My Near Death Experience and Life Review: Interview with Dr. Mary Neal

Interview with Dr. Mary Neal

“Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all things for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Mary C. Neal, MD, a retired orthopedic spine surgeon from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, experienced a kayaking accident in 1999 that took her life. She wrote about her experience of heaven, and what was revealed to her about her future life. She shares her testimony, which includes the Life Review that appears in chapter two of her book.

This interview took place during the 2022 virtual Week of Prayer and Fasting conference and features highlights from Dr. Neal’s presentation.

Maureen Flynn:  We are very excited to have you here to share your fabulous witness story and testimony, particularly the Life Review that is in chapter 2 of your book, 7 Lessons from Heaven.

Dr. Mary Neal:  Well, thank you, Maureen! And thank you all for attending.

My story is basically a witness to God’s incredible love, incredible presence, incredible truth, and it’s amazing – it’s a wonderful thing that we’re each so dearly loved, so I will preface all of this by saying that I did not grow up saying those sorts of things! (chuckles).

I was a child of the ’50s in the Midwest, and I was taken to Sunday school, but like for most people, that was sort of a “Sunday morning” thing – and it didn’t really mean much on Monday morning.

I went to medical school and did my orthopedic surgery training; who has time to think about your spiritual nature when you’re trying to squeeze 28 hours of out of every day?!

I think I was a very typical American: I had a husband, I had four little kids – I was very busy, and really just didn’t have time to think about the things that really mattered.

In 1999, my youngest son was old enough that I felt we could leave the country for a vacation, and so my husband and I decided to go to Chile in South America on a kayak trip – something we had done together for many, many years, and we were good. Going to Chile to kayak was not something that was extraordinary for us – it was fairly routine. We went with friends of ours who are professionals, who own a raft and kayak company, and had been running trips to Chile for a number of years. So we went to Chile, and we had a wonderful week kayaking.

On what was going to be our last day of kayaking, we decided to paddle a section of river well known for its waterfalls. When I say waterfalls, I am not talking about going over Niagara Falls; I’m talking about drops that are maybe 15 feet, maybe 20 – something that, for an experienced kayaker, is exhilarating, challenging, fun – certainly within our skill set, so this wasn’t a crazy idea.

On that morning, my husband actually woke up with terrible back pain – which he hadn’t had before and hasn’t had since. I will tell you that I don’t believe in coincidence, and this was the first of many, many, “non-coincidence” “coincidences.” So, he did not go with us that day – he decided to drop us off at the beginning of the run and pick us up later in the day. He drove off and found a random sunny place to read for the day.

We started down the river and went over the first few drops, and everything was great. We approached the first major drop and pulled over to talk about it. This river was very “high flow” with a strong current. This section of river didn’t have rocks or other features that formed areas of slow water where you can pull out and stop or regroup, so, once you were in the current, you were going downstream. So, I pulled out in the current and, because it was early in the day, we had decided to go over this sort of smaller part of the shoot or waterfall, and I headed for that. Another American client then bubbled her way past and became stuck, blocking the entrance to this particular drop.

My only option was to veer over and go over the main part of the waterfall. When I crested the top of the waterfall, I could see the bottom with tremendous turbulence and hydraulics. I assumed that I would hit the bottom and be flipped upside down and probably not be able to right myself because of the turbulence. Then I would pull the spray skirt off my boat, push myself out of the boat, be tumbled around for a couple minutes, and then be spit out downstream. Yes, that is just as unpleasant as it sounds, but it is part of kayaking. And, while no one wants it to happen, it certainly would not have been the first time I had ever been tumbled around in the water, and I hope it’s the last, but who knows (chuckles). I do still kayak!

Instead, I rocketed down, but the front of my boat became pinned in underwater rocks. The boat and I were completely submerged under eight to ten feet of water.

Did I panic? No. As a spine surgeon who is very comfortable with high-stress situations, I set about trying to free the boat, or free myself from the boat – but the weight of the water and the force of the current was such that it absolutely pressed the front – pressed me to the front deck of my boat, and I couldn’t move at all. I knew that I would probably drown – I knew the likelihood of rescue was slim to none – I had seen people die on the river before. But I never panicked… I thought sort of concretely and, as a very pragmatic person, I thought about my predicament, and I made a decision – I made a choice – and that choice was asking that God’s will be done, regardless of what that meant. This was not a passive giving in to dying, or releasing myself to God – this was a very, very, active choice; I don’t really know how to express how intensely active of a choice it was.

At that moment, I was immediately overcome with a very, very physical sensation of being held and comforted and reassured that everything was fine – my husband would be fine, my little kids would be fine – regardless of whether I lived or died, and this was the first of many just incredible parts of this experience for me. I knew I was being held by Christ. I also knew that I had done nothing to earn that or deserve it…that there’s nothing we do that gives us the right to be loved by Christ, or the right to be called a child of God.

