A Place Called Heaven

A Place Called Heaven

A Story by Casper Cross
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Do you believe in a place called heaven? I do and I always have. I haven’t seen it and I don’t even know where it is, but I have never seen the wind and I know it’s there because I can sense it.

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                Do you believe in a place called heaven?  I do and I always have.  I haven’t seen it and I don’t even know where it is, but I have never seen the wind and I know it’s there because I can sense it.  I sense heaven in the same way. 

                I now lay in a hospital bed surrounded by my family, my body wracked with pain my lungs stretching for each breath of air.  I wheeze in and out.

                My oldest daughter leans over me and kisses me on the forehead.  I can feel her tear tickle my flesh as it falls from her cheek to mine.  “I love you daddy.”  She says her lips close to my ears.  “I love you so much.”

                She isn’t sure if I can hear her, but I can.  I want to reach for her but my arms do not obey. “Don’t waste your tears on me, my darling.”  I want to tell her. “I’m ready to see your momma.”   Blue lips cracked and dry, refuse the desired words.

                I next feel my youngest daughter press her lips to my cheek.  I can feel her warm breath caress my skin just below the temple.  I feel her small trembling hand find mine.  She lifts it from the covers and kisses it as I once did for her when she was a little girl.

                “I’m going to miss you daddy.”  She says and now she is kissing my forehead.  I feel her hand stroke my silvery hair.

                “Honey.”  I want to tell her. “I’m happier than I have been in quite a few years.”

                I’m in my eighty-sixth year on this earth more than thirty thousand days.  Most of them good and I remember many of them.  Yes, some were bad, but those don’t enter my mind right now

                My grandbabies are in the room too, and my great grandbabies are as well.  The oldest great grandchild is in the fifth grade.  I can hear her mother, my granddaughter-in-law trying to comfort her.  From the sounds of her weeping, I think she might be taking this hard.  The door opens and her steady crying fades away.  Someone is walking her out into the hall and maybe that is for the best. I don’t want her precious heart to watch this.

                I can hear someone talking now.  My daughters won’t leave my side and they both hold my hand. This feels right, I think. I can hear the sadness in their voices but I hear their laughter and I think that this is good.  They are recounting some of their happier times with me.  I remember some of them myself, and I smile.  It feels like I smile, anyway, but I am sure my face remains frozen in its near death mask.  I want them to see me smile.  I want them to know that I am happy.

                There is a stab of doubt piercing my soul and I begin to wonder. What if everything I believed my entire life is wrong.  What will happen to me if I close my eyes and there is nothing beyond this existence?  I was nothing before I was born, will I become nothing again once my last breath passes through my body?

                A still and small voice coming from deep inside steadies my resolve and calms the tempest of my fear.  Be still and know that I am with you.  This voice says to me.  It beckons from deep within my soul.  It resembles the inner voice that whispers thoughts and ideas, only this voice is of a different tone.  It is gentle but cold, soft but full of strength born from wisdom.  Soon you will walk along the streets of gold and your mansion awaits my good and faithful servant.  Rest now and soon, your reward will come.

                I imagine my visions of heaven, painted by the instructions of bible schoolteachers on Sunday mornings.  For the first time, I begin to hope that my imaginings are all wrong. I really don’t need a mansion or even walk a street paved with gold.  I only want one thing.

                Natasha was my wife for fifty-two years and we shared a lifetime of memories together.  She does not now sit in my hospital room, patiently waiting and mourning for me to move on.  She is already there and I can almost sense her presence.  As though she is waiting for me on the other side of a curtain.             I do not understand what awaits me there, but I know she will be there to meet me.

                She lived into her seventies before her life finally slipped through my fingers.  She endured the pain I am certain because she did not want to leave me here alone.  I sat by her bed and held her hand, just as my children are holding mine.  You can pass on baby.  I would tell her.  I am going to be all right.

