Touching Heaven and Hell

"My mother … I was there when she collapsed, finding out I was dead from suicide," he said. Dovel says he experienced all the pain he would cause people in the future from his suicide — like his daughter. Dovel describes the vision he saw of her: "She was 18, and she's sitting on the floor, contemplating suicide, 'cause I wasn't there for her."

But the experience of begging to be released from the pain was the most painful of all. "I was on my hands and face, weeping, weeping. Not just crying but weeping for Jesus to save me," he said.

And Dovel believes that he was eventually saved. "I was pretty much lifted up by the back of my neck, and slowly, very slowly, lifted out of this pit. I remember I was still weeping, and a voice told me, 'You have work to do, and if you continue to live the life you are, this is where you are going to spend eternity.'"

Understanding Near-Death Experiences

Dovel says he woke up a day later back in his apartment. How he got there remains a mystery. Did he actually visit hell? Or was his journey a drug-fueled hallucination? Or a trick played by neurons frantically firing in a dying brain?

Counselor and educator Jan Holden, who has interviewed hundreds of people who are convinced that they've been to the "other side" and back, thinks it's possible it's all a trick of the brain, but that the people who've had these experiences are convinced they have been to another reality.

Holden said, "They've remembered dreams. They've hallucinated, and they can say that their near-death experience was nothing like either of those. They say that it's absolutely real. And that their consciousness is functioning much like it does in the body, except for some sort of additional abilities."

This theory likens the brain to a cell phone or a radio receiving these hellish or heavenly images from some other place. Science can't say for sure, but regardless of the cause, the effect is startling.

Of all those who "die" and return, the vast majority are profoundly changed. Dovel says, "This is something so horrific that when I came out of that, I quit a $1,000-a-week drug habit cold turkey."

Dovel sobered up, moved to Las Vegas and devoted his life to suicide prevention through International Suicide Prevention, his nonprofit organization. He helps people deal with the aftermath of suicides.

Dovel said, "I see horrific things that we do to ourselves … and people say, 'How can you handle that?' It's nothing to me. … It doesn't even come close to what I experienced in hell."

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