just better listen to those whispers. Listen to the whispers. When you heard that whisper, like, "See him or look at him," that's something that I think most of us can relate to, just having that sort of feeling come over us that there's something more going on than what I thought I was up to today, and being willing to be interrupted by that.
Like Jesus was moved with compassion, like that word pops up a lot in the New Testament. We think about empathy and sympathy a lot. But Jesus was moved either by empathy or sympathy or not just those things. He was moved with compassion, which is a whole different concepts of entering into someone else's experience and suffer with. I think is what, literally what that word means, like to be with them in an intimate way and to be present in this world that's so divided and distracted. I think that's such a powerful thing.
There's so many questions I want to keep asking you because you've blown my mind today honestly and yet, we're probably getting close to the end of our time. But maybe next time we can talk about, you said it a few times what... You talked about feeling light. And I really am blown away by that concept of feeling light, because we think about seeing light, but you felt light. And I want to know more about that.
But let's end with this instead. I know there are people watching or listening that are dealing with their own sense of deep loss and grief. Maybe they haven't experienced a specific loss but they wrestle and struggle with, you know, just depression or they can't quite figure out what's going on and why they feel the way that they do. What's your advice for those dealing with certain situations like that?
Jeff Olsen: Wow, you know, if I had all the answers, I wouldn't give advice. But what I know, what I know is we are loved. We are loved beyond anything we can comprehend. And if there's any way to dip into that self-love, I mean, go to a time when you felt joy. If there's a way to just travel into that place... I like to go within in my heart and just ask the question.
For me, I used to pray eloquent prayers. Now I just listen. I just listen. You know, I may have a question but I shut my mouth and I listen. But know that you're loved. And know there's a purpose, even if it feels hopeless. It's the expansion of your soul. You get to take what you learn with you. And that's all. You don't get to take the car or the house or any of that but you get to take your wisdom.
The noble and great ones are the ones I think, Eric, that may struggle the most. They're homesick, you know, they know they're strangers in a strange land. But boy, God's watching. And the better angels of all of us can support us. And just keep breathing. Keep breathing.
Eric Huffman: Amen. Well, Jeff, you blessed us several years ago on Season 2 of the podcast, you've blessed us again today. Thank you for your courage and your willingness to continue to be inconvenienced by everybody, "Come tell your story. Come tell your story" for the 1,000th time. And you still do it. And it blesses so, so many. I pray you never stop telling that story that you have to tell.
Jeff Olsen: Well, you're kind Eric, and thank you. And it's been an honor. It's been an honor to be with you. If I can support you guys in any way, you let me know.
Eric Huffman: Well, thank you, brother. And if you're watching or listening online, I really encourage you to pick up either or both. Let's say not either or, but both and. Jeff's book called Knowing: Memoirs of a Journey Beyond the Veil and Choosing Joy After Tragic Loss and also this book that I'm holding here, Where Are You? by Jeff Olsen and his son Spencer Olsen, you can buy both those books wherever books are sold.
Thank you again, Jeff. And thank you to everybody who's tuning in. Y'all have a great day. Bye-bye.
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