September 22, 2015
With all our overnight guests tucked in for the evening, tonight I decided to treat myself to something that I haven’t had in about 2 years … dinner and a movie.
The movie I selected was “90 Minutes in Heaven”. I haven’t really been following the movies in the theatres since I have gotten to Belle Grove. I haven’t even seen the last season of “Big Bang Theory”. Sheldon would not be pleased. But time is a precious thing here, it seems to be in low amounts at times.
The last movie I went to see was just after I got to Belle Grove and ironically it had a similar theme … “Heaven is Real”.
After seeing “Heaven is Real”, I spent the next hour driving back from Stafford, Virginia to Belle Grove, crying like a baby. It was a touching movie in many ways. I had just lost my mother about a year before, so I was still grieving over her loss. And it reminded me of something I had gone through.
With “90 Minutes in Heaven”, I was expecting the same affect. But to my surprise, I didn’t cry.
In “90 Minutes in Heaven”, the main person, Don Piper was going through a totally different struggle. He had died and going to heaven, but when he returned, he was angry God had sent him back. The movie was more about his struggle to come to terms for the anger than the visit itself. Well, I won’t tell you anymore in case you haven’t see the movie.
For me, I can understand the anger, but I don’t identify with it. I felt more connected to the first movie than this one. Because I have gone to heaven … twice.
Okay, I know what you are saying. How can this be? Are you crazy? Where did you eat tonight, I think you might have food poisoning.
But I can tell you, I am not crazy. I ate at Red Lobster tonight and while the last time I ate there in 1992 in New London, Connecticut I did get food poisoning from bad shrimp, I didn’t get it tonight.
How can this be?
The year 1989 would big year for me. On January 1st, I lost my grandmother, Nannie to an abdominal aneurysm. She was one of the most important people in my life. I looked to her for stability, for guidance and for unending love. I was six months pregnant when she passed and she was the first death of someone very close to me that I experienced.
On February 1st, just one month later, Brett and I would face an uncertain future for me and our first child. I had developed Pre-eclampsia in January and had been placed in the hospital the last week of January. The goal was to get my blood pressure under control and to buy time for our daughter to grow more.
That was the plan, but not what happened.
After only a week, my blood pressure shot up. It was growing more and more dangerous for me and for our daughter. So the decision was made on February 1st, the day after my birthday to deliver her by emergency Cesarean, both to save my life and hers.
It was one of the most traumatic times of my life. The stress my body was under was overwhelming. I was at Wright-Patterson Air Force Hospital and they had to transfer me to a hospital, Miami Valley in Dayton, Ohio. They were better equipped to handle her premature birth. Three IVs, a catheter and a Swan-Ganz heart catheter later, the anesthesiologist wanted to do an epidural for the Cesarean. At this point, I was done. I wasn’t going to have any more pokes that night. So I started screaming and crying. The head OBGYN came in and told the anesthesiologist that we didn’t have time for the epidural (thank you God) and we were rushed into surgery.
Brett was a Navy Corpsman at the time, so they allowed him in the room while the surgery was going on. He got to see our daughter born and rushed away. He said she was so tiny that he could harder see her. She was one pound, three and ¼ ounces and eleven inches long.
I was under general anesthesia so I wasn’t aware of anything. Or so I thought.
When I woke for surgery, my very first thought wasn’t how I felt or how my daughter was. I remember that I had had one of the most wonderful dreams I have ever had. The only problem was … I didn’t remember it. I couldn’t recall anything. Not one thing. But I know it was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life.
Just a month and half later, I had another dream.
Now let me tell you this. My dreams are very vivid and detailed. Brett is always amazed at how much I remember. I have had this all my life. This dream was no exception.
In this dream, I was back at Nannie’s house in Columbia, South Carolina. I was in the kitchen cooking a meal for my Grandfather and Father, who were seated at the table. The kitchen was a very important place in Nannie’s home. It is where she taught me two of the three main points she taught me in life … cooking and entertaining. The other is history. Now you see why I love history so much.
While I was preparing and serving the meal, the phone rang. When I picked it up, Nannie was on the other end.
She said, “Michelle, I need to talk to you.”
“Wait, you can’t be calling me. You died.”
