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 firstname.lastname@example.org and you can find more about our project on our Facebook page, and our Meaning of Forever Website.