by Kajsa Nickels
In 1999, while kayaking on the Fuy River in Chile, orthopedic surgeon Mary Neal became trapped beneath a waterfall and drowned. She was underwater for 30 minutes before the current pulled her out. During that time, Neal experienced what she believes to be a miraculous event in which she penetrated the veil dividing the physical and spiritual worlds. There, she was told that it was not yet her time, and of the future death of her eldest son, a prediction that was fulfilled 10 years later. The experience gave her a new perspective on the purpose of our Earthly existence and life after death.
She has since written two books on the subject: To Heaven and Back: A Doctor’s Extraordinary Account of Her Death, Heaven, Angels and Life Again; and 7 Lessons from Heaven: How Dying Taught Me to Live a Joy-Filled Life. Her life-altering experience prompted her to pay more attention to those things that are truly important: faith, family and relationships with other human beings. She lives with her family in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where she continues to mend broken bones.
How do you think your medical background makes you uniquely qualified to speak on near-death experiences (NDE)?
I am a very concrete thinker and analyze everything. Being a doctor also gave me access to many resources that the common person would not. I spent many months researching scientific and medical literature to try to come up with a logical explanation of what had happened to me. I was forced to conclude that my experience fell outside of the parameters of both science and medicine. I could not find any examples to disprove what happened, especially when the predicted death of my oldest son came to pass.
What was the most profound moment of your experience?
It’s hard to pinpoint the most profound moment of the entire experience, but what impacted me most was the realization that God is real, and He is present to each and every one of us every moment of our daily lives. I realized to the depths of my soul that all God’s promises are true, not just wishful thinking or a vague hope.
How has your NDE made you a better wife, mother and medical professional?
You can’t have an NDE without having your entire life changed. When you realize that there is more to life than what you can see with your physical eyes, it changes your entire perspective on every moment of every day. The things we say and the things we do create a ripple effect that spreads beyond the boundaries of our human sight. Love is ultimately the only thing that matters, to reflect love to the world and other people. I was a “good person” before my NDE, but I now see differently. I see that each human being is incredibly loved, and that we are all one: We are them, and they are us. Everything else in the world is secondary to God’s love and presence in our lives.
How is your approach to everyday life different than it was prior to your NDE?
I am able to be entirely present in every moment of my life. I can experience deep and abiding joy regardless of my circumstances. I am able to trust that grace covers my past, that there is life after death and a plan for my life. No matter what is happening, even if it is terrible, beauty will come out of it. Most people are trapped in regrets of the past and worry about the future. With complete trust in God, I am able to fully have joy in each and every moment.
Is there a difference between joy and happiness?
Absolutely. Happiness is an emotion based on circumstances. Happiness can accompany joy, but not always. Joy is a state of being, of trusting in God, of believing that his promises are true. Joy comes from freedom—freedom from disruptive emotions like guilt, remorse, unforgiveness. Even in the devastation of my oldest son’s death, I can honestly say that I experienced a deep joy from trusting in God’s love and promises.
Why do you believe heaven is written in our hearts?
As a scientist, I firmly believe that we are created beings with physical bodies and spiritual souls. I believe that our spiritual self remembers heaven and remembers joy. Part of our journey here on Earth is to rediscover our connection with God. As adults, we often feel that we have to choose between science and spiritualism. The truth is that they coexist, answering questions in different ways. Kajsa Nickels is a freelance author who lives in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Connect at [email protected]