                Doctors kept her heavily sedated because her pain would be far too much to bear.  The potent concoctions of medicines kept her unconscious, but when the end came and her life began to ebb away her green eyes opened and fell on me. 

                I have to go now.  She said to me.  My time is almost up.

                Leaning down I kissed her on the cheek.  You go now.  I told her.  Go on and I will be along shortly.

                Her head bobbed like a cork on the surface of a still pond.  Her lips curled into a smile and a single tear fell to her cheek.  I smoothed it away with the pad of my finger.   I will miss you. She said.

                Not near as much as I will miss you.  I boasted.

                These were the last words of we ever spoke to one another on this earth.  She closed her eyes, and within a few minutes, I heard the last breath escape her lungs. I could feel her spirit rise out from within her body like a passenger climbing from a car at the end of a very long drive.

                I suppose that for everything there is a price.  For those who have found, loved, and lived a long and exceedingly happy life with their soul mate, the ultimate price is complete and utter loneliness once they are gone. Some claim that someone you love stays with you even after they move on.  I believe some part of that is true, but it is also much more complicated than that. At their appointed departure time, their death rends their existence from your soul in a way that feels like skinning a tattoo from your flesh.

                I felt completely incomplete. I left with the inescapable feeling that some important valuable remained in the room and no matter how hard or how thoroughly I inventoried my pockets or my car, I would not be able to identify nor locate the missing item. This time it wasn’t a set of keys, a misplaced wallet, or even a missing credit card; this time it was irreplaceable.

                A breathing spasm quickens my respirations and I feel my daughter’s hands tighten around mine.  They know that soon I must go but they aren’t ready to let me go. 

                More time… I think.  They need a little more time.

                My respirations soften but soon return to their labored rhythm.

                “That was close.”  The youngest says to the oldest.  They are on both sides of me and I don’t hear any other voices in the room.  I am to die with my two darlings at my side.

                This is good.  I think and smile again to myself.

                I feel my oldest daughter’s breathe on my forehead, and then her warm lips touch my cooled flesh.  “Daddy,” She begins, “You can go home now Daddy. We are ok.”  She sniffs and I can hear the quiver in her voice. “Momma is ready for you to come home. We are both going to be ok.”

                I try with all my strength to squeeze their hands.  I’m ready to pass on but they have to know how much I love them. 

                Too late… I hear that inner voice reply.  Time has run out and there are no more chances. They know how much you loved them. You gave them everything you had and you loved them unconditionally. Take solace in that and come to your place of rest.

                Time to go.

                My lungs struggle this time to fill with air.  The muscles spasm and almost quit, the strain this puts on the heart is too much and there is a stillness in the chest. The air evacuates the lungs and then…

                Blackness?

                No! I am still in the hospital room, but no longer attached within my body.  I float above the scene for a few moments and I’m able to see my two daughters.  They are sobbing now, falling on my still chest and I hear them say… “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!”

                Husbands now enter through the door and comfort their wives and their sobs fade away as I move beyond the hospital room and into…

                Nothing?

                Darkness?

At least that’s what I think at first.  Then I see the sun burning through my eyelids, turning them an indescribable shade of pink.  I feel soft blades of grass beneath my hands and playfully tickling my neck.  I blink open my eyes and stare up into a clear blue sky.                

                Sitting up I realize that I am on the crest of a hill.  Below me is a shallow valley of rich green grass that bows to the wind as it slopes over the mountain and brushes over the blades like a racing skier.  There is a winding river, gently flowing beside this great pasture and the crystal clear water laps at the brown sandy bank. 

                A steep and craggy mountain rises from the depths of the shallow valley and forms the backdrop for a brown-bricked two story home that I recognize immediately.  It is the home Natasha and I built together during our life on earth.  The home where we raised our two daughters from childhood, through the trials and tribulations of puberty and finally into young adulthood.

