I Believe In Heaven
Ever since I was a little girl, I had very clear images of heaven, complete with blue skies, lots of ocean and warm air. God was up there, floating around, guiding newcomers, answering all the questions the angels and souls had. The images were always comforting and followed me, like a shadow. When I was in kindergarten and frightened by rumbles of thunder I thought for sure would knock our house over, my parents told me it was my great grand father bowling. It took me a while to integrate bowling into heaven, but I added the lanes.
As close relatives, elderly and sometimes distant relations died, my parents always let my brother and I come to wakes and funerals, maybe its the Irish in us. There was sadness, stifled crying, then serious food and drink to follow. The hardest part of these events for me was lowering the casket … had the soul left in time? Was it too dark for my great grandfather? Would they be lonely? These questions were always relieved by my heaven, the image of the soul floating up, anxious to meet God, get questions answered, meet the other dead relatives, not having to worry or wonder about dying any more. One had arrived.
Now dont get me wrong, I wasnt a morose child donned in black and preoccupied with death. I wasnt even that interested in religion and all the complicating stories that we more often prayed about than learned about in Sunday school.
I was happy and blessed, with parents who loved my brother in a powerful way.
My belief in heaven has been seriously tested twice. First, when my father died when I was eleven. A vibrant, determined, loving man who quietly and courageously struggled with serious heart disease. The night he collapsed and died in front of my brother and mother and I was devastating and terrifying. Later that night, my mother and brother and I all fell asleep together in a tiny bed; this image was a metaphor for the years to come – my mother and her protective and loving embrace saved us all. That night though a profound sorrow descended upon me, unable to be assuaged by thoughts of heaven. We went through the ritual of the wake and funeral, months of bundt cakes and quiet conversations amongst my mother and her friends. And during that time, even in the near years to come, I would lay in my bed at night and try to make a deal with God – please send daddy back just for a few minutes to check on me – a whisper, a breeze, the sound of a foghorn, a sign that his soul is with me. Then I would wait quietly, listening, to nothing. During this time my mother told me a story that would become a great source of comfort to me, and reconnect me to my heaven. She told me that as one of my father’s friends lay dying he described to my father that he was entering heaven – all he could see were green lush fields, and a beautiful scent and serene feeling filled the air. He kept saying to my father ‘oh you have to see this, its amazing’. I wondered if that story comforted my father. Its amazing how the dying take care of those they are about to leave. I believe their souls continue that comfort from heaven, we just have to have faith that its there while living and growing the best we can.
The second time my belief was tested was 18 years later, when at the age of 29 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I remember one day about halfway through the hellish chemo treatments. My mother and brother had just been to stay with me and I was alone one afternoon, so weak and sick I couldnt even get distracted by watching Oprah. I started talking to my father in heaven. I told my father that I was losing my strength, didn’t even really have courage, and that I just wanted some peace. I asked for a deal. I didn’t promise I would redeem myself, go to church, or try to save the world (as a social worker I kind of thought I was already helping out). I made one request: if I was only going to deteriorate, be chronically ill, or these clouds were not to be lifted, then I wanted to go to sleep, not wake up and come to heaven. If there was amazing life left to be had, then I would wake up, endure the remaining hell, and then move back home to
Cape Cod. I remember having the same feeling I did when I was little and prayed to God to give me my daddy back for a glimpse – I waited, expectently, for something to happen. And again, the earth didn’t shake, no visions, no signs, just the same painful quiet. I did fall asleep and I did wake up and Oprah was still on. So I had faith, that heaven was still there, not ready for me, and that my father would stay close as I plowed through recovery and moved back home to my heaven on earth, Cape Cod. Oh and one more thing, despite a grim post-cancer caution that I may not have children, I am the mother of two daughters 8 and 6. Maybe my father is closer than I somethimes think. For this I believe in Heaven, and so do my precious daughters.
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