Answering a Heart Call

Dying Can Really Change a Man’s Life  (with Melody of Life Lyrics)

By: Jonna Rae Bartges


For musician-singer-songwriter-Reiki Master, healer, and soul path counselor Jay Aílan Whitham, it meant standing at a holiday party one moment, and sprawling face down on the floor, his heart not beating, the next.


This was a party Jay and his wife Wendy Nethersole almost didn’t attend.


Had they decided not to travel from their Gerton mountaintop home to a friend’s place in Maggie Valley, when Jay’s heart screeched to a stop that would have been his final appearance in this world.


As fate would have it, they did make the trip – and two of the other guests, Laurie Lunn and Tammy Koch, just happened to be CPR certified.  The women, or as Jay and Wendy lovingly refer to them, “Jay’s angels,” immediately sprang into action while another guest pounded out 9-1-1 on a cell phone with a trembling finger.  Wendy knelt by Jay’s side, too shocked yet to cry.


While this frantic drama was playing out on the earthly plane, the experience Jay was having on a spiritual level was one of otherworldly beauty and grace.  He knelt in awe, mesmerized by a huge sphere suspended in front of him.  The gigantic ball was black, but not in a ‘nothingness void’ sense.  Rather, it was pulsing with the sheer energy and force of divine creation.  It glowed with life and promise, and was so vast Jay could only observe a fraction of its immensity.  A corona of brilliant flame edged the ebony sphere.


As he observed the magnificent vision unfolding in front of him, Jay knew he was literally watching the creation of The New Earth – the higher consciousness version of our current planet.


“I was given a choice,” Jay said. “The vision of The New Earth I was seeing while I was no longer in my physical body represented the energy that our world is shifting into.  I had the choice to be part of this transition either in spirit or in the physical body.”


As glorious as it would have been to simply float into the sacred center of this glowing, radiating sphere, Jay felt Wendy’s heart call out to him and heard her voice asking him to come back to her.


“It wasn’t a demanding thing on her part – it was a longing, a heart and soul longing for me to stay on Earth with her,” Jay recalled.  “I love my wife beyond anything words can express and I feel so blessed that I was given the choice and the chance to stay here with her.” Once he decided to stay, the vision gently faded away.


By the time the paramedics arrived 15 minutes later, Jay’s Earth angels had coaxed his heart into beating again and kept oxygen going to his brain.  Their quick action saved his life, the paramedics told them, and they whisked Jay off to Haywood County’s MedWest Hospital.  “The first thing I remember after the attack,” he said, “was sitting bolt upright in the ambulance and asking what had happened.”


A few days later he was transported to Mission Hospital’s nationally recognized Heart Tower in Asheville. After extensive tests, Jay’s cardiologist, Dr. William Abernethy, determined that Jay didn’t need surgery – but he did need to commit to some significant lifestyle changes. Dr. Abernethy told Jay that only 15% of people who have this type of attack survive it and only 1% of those people survive with no brain damage. He is in that 1%.


In the weeks and months since that December 17 visit to the other side, Jay’s been working, with Wendy’s constant help, to balance the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual impact of the experience.


“My heart attack and subsequent cardiac arrest, and the death and rebirth it caused, changed just about everything in my life in some way,” Jay said. “Literally, every experience that I have, every day, feels different – brilliant and new.  I’m constantly reminded of how important and necessary it is to be present in every moment of my life; to enjoy the beauty and not to ‘sweat the small stuff’ – it is just not important. Even though it’s been challenging, it’s been an amazing blessing in every respect.”


On the physical level, Jay’s been coaxing a body used to his gourmet cooking to develop a taste for vegetarian and vegan cuisine.  Steaks, sausages and lamb chops have yielded to refrigerator bins bursting with kale, broccoli, cabbage, tomatoes, tofu and tempeh. Homegrown herbs and flavored vinegars replace butter and rich sauces to creatively flavor Chef Jay’s succulent dishes.


He and Wendy have a daily date with exercise – whether it’s the Mission Heart Path workout, a brisk walk, or several hours working in their garden and keeping the forest from swallowing their homestead.  Because of these commitments to both diet and exercise, Jay’s friends are consistently seeing less of him – quite literally.  He’s slowly and healthfully shedding pounds at a steady rate.


On the mental level, Jay has been surfing some tangled emotions that sometimes result in symptoms consistent with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).


“I’ve researched this,” said Jay.  “When the physical body feels threatened with death, PTSD is a natural response and can trigger anxiety attacks that can be quite debilitating. That’s why it is so common in war veterans.”


By making a conscious decision to live his life more ‘in the moment,’ Jay’s freed himself of the all-too-common trap of staying hobbled to the past, or worrying about the future. “Mindfully being ‘here, now’ has made me so grateful just to be alive,” Jay said. “I’m content to just breathe it all in.”


