Heavenly encounter for doctor; The memoir headed for Hollywood

Credit: Karla Contreras
Credit: Karla Contreras

“Proof of Heaven” is a memoir written by neurosurgeon Eben Alexander, M.D. who, while in a coma for a week, was far from unconscious — Alexander was in Heaven. There are two things that make this particular near death experience account remarkable and different from others I’ve read.

Spoiler alert: I give away the whole story.

The first is that the author is a neurosurgeon and, as such, is a member of an elite group. Members of this group commonly consider themselves in possession of superior knowledge and, therefore, know that NDE accounts are pure fantasy. The second remarkable feature is that the book is well-written and reads like a page-turning novel.

Alexander says that he felt compelled to write “Proof of Heaven” because of the message of love and hope that it offers humanity. Further, he admits to have been willfully ignorant of NDEs previously and, aware of the credibility that his professional standing affords, felt a sense of duty and obligation to share his experience.

This memoir is an interesting and very readable story, containing a back-story which brings a surprise toward the end. Alexander was adopted. His birth-sister, whom he had never met, had died years before. Fast-forward to his heavenly experience. Accompanying him on his excursion through Heaven was a woman he did not know. She acted as his guide and Alexander comments that the depth of love he felt from her was unlike anything he had experienced on earth.

Later, when he had recovered from his illness, a birth-family member sent him a picture of his deceased sister. Alexander, at first haunted by the picture, slowly realizes that the woman he met in Heaven was his long, lost deceased sister.

This memoir is a thought-provoking story offering hope and comfort to those who fear death; it is also a heart-warming story about love, reunion and healing.

I liked “Proof of Heaven” because the subject matter is of great interest to me. Relatively few people pass through death’s doorway and return to shed light on the mystery of death for the rest of us. So, in the arena of memoir, descriptions of NDEs offer something that is both unusual and relevant to us all. In my view the book has a ring of authenticity and, at the same time, presents cause for skepticism.

The authenticity lies in the author’s description of Heaven which is not at all far-fetched compared to other accounts I have read. Also, Alexander’s profession as a neurosurgeon lends credibility to his story: he offers insights that are both scientifically sound and also run counter to his training as a doctor.

He states that his entire training and belief system was turned upside down by the experience. He discovered that consciousness is possible without a brain.

Experience has taught me that the path to truth requires absolute willingness to be wrong, again and again.

This is a book about truth; it’s not just a story of one man’s experiences.

The near perfect story that wraps around the facts leaves me unsure about the author’s motives. “Proof of Heaven” has best-seller and Hollywood written all over it. The book reads like a novel, and the seemingly irrelevant back-story about the author’s adoption, which sets the reader up for a surprise towards the end, has me shaking my head in doubt.

Also, the author holds the reader’s attention and adds to the drama by shifting back and forth between his experience in Heaven and the experiences of his family and the medical personnel caring for his body in his absence. Of course there’s nothing inherently wrong with this writing device; it just adds to my skepticism that Eben Alexander was seeking something other than truth.

It appears that in writing the book he may have been seeking fame and a movie contract and there isn’t anything wrong with that either. It just strikes a skeptical chord in me that I cannot ignore. Lastly, and at the crux of my concern, I find the book very reminiscent of the 1998 movie, “What Dreams May Come” starring Robin Williams.

I do not doubt that Alexander’s NDE was real, and I welcome any NDE account that sheds light on the nature of death and lessens fear in people. But is it okay that embellishments bring more attention to the book and potentially lessen more people’s fears?

My answer is no regarding works that claim to be factual. Truth cannot be reached through lies and distortions. Misleading people erodes trust, which is always counterproductive. I think it wise to remember the popular creed of many-a-storyteller, “don’t allow the truth to get in the way of a good story.”

Everything in his book could be completely true, making it a totally amazing memoir. Alexander admits to wanting to reach as many people as possible, and there are few better ways of doing that than through a Hollywood movie. In the final analysis, I support this book as one worth reading and as a movie worth making. I’d go see it.