Can Leaving the Body Behind Be Joyful?

Ruth Ann S-W - 1 - for blog

In this story, the writer gives us another perspective on the concept of Soul as an eternal being. This viewpoint asserts that we are not primarily physical beings who have Souls; rather, we are Souls who have physical bodies. And, not only that, says RuthAnn in this story: When death is inevitable, Souls will sometimes leave their bodies behind before the final physical processes have finished.

by RuthAnn Schallert-Wygal

 As I entered the dimly lit room with my nursing equipment, I found a frail elderly woman, unresponsive and partially curled into a fetal position. There was no sign that she was aware of my presence, so I took her vital signs and found them all within normal parameters. Then, I began to gently wash her face and hands as part of the evening bed prep. I felt tender compassion for this Soul who seemed trapped in a body she could not move; probably she was unable to speak either.

I had been employed as a nursing aide at this care facility for several months. This was back in the mid-1970’s when hospice care was unknown in most parts of the US; and, in homes like this one, we did the best we could to make our dying patients comfortable. It was a demanding job, but I enjoyed interacting with the mostly-elderly patients. It was rather like having forty grandparents to assist me with the tasks of daily living. I had always thought it wise to learn from other’s successes and missteps. I was fascinated to hear stories of their youths, and the troubles or joys they had encountered throughout their lives.

My usual assignment was on the first floor, where many of the patients were alert and oriented, with chronic but not rapidly progressing illnesses. Due to a staff shortage on this particular evening, I was sent to the second floor, where I was unfamiliar with most of the residents. Many of them were severely impaired, close to dying, or in coma.

As part of the normal evening routine, I entered the room of this elderly woman. Suddenly, I became aware of a feeling of great intensity. It seemed as if a powerful spotlight was bathing the bed in bright golden light although, outwardly, the room remained dim. I knew something very significant was about to happen.

Next, there was a sense of eruptive movement, and with my inner senses, I perceived this Soul leaping out of her body in a great exclamation of joy and relief. I had just a quick glimpse of a bright, sparkling being before she zoomed rapidly upward and vanished from my perception. I was awestruck. I knew I had just witnessed a Soul leaving her body.

Nonetheless, the woman’s physical body continued to breathe shallowly, just as before. There was no outer evidence of her departure. I continued the bed bath routine, yet I had been transformed by the experience and filled with Divine Spirit. I was exquisitely aware of being Soul operating a physical body, rather than being a person who “had” a Soul.

As I gently tucked in the patient’s blankets and turned to leave her—still physically alive—another aide entered the room and cried out in dismay before hurrying to summon help from the nurse on duty. I later learned that this patient (let’s call her Joy) was normally alert and much beloved by the staff. Although death was a common event that staff usually took in stride, Joy must have touched many hearts deeply, because her regular care givers were very distressed. They grieved openly when her physical form shut down completely a few hours later.

For my part, I tactfully removed myself to the other wing of the building where I continued my work. I had experienced such incredible awe and joy at the moment of this woman’s transition into the heavenly worlds that I did not want my happiness for her to offend the other staff who were grieving so deeply. With quiet wonder, I treasured this experience in my heart.

This was my first personal experience of the reality that Soul can leave the body before physical death. I wondered whether my loving presence or gentle touch had, in some way, assisted this Soul’s release from her body. I was grateful to receive such dramatic personal proof that Soul survives the death of the physical body. Most of all, I was thankful for the privilege to be a witness to this Soul’s joyful departure.

The Meaning of Forever Project continues to accept stories of comforting experiences with loved ones who have passed on, and of near-death experiences that have helped to show the continuation of life beyond the physical body. You can email your story to us at and you can find more about our project on our Facebook page, and our Meaning of Forever Website.