Spiritually, Jay has empowered himself to let go of 62 years worth of accumulated baggage.  “This release has allowed me to experience more intimacy, deeper love, and more openness.  My great appreciation of being here helps me prioritize.  I sleep better than I have in years, and my meditations are more animated, with brighter colors and more profound meaning. I’ve gotten so much more joyful – my sense of humor remained intact.”


Even before his not-of-this-world adventure, Jay was committed to being of service and creating beauty, particularly music. He writes songs and performs in the area and plays in the band at Jubilee! in Asheville each Sunday. Last year Jay was inspired to write a song celebrating a young Jubilant, then five-year-old Shayla Garrett, who, in the middle of her own fight to survive the recurrence of a deadly childhood cancer she had been battling since age three, launched a campaign along with her older sister, Savannah, to buy coats for the homeless.  (To see our original story about Shayla’s valiant approach to her cancer, go to


Shayla and Savannah had learned about the Japanese legend of 1,000 paper cranes. According to the legend, if you receive 1,000 paper cranes, anything you wish for will come true. Shayla and her sister were wishing for Shayla to be cancer free. The girls held an event at the White Horse in Black Mountain, an incubator for noteworthy musicians and community oriented benefits, where guests bought a sheet of paper, and folded it into an origami crane.  More than $1000 went to the coat campaign and the thousand plus paper cranes went to Shayla.


“I was just amazed at the consciousness of this five-year-old and her 10-year-old sister,” Jay said, tears welling in his brown eyes.  “The clinical trial Shayla was starting might or might not work, but instead of fixating on her illness, she wanted to use her situation to help others.” The most beautiful part of the story is that within a few months of this event Shayla was again cancer free. She continues to receive treatment and remains free of the disease at this time.


The emotional impact of Shayla’s youthful generosity of spirit inspired Jay to write the song, “A Thousand Paper Cranes.” He and musician friends plan to record the song in the next few weeks and, with the assistance of Asheville film maker Donna Ensor, Jay is producing a short video film around the song inspired by Shayla. Money raised from the sale of the video will, per Shayla’s request, go not only to help her family, but to help raise national awareness about childhood cancer and its impact on children and their families.


Jay’s December personal victory over death has made this project he launched to honor Shayla that much more significant.


Besides pushing ahead with his performing schedule and recording “A Thousand Paper Cranes,” Jay is composing an entire CD about his December rebirth experience that will be called “Conscious Heart.”  He shares the lyrics to one of the songs from the CD, “The Melody of Life,” at the end of this interview.


When asked if he had any particular words of advice to offer in the wake of his near-death experience, Jay didn’t hesitate to respond.


“Love everyone you care about with a fierce but gentle passion, and let them know how you feel,” he said with emotion.  “Let yourself be truly present in your life.  We assume we’re always going to have another hour or another day or another chance to say the things that remain unsaid and do the things left undone. I now know, sometimes, we don’t.”




Jay and Wendy are the founders of the Anam Cara Foundation. Find out more about their spiritual work at And Jay is on FB at Jay Ailan Whitham.






Jonna Rae Bartges, Emmy winning producer, speaker and minister, is the author of Psychic or Psychotic? Memoirs of a Happy Medium. She is the founder of PSI, Practical Spirituality Institute, the happy medium between the worlds of science and spirit. PSI offers Reiki training and healing for the body; psychic consultations for the mind and intuitive development workshops for the spirit.  To register for her next workshops June 2 in Seattle, WA, June 17 in Johnson City, TN or July 7 & 8 in Asheville, NC, call her at (828) 337-4017 or visit her website at



The first rays of light call an end to the night                         As awareness drifts in on the tide

The heartbeat of living tones rings in my ear                        As I lie midst the sound of my life

The breath that I’m drawing is a sign from above              That a new day is offered in grace and in love

As the soul floats back in from its nocturnal spin                With prizes, adventures, and fun


It’s the beauty of a flower                                         It’s the colors in the sky

It’s the laughter of a baby                                        It’s the joy that makes us cry

It’s the song that makes our soul sing                  It’s the sound of wind and rain

It’s the smile that plays our heartstrings             It’s the times we feel our pain

It’s the breath of delight                                           It’s the fancy of flight

It’s our consciousness coming alive

It’s the magical mystical                                          Heartbreakingly beautiful

Melody of life

I sing you to me with the song of my heart    To the sweetness and sharing of which we are part

I sing you to beauty and joy in that place       Where we dance to the beat of the stars

Let us si – I – ing         Our song bright and clear      Let us sing it out loudly as if no one can hear

Let its soothing refrain heal our hurt and our pain    And remind us there is nothing to fear



It’s the breath of delight   It’s the fancy of flight

It’s our consciousness coming alive

It’s the magical mystical   Heartbreakingly beautiful

Melody of life

Sandi Tomlin-Sutker
Written by Sandi Tomlin-Sutker