“Michelle, I need to talk to you.”
“If you can call me, why can’t you come here?”
With that, my Grandfather and Father disappeared and standing before me was Nannie. I know I must have looked shocked.
She said to me, “Michelle, I need to talk to you about dying.”
“Weren’t you scared?”
“At first it was dark, but Michelle, where you are going to go is so wonderful.”
And with that, she took me to heaven. It was for only 30 seconds, but how can I tell you what I saw!
What I saw was like driving down a country road on a sunny day. Before me as a field of wildflowers and grass and in the distance was a tree line. Above the sky was blue with rolling clouds. But the thing was these were all ten time what they are on earth! The smell is more intense, the colors more vivid and the feeling … I can’t describe the feeling. It was just wonderful and amazing all wrapped up in glory.
When she brought me back, she told me that I needed to remember this because I was going to need to tell Granddaddy. I asked when I was to tell him. She told me not to worry, that I would know.
Just before we were schedule to bring our daughter home and after I knew she was going to be okay, I needed to take a break. I longed to go back to South Carolina to see my Grandfather. I was still grieving over Nannie and I needed to go home.
While I was there, Granddaddy kept asking me to pick out things I wanted. Other family members had already come over and started making piles of what they wanted. I didn’t want to do that. To me, Granddaddy was still alive and this was his home. And I really didn’t want anything other than to see him. But he pushed me to look.
I went up into the attic and had a look around. Nannie was a bit of a hoarder. She was a child during the Great Depression in rural South Carolina and she never throw anything away. I think there were two or three broken toilet seats up there. But while I was up there, Granddaddy started talking to me.
“Michelle, I need to tell you something and I know you are going to think that I am crazy. When I am in the den, sitting on the daybed (they used a back bedroom as the den and instead of having couches, they had two daybeds. They generally slept in here instead of their bedroom. I grew up sleeping on the floor in there on a blanket pallet Nannie would make us.) smoking a cigarette, I will hear the back door open and close. Michelle, I swear I am not drinking. But I will see your Nannie appear in the hall doorway.”
“What does she want?”
“I think she is calling me.”
“How does she look?”
“Young and beautiful”
That is when I knew I was to tell him what she had told me and shown me.
My Grandfather lived seventeen months after Nannie. I was the last to speak to him. My father had gone to Washington DC for a wedding and had asked me to call Granddaddy to check on him on Thursday. My uncle was to be there later that day. Granddaddy had had the flu and had been pretty sick. When I spoke to him, I had reminded him to be sure and drive some Gator-Aid to stay hydrated.
My uncle didn’t arrive on Thursday. He came in on Saturday instead.
Shortly after I spoke to Granddaddy, he must have had an accident and was going to take a shower to clean up. Before he got into the shower, he must have started to vomit and tried to hold it in to keep from getting it all over. In doing so, he aspirated some of it.
My uncle found him, naked and slumped over the daybed in the den in a prayer like position. He had the phone in his hand.
My only solace was that I had helped him prepare for this moment. I know Nannie came for him and took him away quickly.
I have since realized that the wonderful dream I had had during our daughter’s birth wasn’t a dream, but a trip to heaven as well. While I didn’t die, I know the stress I was under. I think God pulled me away and like to see heaven.
So while in “90 Minutes in Heaven”, Don Piper was angry about coming back, I can’t say I share that view.
Since my Grandfather’s death, I have been able to share this experience with many people. Some who have lost a loved one and some who would later face death themselves.
I think one of the reasons I feel so connected to Belle Grove is the fact that it reminds me of heaven. There are days during the spring and summer, I have found myself wondering out into the fields of corn, wheat and soybean. I just sit there and stare at the wind blowing the soybean, making it look like waves coming in on the ocean shore. And at the blue sky with white clouds floating lazily by.
I see heaven everywhere. I see it in the sunset. I see it in the river as it floats by. I see it when a bird appears and sings out to me. I see it in a dragonfly or butterfly that will seem to magically appear to greet me.
And every time I see these things, I smile and say quietly, “Thank you God for this little reminder.”
Is Heaven Real, you better believe it is! But it’s not something that we have to wait for when we die. It is here all around us. We just fail to stop and see it.