Trapped under several feet of raging water, spinal surgeon Mary Neal struggles to free herself from her anchored kayak. But instead of panic, hunger for air, or fear, she felt… calm. As her body relaxed and her lungs filled with water, Dr. Neal prayed, God, your will be done. The next moment I hear my heart stop. And she started a new life. Here, Mary Neal shares her harrowing near-death experience and describes the view of heaven that filled her with joy and carried her through the most devastating moment of her life. womensworld.com .

An unimaginable tragedy

dr. Mary Neal pressed the phone firmly to her ear as the world began to spin agonizingly around her. Willie , my sweet boy…he was hit by a car…he is dead.

On June 21, 2009, Dr. Neal called her soon-to-be 18-year-old son to tell him the happy news that she had completed the final draft of her first book. They should have been laughing, celebrating and having a joyous moment together, but instead, she was told that a tragic accident had taken Willie’s life.

As her happiness was replaced by unspeakable sadness, she realized that she would never see her son’s bright smile or hear his sweet voice again. She would never be able to hug him again or say “I love you” for the last time.

dr.  Neal and her son Willie
dr. Neal and her son Willie

But despite her deep, soul-shattering grief, Dr. Neal felt a small ray of light break through the pain and darkness. She knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that Willie was in heaven—where there was no pain…only pure love and immense joy.

She knew this with complete conviction because 10 years ago, Dr. Neal said she had traveled to heaven herself.

Dr. Mary Neal describes her experience underwater

Namely, one sunny day in January 1999, Dr. Neal went kayaking with friends on the Fuy River in a remote area of ​​Chile. Shortly after paddling into the fast-moving rapids, her kayak veered off course, crashed over a steep waterfall, and became stuck under a rock.

Trapped under eight feet of raging water, Dr. Neal struggled to free herself, but the weight of the falls was too much and she soon realized… she was going to drown.

“I’ve always loved the water, but I thought drowning would be one of the most horrible ways to die — that I’d be filled with panic, starving for air and struggling,” testified Dr. Neal. “Maybe it was my training as a surgeon, but on the contrary, I felt incredibly calm.”

When Dr. Neal realized she wasn’t going to survive, she simply prayed, God, let your will be done. “I said the Lord’s Prayer hundreds of times, but for the first time in my life I meant every word seriously,” she admits. “I was not a religious fanatic. I went to meetings on Sundays. I could say: ‘Yes, I believe in God.’ But I had a good life, and honestly, I didn’t think I needed God. But in that moment I made a conscious decision to say, ‘God, I’m yours…regardless of the outcome.’

Just as Dr. Neal said that prayer, she recalls feeling an incredible sense of peace. “I felt like God was holding me,” she says. “It was like holding a newborn and just pouring all your love and hopes and dreams and your very being into that little person — I was like a baby! I felt so clean and completely known, loved and appreciated.”

Review of life

In her near-death experience, Mary Neal then recalls being shown an “overview” of her life. “It was the most life-changing part of this whole experience because not only would I be reliving an event from my life in real time, but I would be reliving it from the perspective of everyone else involved,” she describes.

“It gave me such deep compassion and a new understanding of grace because if there was a moment before when I felt resentment or anger, it all disappeared when I realized what pain or suffering brought these people to that point in time,” recalls Dr. Neal. “I felt exactly what they were going through.”

In reviewing her life, Dr. Neal says she was still aware of her physical body. “I could still feel the pressure of the water, the plastic of my kayak,” she says. “I was never conscious and then unconscious – I was conscious and then conscious again. I believe that the spirit world and our world are the same. It’s simply a matter of perspective. A different dimension.”

She remembers a sudden sense of lightness as her spirit left her body and she floated above the river watching as her friends frantically pulled her to shore.

“I heard my friends begging me to breathe, and that’s when I thought for the first time: “Well, I guess I’m dead!”

But as she watched them perform the revival, she says 15 glowing beings appeared beside her. “They were overjoyed to see me,” she recalls. “They were there to welcome me and were overwhelmed with love, not only for me but also pure love for God. They invited me to follow them… and I did.”

What does heaven look like?

dr. Neal recalls walking through the woods, surrounded by a group of “radiant souls” and being amazed by her heightened senses. She saw breathtaking colors and smelled the amazing scents of flowers and trees.

“Everything was all colors at once, like the aurora borealis,” describes Dr. Neal.

She then recalls arriving at the threshold of a magnificent domed building where hundreds of thousands of other souls greeted her arrival. “It was as if the building was built with the fibers of love and it was so radiant, so inviting and beautiful. It was beautiful. All I wanted was to be there. But as all that awe-inspiring love flowed through me, my angels, I think, told me it wasn’t my time.”

They told her about the death of her son

dr. Neal wasn’t going to come back. “I had a wonderful life,” she says, “ but even the love of my children, which is the most intense love I can imagine, paled in comparison to the intensity of the presence of God’s love. 

But she says the radiant souls insisted she still had work to do on Earth and warned her that painful trouble was coming—that her then 8-year-old son, Willie, would die before he came of age. Moments later, she awoke on the bank of the river in her body.

Long road to recovery Dr. Neal

dr. Neal was in the hospital for several weeks and had multiple surgeries to fix her two broken legs. As her body recovered, she says her spirit struggled to adjust to the physical world. “I didn’t feel like I was here or there for a week,” says Mary Neal. “I didn’t tell anyone about my near-death experience because I was still figuring it out. I had one foot in God’s world and one foot in ours.”

dr. Neal also grappled with the warning she received… that she was going to lose her son, Willie.

“It wasn’t really a complete surprise because when Willie was just 4 years old, he said he would never be 18,” says Dr. Neal. “He would say, ‘But mom, that’s the plan.’

Mary Neal soon recovered and returned to her life, and eventually began writing her memoir, To Heaven and Back , about her near-death experience. As Willie neared his 18th birthday, the loving mom hoped God’s plan had changed…but on that fateful day in June, she discovered it hadn’t.

“When I lost Willie, I was as devastated as a mother can be. I still love Willie more than I could ever imagine loving anyone. I would still give my life to spend one more day with him.”

dr. Neal continues, “But I will also say that on my saddest day, I am still filled with joy. Joy and happiness are two very different things. Joy surpasses all. Because of my experience in heaven, I fully believe that God’s promises are true. It is trust in God that allows us to overcome our suffering and go through the pain.”

Dr. Mary Neal has found a new purpose

Today, Dr. Neal continues to embrace all that she learned from her experience in heaven and has spoken with thousands of others who have had similar near-death experiences.

They have one thing in common: “I know for sure that heaven is real. That God has a plan of hope, grace and beauty for each of us, and I believe that my son’s life and his death were part of God’s plan,” says Dr. Neal.

“I know for a fact that death is not to be feared, and I believe that Willie will be the first to greet me by saying, ‘It took you a long time.’ Most of all, I know for sure that God loves us infinitely and that there is an eternity of joy and peace that we can look forward to.”