                On the front lawn, there are two dogs and they don’t notice me yet, but I know them.  They are the two dogs we raised in life.  They are darting here and there at full gallop; their pink tongues lulling from the side of their mouths as they playfully chase each other around the wide-open field.  They catch scent of me as I begin to descend from my perch and they come toward me a full gallop.  I reach the grass and fall to my knees, my arms open to receive them. Their warm tongues spread sweet and slobbering kisses across my face.

                I scratch them each behind the ear and hug them close to my heart.

                I am nineteen again.  The age spots and wrinkles are no longer dancing up my arm, the paunch of my middle years is now gone.  My hips and knees no longer quake and moan with each motion and the arthritis that once deformed my fingers into grotesque claws is finally gone and I feel renewed and almost at peace.

                I say almost at peace because there is still one more person to see, one more to make this truly the heaven you read about in the bible.

                My two dogs turn their heads back towards the door and my eyes follow.  I see the front door open and the woman of my dreams appears on the front porch.  I rise to my feet with the agility of an Olympic athlete and I break into a run.

                I run so fast that my feet can’t stay on the ground.  Back on earth, I might trip, fall, tumble clumsily head over foot and land awkwardly in a not so gentle face plant.  Here, though, I skip into the air, not flying really, more like bounding across the grassy lawn.  She comes down off the front porch and I know the dress she is wearing at first sight.

                It is the olive green dress decorated with gilded buttons down the front.  The dress she wore the day we first met.  She isn’t running to me, but patiently waiting.  She is young again, a teenager, like me only this time she is filled with a lifetime worth of love built in a world that seems so very distant from this one.

                When I finally reach her, I am not out of breath and my heart is not pounding even though I have run a great distance.  I wrap my arms around her and pull her into the air.  She is lighter than a handshake and I twirl her around and around.  Her hair and dress fly out around her and we collapse together in the grass with a fit of laughter.  Our two dogs don’t miss the opportunity to give our faces a good cleaning.  Laughing we send them off to continue with their playful romp.

                Her laughter is like a favorite old song playing on the radio after a long absence.  Her smile is as bright as an angel’s halo and her emerald eyes make even the grass gray in comparison.  My hand touches one alabaster cheek and her lips rise in a saluting smile.  The wind shifts a tuft of air across her forehead and I sweep it back behind her ear.

                “You look as though you haven’t seen me in ages.”  She says.

                “I haven’t.”  I reply.

                “How long has it been?” She inquires and I know in an instant that she really has no idea.

                “More than a decade.”  I tell her.

                Her smile does not vanish.  “It seems like only a second ago.”

                I always believed I would not tarry long if she went before me.  God though, had other designs.  I kept myself busy with golf mostly.  I played most every day after she died.  It kept my mind off the loneliness I felt.

                I sold our home two years after she passed.  Her memory there was a like a tattoo across the walls.  It just hurt too much and I knew I had to let it go.  I could no longer keep it up by myself and I felt that it was a waste for one old man to occupy a home built for four.  I sold most of my belongings and moved into a one-bedroom condominium in downtown Nashville. 

A loner for most of my life I found myself longing for the company of people after Natasha left me.  I thought of moving to Florida.  Miami, St. Pete, or Naples, sure looked nice on the brochure especially during the wintertime. Ultimately, I decided to remain as near to my daughters as I could.  I kept the brochure though, just in case they ever skipped out on their old man.

“How are the kids?”  She asked bringing her head to my chest.

“Getting old like us.”

“Do I look old to you?”  Her sixteen-year-old eyes peered up at me. 

“No.”  I tell her.  “You don’t look old, you never did.”  She didn’t.  Natasha always had a youthful face and until the end, she always looked a decade younger than her actual age.

“I miss them.”  She breathed out a sigh and giggled like a giddy school aged girl. “That Sydney could always put a smile on my face.”

I myself laughed at the thought. Sydney was the shyer of the two girls, but her personality was large enough to fill Royal Albert Hall. 

A long shadow crept over my face blocking out the sun.  I felt for Natasha in my arms, but she was no longer there.  I opened my eyes and looked up in to the silhouette of a figure standing over me.  He wore a long robe of pure white and a purple sash across his chest. 