I was thinking, Oh, wow, this is really an incredible hallucination! And every few minutes I would do these self-assessment exams: Okay, am I breathing? No, actually, it’s all water; I’m not really breathing, and I would think, Okay, am I conscious? Am I alive? I never felt that I was conscious and then unconscious – alive and then dead. I felt conscious and then more conscious; alive, and then more alive.

While I was being held, it was as though Christ was pouring everything He is and ever was into me. All of His love, all of His hopes and dreams – like when you hold a little baby and you’re just exploding with love for that little baby, but I was the little baby. It was amazing! And I knew that the same thing would happen to any other person on this planet who asked.

Life Review

Maureen Flynn: We were hoping you could also share with us about your Life Review. My husband and I were very excited to read about that because over the past 30 years, we’ve talked with many people who have experienced what we call “the Warning” or “Life Review” or the “Illumination of Conscience.” When we read it in your book, we were happy to see that this is like God’s Great mercy, and how He shows His love for us!

Dr. Mary Neal: I was then taken through a “Life Review,” one of the parts of my experience that was radically life changing. This was not a Hollywood version of your life flashing across the sky and you feel good about some things and not so good about others. This was something I never could have imagined. It had nothing to do with judgment, nothing to do with all of those destructive emotions we feel – guilt, or shame, or regret – all those things that are bottled up inside of us that prevent us from being the person we’re meant to be.

In this Life Review, the most painful and wounding experiences of my life were moving, not across the sky, but in front of me. Christ would reach out and “grab” one. It sounds crazy even all these years later, but we would immediately be “reabsorbed” into the experience. I re-experienced things with an absolute, complete, and pure understanding of the “me” in that situation, of everything in my life that led me to that moment in time where I hurt someone else, or where they hurt me, or they hurt someone I loved. And I also had a complete understanding of the life story of every other person involved. I understood everything about them and everything about how they ended up in that moment in time.

What I discovered is the true meaning of Grace and Mercy, and I gained true understanding. I realized that with an understanding of what’s behind the action – all of those destructive emotions just disappeared. Where God’s love is present, there is no room for those destructive emotions. They just don’t exist!

We have all had that experience of [having misunderstandings], and then, when we find out what was really happening, what was really going on with that person, we don’t feel irritation anymore – we’re taken over by a feeling of compassionate love. That’s exactly the same situation when we die, and we are in heaven. When I talk about being reconciled with loved ones – we are reconciled purely with this sense of understanding. There are no more hard feelings, there’s no more shame, anger, or bitterness. None of those emotions exist because of pure love and because of understanding.

What I discovered again and again was the truth in God’s promise that beauty does come of all things!

Understanding Produces Compassion

Maureen Flynn: In the book, you mentioned something that a lot of people are dealing with today – you had been molested by a boy, and you saw from God’s perspective, I guess – He showed you certain things, and you were able to understand and forgive the boy. Can you talk about that? 

Dr. Mary Neal: Every one of these life events that I re-experienced were the most wounding, including a neighbor boy who molested me when I was young. Sadly, that’s a very common experience for women, and it creates a lot of feelings that don’t go away – feelings of shame or guilt. I discovered when I was re-immersed in that situation, that it wasn’t a matter of forgiving him. What I discovered is that I had this complete understanding of his life story, basically why he was the way he was. And, from that moment in time on… I have felt nothing but compassion for him, and no sense of any other destructive emotion. And, even now, all I feel when I think about this boy is incredible compassion – I could start crying... There is zero bitterness or anger, or personal feelings of shame or guilt or anything else. This was a profoundly wounding situation for me, so I received a great healing.

That’s part of why I enjoy talking about my Life Review. Having this understanding allows us to release our own feelings about our past. So many people are stuck in their past, unable to be the person God intended them to be because their past is holding them back. If I can recognize that that’s who I was at that moment in time, and understand my life story that led me to that, I could have the same Grace and Mercy for myself as I want to have for other people, and that God has for me. It’s liberating. It can free us to really fulfill our plan or purpose on Earth. It’s not about guilt, or judgment by God or by ourselves – it’s about Mercy; it’s about Grace. We talk about Grace and Mercy, but until my experience, I’m not sure I could have actually explained what I thought those were.

The rest of this article can be found in Signs and Wonders 34#1/2, Spring 2024. Become a member today!

Dr. Mary Neal’s books, the number one New York Times bestseller, To Heaven and Back, and 7 Lessons From Heaven: How Dying Taught Me to Live a Joy-Filled Life, have riveted over a million readers with details of her life-after-death experience of heaven, her rescue, and what happened in the years since her accident. Learn more at