More News From Heaven

Joan Olinger - Dr. Mary Neal

For those of us who haven’t had our own experiences to assure us life continues after death of the physical body, Dr. Joan Olinger has found another book that might help. In 7 Lessons from Heaven: How Dying Taught Me to Live a Joy-filled Life, Dr. Mary Neal writes about her own near-death experience and how it has allowed her to take more joy in the life she has right now—despite the fact it prophesied the death of her son. She even takes things a step further by providing exercises she hopes will help readers find that same joy.
Dr. Joan Olinger, who thoroughly enjoyed the book, summarizes parts of it below.

By Dr. Joan Olinger

Dr. Mary Neal, an orthopedic surgeon in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, writes of a near-death experience in which she drowned and was brought back to life. This is her second book based on that experience. The first is called To Heaven and Back. In this latest book, she states that her purpose is to help others benefit from what she learned during that near-death experience.

“The most important point—and one I urge you to consider as well—is that these glimpses into heaven are meant to change how you and I live now.”

Dr. Neal is a Christian, so her book contains many references to Christian traditions and symbols; but, the insights she offers can be useful for anyone, regardless of faith.

“…[W]e forget that we are beloved children of God…We forget that God’s love is for all people…and we forget that we are meant to be agents of God’s peace, love and joy.”

In 7 Lessons, Dr. Neal writes about how her experience helped her deal with the death, years later, of her son. She titles this chapter “There is Hope in the Midst of Loss”. She says that, while in heaven during her drowning experience, she was told her son Willie was going to die at a young age. She kept that information secret for years, not even telling her husband, because she thought it would be too much for him to bear.

She says that, even as she hoped that God’s plan for Willie would change, she wondered each day if that would be the day her son would die. Finally, at the age of 19, Willie was struck by a car and killed. His body was badly shattered in the accident; but, after his death, Willie came to visit his mother in a dream. There, he was whole again, just like others she had seen during her near-death experience.

For anyone who has lost a child at a young age, or for anyone who has lost a loved one, this chapter may offer great comfort, even as you grieve.

7 Lessons from Heaven consists of 18 chapters in which Dr. Neal discusses many things. For example, she takes us on a tour of heaven, talks about the presence of angels in our lives, and discusses the reality of small and large miracles that happen all the time. She writes that God has a plan for each person’s life and how, in the fullness of God’s time, beauty blossoms from all things.

Regardless of our personal belief systems, taking realizations like these to heart can give hope—even during times of loss and suffering.

Dr. Neal writes about forgiveness and gives a new take on “Judgement Day,” calling it also a “life-review.” In her case, she expected that, when her day came, she would experience much remorse, guilt, regret and disappointment, even though she had tried to live a good life. Instead, during her near-death experience, she found love, compassion, and understanding.

She writes that her life-review has much in common with others who have reported similar experiences of dying and being brought back. She says a “being of light”, who might be identified as Christ, or God, the source of life, or pure love,  lets the dying person review their life from a variety of perspectives, along with an awareness of the “backstory” for all the individuals involved—including what motivates them, and what needs they were trying to fill at the time.

For the experiencer, this becomes the basis for a new level of compassion and love for themselves and others. Dr. Neal says the lesson she learned from her review was that everything was understandable from the perspective of heaven. She also discovered that she did not have to “earn” the right to be in God’s presence, and that, “God’s grace is His love in action—continual forgiveness, encouragement, mercy, compassion, and kindness…”

In part 2 of her book, Dr. Neal describes in detail what we can do to lay the foundation for a joy-filled life, based on the lessons she learned. In Part 3, there is a guide to questions for discussion that can enable further exploration of how her lessons are relevant to anyone.

Did reading this book and doing some of the exercises allow me to have a more joy-filled life? Actually, Yes! It helped me become more aware of the small and large miracles that are happening in my life all the time. And, it helped me take to heart that, in God’s time, beauty blossoms in all things.

The Meaning of Forever Project continues to accept stories of comforting experiences with loved ones who have passed on, and of near-death experiences that have helped to show the continuation of life beyond the physical body. You can email your story to us at and you can find more about our project on our Facebook page, and our Meaning of Forever Website.