Rising from my back, I looked for my wife, but there was only grass beside me, no indentation among the blades in the place where she had lain.

“Do not fear, for soon your eyes will again behold her.”

The figure spoke with a voice of a lion but yet as gentle as a kiss from a breeze across the meadow.  He knelt beside me, and the moment his hand touched my shoulder I knew who it was.

“Lord.”  I said and staring up into the face of my savior, I began to weep.

“Dry your tears.”  He said.  “There is no reason for sorrow any longer.”

Now on my knees I bowed my head at his feet and begged him, “Please Lord, please leave my presence.  I am a man of great sin and I am unworthy to be near you.”  Bathed in his holiness I saw at once the depravity of my life and I feared I was unworthy of my place in his heaven.

With both hands on my shoulders, he beckoned me to rise.  “Walk with me my child.”  He said. “For I have cast off your sinful rags and you are forgiven and wholesome in my sight, perfect in every way.” 

Through eyes blurred with tears, I look into his face and see the love in his eyes.  He lifts an arm around my shoulder and walks with me through the meadow in the front of my house.  With his free hand, he gestures to all that I can see.  The majesty of it all is breathtaking and awesome.  “Did I not tell you that I would go and prepare a place for you in my father’s kingdom?”  He asks me.  “How did I do?”

“I am unworthy.”  I tell him, humbled in his presence.

His hand came to my face.  “With these hands I have made you worthy.”  He tells me.

I look for the scars but they are not there.

“The scars forged in life do not accompany us in my father’s kingdom.”  He explains and with his index finger, he points to my heart.  “The same goes for the scars you can’t see. If you wish to see them, I can make them appear.”

My mind jumps to the story of Thomas. The disciple of Jesus who refused to believe in the resurrection until he plunged his fingers into the scars left by the nails that crucified him to the cross.  I stood in the presence of Jesus in heaven and I knew he was who he said he was.  I needed no further proof.

“Good.”  Jesus said.  “Then let us walk and talk.”

My mind went to the list of all the things I wanted to ask him, but my mind already knew all of the answers to my questions.  Jesus, with a wave of his hand peeled away the ceiling of heaven and I stood peering out across the entire span of the universe.

I could see the Milky Way, and Andromeda, the nearest galaxy closest to our own.  I saw black holes and wormholes with comets streaking across the sky. The perfect melding of both science and faith all playing out before me as if on a giant panoramic movie screen.  All the mysteries of the universe explained in an instant. Time travel, string theory, quantum physics. All of it now made perfect sense and I marveled at the simplicity of it all once God had stripped away the veil of flesh from my eyes. 

“I was blind, but now I see.”  I say.

Jesus only nods.  Then with a wave of his hand, the sky folds back into place and the universe disappears behind the cornflower blue curtain.

We walk on.  I say nothing, and only listen. Jesus had the most to say.  My entire life I brought my worries and cares to his feet.  He wanted to share so much with me during those moments of prayer. Only, my mortal ears could not hear his still quiet voice.  No longer bound by that handicap, Jesus wanted to make up for the time lost.

I could feel other eyes on us as we walked through the valley near my heavenly home.  I knew them to be the souls of family members long passed, eager to enjoin with me in a heavenly reunion and homecoming. My mother and father counted among the number, my baby brother, two years old when he passed held onto my father’s hand, more anxious than the others.  My wife stood arm in arm with my grandmother and grandfather.  Her own grandmother stood behind her, peeking over the top of the others.  In a family of short people, that tall of a woman stuck out like a sore thumb.

 In heaven, there were no appointed hours, or meetings missed, no opportunities lost, or squandered.  Their opportunity soon would come, but this was my quiet time with Jesus.

“We should do this again.”

“I don’t want it to stop.”  I confided.  Jesus, even though he was God and he was my host in heaven, knew that other loved ones waited to see me and he would no longer monopolize my time.

