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For many, the question of what happens when we die is a mysterious one — a TODAY survey found that 55 percent of people are absolutely certain there is an afterlife, 37 percent are not certain, and 8 percent are certain there isn't an afterlife.
But for some who have been through near-death experiences, the question has a clear answer.
Take public speaker Anita Moorjani, who shared her story with Maria Shriver on TODAY.
"I believe that I died, yes — that I crossed over into the afterlife and back," said Moorjani, adding that the afterlife is "like being in a really unlimited space and time."
Diagnosed with lymphoma in 2002, Moorjani — who considers herself more spiritual than religious — was losing her cancer battle, withering down to just 85 pounds and battling tumors from the base of her skull to her abdomen. She slipped into a coma in February 2006.
She said that’s when she died and crossed over to an afterlife.
“I felt as though I was above my body,” she said. “It was like I had 360-degree peripheral vision of the whole area around. But not just in the room where my body was in, but beyond the room.”
According to Moorjani, the author of the new book "Dying To Be Me", she was reunited in that state with her late father, who told her to turn back.
“He said that I've gone as far as I can, and if I go any further, I won't be able to turn back,” she said. “But I felt I didn't want to turn back, because it was so beautiful. It was just incredible, because, for the first time, all the pain had gone. All the discomfort had gone. All the fear was gone. I just felt so incredible. And I felt as though I was enveloped in this feeling of just love. Unconditional love.”
Citing an “incredible clarity where everything started to make sense,” she said she decided to return to her body because she believed “it would heal very, very quickly.” It did.
“Within four days, my tumors shrunk by 70 percent, and the doctors were shocked,” she said. “And I kept telling everyone that, ‘I know I'm going to be okay. I know it’s not my time to die.’”
Moorjani isn’t alone in connecting a "crossing over" experience to healing.
Diagnosed at age 4 with a chronic digestive disorder, 8-year-old Annabel Beam experienced intense pain and frequent hospital visits. “She was always so sweet and gracious,” her father, Kevin, told TODAY. “She wasn't making a big deal out of it, and she was suffering in silence.”
But the suffering started to overwhelm Annabel.
“I told my mom, ‘Mama, I want to die, and go to heaven with Jesus where there is no more pain. I don't want to be in this much pain for the rest of my life,’” she said. “And so I was so committed to just giving up that sometimes whenever I couldn't sleep I'd kinda try and figure out what would happen if I did die. Then I decided, my mom would come with me. My dad would stay and watch my sisters.”
Annabel’s mother, Christy, refused to believe what she’d heard. “I remember thinking, ‘That's not what she said,’” Christy recalled. “She doesn't know anything about giving up. She's a fighter.”
Days later, Annabel said she fell 30 feet from a tree branch that cracked while she was sitting on it with her sister, Abbie. She claims that after bumping her head three times on the way down and falling into the hollowed-out base of the tree, she died and went to heaven.
“It was really bright, and I sat on Jesus’ lap and he told me, ‘Whenever the firefighters get you out, there will be nothing wrong with you,’” Annabel recalled. “And I asked him if I could stay and he said, ‘No, I have plans you need to fulfill on Earth that you cannot fulfill in heaven.’”
A few days later, she told her family about her experience.
“She was very matter-of-fact: very ‘This is what happened,’ not at all animated, just, ‘Here are the facts,’” Christy said. “And then she stopped talking, and looked out the window for the rest of the trip.”
Now symptom-free, Annabel has gone from taking 10 daily medications to none.
"She fell 30 feet head first, without any injuries or one bug bite,” her mom said. “She came out of that tree hours later wet, muddy, and with scratches. And she’s well.”
The tree, which toppled due to weather, remains in the Beam family front yard, beside a cross Kevin carved after the accident.
“I’m glad that I didn’t ever try and cut it down,” he said. “I do think that this tree was actively involved in a miracle.”
His wife — who turned Annabel’s story into the book “Miracles from Heaven” which has now been turned into a major motion picture of the same name — agreed. “It had a purpose,” Christy said. “It was a vessel.”
Annabel, who continues to climb trees, feels fortunate. “Most kids aren’t ever healed,” she said. “And so anytime I see [the tree], I'm just grateful, and happy.”
This story was originally published in April 2015.