My cousin David runs a large dairy farm in Fruita, Colo. He and his wife, Mary, have six children.

Davey, their second youngest, was only 5 when he was injured in an accident on New Year's Eve, 1984. Whether the shotgun fell off the bed or was jarred when his brother jumped up to get something out of the closet will never be known. But from three feet away, Davey took the full force of the blast in his lower back.By the time they reached St. Mary's Hospital in Grand Junction, Davey had no heartbeat. He had slipped into a coma, and chances for survival were minimal. A team of doctors worked long into the night stabilizing him the best they could before flying him to Primary Children's Medical Center in Salt Lake City. At one point they gave up hope and began removing the clamps and tubes supporting him. They were shocked, however, when he gave out a few gasps. There was a sudden return of cardiac rhythm and blood pressure, and they were able to keep him going.

Later, when Davey was being wheeled into the operating room for more surgery at Primary Children's Medical Center, he whispered to his mother, who was walking beside him, "Momma, if I go back in there, will I die again?"

Shocked by his words, she answered, "No, you're here now. You're OK."

Insistent, he continued, "I saw the nurse look in my eye with a flashlight when I died."

Mary said no more about it but mentioned it to David. Later, when Davey was in recovery, David asked him about what he meant when he told his mother he had died. Davey told his father that he saw the doctors and nurses working on someone, and then proceeded to describe the procedures of the operating staff that had worked on him at St. Mary's.

Then he said someone was with him, that they left the operating room together and went to a place where he saw his mother and father crying.

"Why are they crying?" he asked.

The person with him said, "Because of what happened to you."

At that point, feeling the sorrow of his parents, he decided to come back.

When I talked to my Uncle DeVar, Davey's grandfather, he told me that Davey's near-death experience was very special to the family. Mary stayed with Uncle DeVar and Aunt Muriel in Draper for several weeks while Davey was in the hospital. They never made a big deal out of what he told them. But they didn't dismiss it either.

Uncle DeVar told me that whenever Davey would try to describe his experience, you could see the frustration in his face. It was difficult for him to explain in words how he felt.

For the first year or so after the accident, he was very sensitive to discord. It upset him whenever people would speak harshly to one another. It didn't just bother him, it bothered him a lot.

For several years he got around in a wheelchair and by scooting himself along on the floor. Recently he has begun using braces, and though they are less comfortable, he persists and has an extraordinary sense of independence. He gets around the farm on his four-wheeler and last year raised three prize pigs as his 4-H project.

I tell Davey's story because of the power it carries for those of us who wonder.

Some people are very secure in a knowledge of a life after death. I am not one of the secure. I remember as a small child on Grandpa's farm standing on the bridge that spanned the ditch between our house and the barn and looking down into the water, which was a great mystery to me.

Where did it come from? And where did it go?

Though I was too young to realize it then, I recognize now that I was really wondering about myself and what would happen to me.

Such thoughts strike all of us from time to time, so deeply that many people never discuss them. To others, they are a sensitive, daily question rising with them every morning and persisting into the night, when distant stars bear constant witness of our kinship to eternity.

Because of my skepticism, I have always been intrigued with near-death experiences. They offer a hope of continuance I find nowhere else. In their innocent integrity, they suggest a more tangible logic for a life beyond this than all of the arguments of people who say they know there is a life after death because it feels right to them.

It feels right to me too. Even so, I wonder. But inrecent years, I have accepted my own sense of uncertainty.

Death is never more than a breath away from any of us. Yet, we ignore its reality as if it were something we could ignore.

I envy Davey in a way; he may well have experienced a reality that we all will experience at some time in our "life." Beyond death's mystery, the wondrous secret of our continuance awaits individual passage. To have stepped beyond, as Davey may have, and then stepped back again, may give a vision of reality much deeper than most of us ever experience in life.