“I am always nearby.”  He explained.  “Anytime you wish to speak it will be the delight of my heart to walk with you.”  He smiled and I could no longer see him, but he never left me.  Jesus never leaves.

 

A lifetime is but a hiccup in heaven and we know that soon our girls will join us here.

We pay frequent visits to them.  I like to sit with Ashton and just hear her sing. I always loved her voice, a talent passed down to her from her dad.  I watch Sydney as she works her magic on the stove preparing meals for her family of three.  Her culinary talents definitely come from her mother.

My favorite time to visit is when they are asleep. They can hear me in their dreams and we can speak this way.

On this night, I lean over my eldest daughter.  She is almost an old woman now her aging husband lies snoring beside her.  She got her sleeping talents from me, which is probably a benefit to her sanity.

I gently brush away a tuft of gray hair that has fallen across her forehead.  In her sleep, she senses me.  “I miss you so much daddy.”  She says, and a tear spills from her closed eyes and rests on her cheek.

“I miss you too baby.”  I whisper into her ear.  She is almost seventy now, hardly a child, but she will always be my child.

“How is momma?”

Now her mother appears beside me.  “I’m right here darling.”

Old lips smile but the voice that speaks is like that of a child.  “Are you ok?”  She asks.

“We are fabulous hon.” Natasha assures her.

“I can’t wait to see you.”

“Shh.”  Natasha hushes her and caresses Ashton’s face with the back of her fingers. With her touch the years seem to peel back from her aging skin and for an instant I can see the child I raised to become the handsome old woman asleep in her bed. “You rest, in time you will be with us but there are still a lot of years ahead of you.”

I touch her hand.

“Daddy.”  She whispers from still sleeping lips.

“Yes hon?”  I whisper into the darkness between us. 

“I love you.”

“I know.” I say and I step back into the shadows and another room opens before us.

We now approach the bed of our youngest child.  Careful not to wake her, I draw up the covers close to her chin.

“Daddy?”  She whispers in the darkness.

“I’m here baby.”  I tell her.

“I’m sick daddy.”  She tells me.

I now realize I am sitting on the edge of a hospital bed. Her husband lies sleeping next to her in the recliner.
                There are IV lines running from pumps that stand on her left side. I recognize them, and a single word sends a cold shiver down my spine.

Cancer.

I reach up to touch her head but my hand withdraws as I see only a smooth head where hair once grew.  I endeavor forward and gently caress bare scalp. Natasha appears on the opposite side of the bed and kisses her Sydney on the forehead.

Taking her daughter’s hand in her own, she kisses each finger.  “I know how this feels but don’t give up.  You have to fight for the ones you love.”

“But is hurts so bad!”  Sydney says with tears streaming down her aged face.

I take up her other hand and say, “When you need us, we will be right by your side.”  I promise her. “But you have to live, for the man who sleeps by your side you have to live.”

“Daddy?”

“I’m here baby.”

“Does Jesus hate me?”  The years have peeled away from her voice and there is only a child’s innocence in the question.

“Of course not.”

“Then why does he want me to hurt?”  She asks me.

“Jesus doesn’t want you to hurt.”  I explain. “Suffering is a consequence of life, but through our suffering his glory can shine through and if you let him, he will supply you with all the strength you need to get through this.”

“Don’t leave me.”  She says as she feels me pull away.

Natasha emerges from the darkness. “We will always be here.”

The light flips on and a nurse enters to check the bags.  We disappear from sight but we remain in the room.  Holding hands, we keep a close vigil over our darling child until the very end.

On that day, family and a few close friends gather at her bedside.  All wanting to kiss her and tell her how much they love her.  There is a definite pall of impending death hanging over the room like gray thunderclouds. 

Standing arm in arm, Natasha and I wait. Unlike the others, we do not shed a tear, for we know that soon our child will climb out of that bed and we will be the first sight she sees with her post mortal eyes.

Now, as her mortal body breathes its last breath, a young child around the age of five stands up in the middle of her chest. 

“Mommy! Daddy!”  She screams so loud we wonder if anyone heard her.

With a running start, she jumps into my arms propelled by young legs.  I draw her to me and plant kisses all over her face.

“I missed you.”  She says her arms constricting around my neck like an anaconda choking the life out of a capybara.

“We have been here all along.”

Natasha slides in closer and mother and daughter nuzzle noses.

“I’m going to say goodbye to your sister.”  I say and pass Sydney to her mother’s anxious arms.

I cross the room and leaning down I kiss my eldest daughter on the head.  It must have tickled for her hand moves to scratch the kissed part of the scalp. “I will see you tonight.”  I tell her putting a hand on her shoulder.

“Did you just say something?”  She asks her husband who gives her a, “who me” look.  “I could have sworn you said something.”  She says again, but he only shakes his head.

I join the other two members of my family and hand in hand, we walk Sydney across the threshold of heaven.

 

In another decade in time that passes like a hiccup in heaven, I greet my oldest daughter on the night of her passing.  Her body is breaking down, and she can no longer live on her own.  She sleeps in a back room in my grandson’s home where she spends her days drifting in and out of consciousness and watching television.

As the clock in the room rolls over to the three o’clock hour, I enter the room and take my customary place at her side.  She opens her eyes and she can see me.  I know she can because the moment her eyes meet mine, her face brightens and I see her smile.  It is a toothless smile, because her dentures are bathing in a cleaning solution on her bedside table.

“Daddy.”  She says in a satisfied voice.  “You came.  I knew you would.”  Her voice strained to speak.  Her lungs crackled and wheezed as her body struggled with all its might to keep itself alive.  When the spirit of my child stepped from her mortal vessel, I saw the earthly rags shrink and fall away.

“Where is momma?”  She asked. The image of a child of two sat in the middle of the bed, half concealed in her mortal body.

“I’m right here honey.”  Natasha appeared in the doorway, no longer an image of a sixteen-year-old girl, but a mother in her fifties.  As Ashton stood and ran into her mother’s anxious arms, I saw my daughter grow from the age of two to sixteen then to a young woman of eighteen.

She next hugged me.  Taking her hand, I asked, “You’re sister can’t wait to see you.  Are you ready?”

With a momentary glance back at the frail eternally sleeping body lying on the bed, I know that her thoughts are with her son and his family. In the morning, her daughter-in-law would come in ready to deliver breakfast and she will find the old woman asleep in bed.  She will know in the instant that there is no longer life in that body.  The family will gather at a memorial service to honor her life and then at the burial site where she will be placed in the ground alongside her husband of forty plus years.

I spoke earlier of the mysteries of the universe. Once you understand how God put the universe together, the answers to the questions are very simple.  The greatest question I think humanity has ever asked concerns the meaning of life. Why are we here?

Here is the best way I can explain it.

God plants us here like a crop that produces great fruit.  As a single apple tree produces great fruit and feeds generations, a life that bears great fruit can do likewise. 

Those we leave behind do not remember us because of the cars we drive, the size of our bank accounts, or the square footage of our homes. They remember us because of how we love and care for one another.

In the years since my life ebbed away, I have seen how God’s work produced a great harvest from one humble man and a God fearing woman.  We left behind children who taught and loved as we taught and loved them.  They produced offspring that would carry on this legacy of love and the story of Christ’s love to a steadily growing agnostic world.

At the crest of the hill in the place that Christ prepared for us, my arms go around my wife’s shoulder and I pull her close to my side.  We don’t say a word but we both share the same thought.

In the end, the struggle was all worth it. 

 

 

 

 

 

© 2014 Casper Cross


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Added on April 21, 2014
Last Updated on April 21, 2014
Tags: Heaven, death, suffering, pain, happiness, afterlife

Author

Casper Cross
Casper Cross

Nashville, TN



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A Story by Casper Cross