His Glimpse of the Gates of Heaven Was Her Blessing

How a husband's journey to the afterlife and back consoled his wife for the second time.

Posted in , Jun 25, 2020

An artist's rendering of the gates of heaven.

The house Marv and I had called our home was deathly silent as I moved aimlessly from room to room. Our three grown children had gone back to their lives. The same with my friends. Five days after the funeral there was only me, alone with my thoughts. No one to tell how much I missed hearing his voice, his warm laugh. He’d been such a rock for me in our marriage, with his banker’s sensibility, dependable, faithful. His faith had always been stronger than mine.

Now he was gone, killed by complications from pneumonia and a progressive palsy that would have left him paralyzed had he not died. I’d spent my career as a nurse. I knew the toll disease can take on a person. I was glad Marv hadn’t suffered any more than he had. But that didn’t make the pain of losing him any easier.

I wanted to believe he was in God’s hands, in heaven, just as our minister had said at the funeral. I wanted to be truly happy for him. But in the silence it was hard to feel anything but sadness and loneliness.

I settled into Marv’s comfy armchair. My mind went to another time, 12 years earlier, when Marv had seemed distant, unreachable. He had been home for five months after surgery to remove a pancreatic tumor. He should have been back to his old self, but this was a man I barely recognized. He moped around the house. Hardly spoke. He’d been an avid golfer, but he hadn’t been to the links once since his surgery. I was worried about him. He wouldn’t tell me what was wrong. It was as if he’d lost his will to live.

Then one day we were sitting at the table after lunch. “Something happened to me in the hospital after the surgery,” he said, his voice halting. “I barely know how to put it in words.”

“Marv, you know you can tell me anything,” I said, but I couldn’t imagine what it could be.

“I was in a lot of pain,” he said, looking down at his empty lunch plate. “You’d gone to the hotel for the evening. I kept pressing the button for a dose of pain meds, but couldn’t get a nurse. I looked to the door. Two men I’d never seen before walked into my room. They were 40ish, average height. One had longish brown hair and the other had shorter hair.” Marv looked up and held my gaze. “Both wore long white robes.”

I was on the edge of my seat. “You think they were…”

“Angels, yes,” Marv said. “I’ve never been more certain of anything. They stood on either side of me, freed me from all the tubes and IVs, and put their arms around me. I was lifted. I saw the bed below me. The walls of the hospital vanished. I was flying through a brilliant blue sky. I wasn’t afraid. I felt the strength of the angels’ arms, supporting me, guiding me. Peace enveloped me.”

Marv went on to describe lights in the distance, shimmering waves of white, blue, red and green, like the aurora borealis, only the colors were brighter and deeper.

“I found myself outside a vast wooden door and a wall that seemed endless,” he said. “I was at the gates of heaven! The joy I felt was indescribable. I craned my neck but couldn’t see the top of the door and realized the angels were gone. There were about 35 people ahead of me, all of them smiling, beaming, as if to say, ‘We finally made it!’ Every minute or two the door would open and the next in line would go in. Finally no one was in front of me. The door opened to a large man with shaggy hair, a scrubby beard, sandals and a robe that looked like it had been worn for at least a thousand years.

“He stuck out his hand. ‘Hello, Marv, my name’s Peter. Welcome to heaven.’ ”

With every word Marv’s story grew more incredible. I didn’t doubt a word he said, yet it was more than I could comprehend. “Then what?”

“I was in a kind of entryway,” Marv said. “And Peter turned a page in what I understood to be the Book of Life. ‘Marv,’ he said, ‘I can’t find your name for today.’ I was dumbfounded. I argued with him. All that mattered to me was to be in heaven.”

At that point Marv could see a world beyond where he stood with Peter. Green grass, thick and inviting, the sky a sea of vivid blues, periwinkle, aqua and sapphire. Far in the distance he saw Grandma and Grandpa Besteman, his mother and three of his best friends. They each smiled and waved, as if inviting Marv to join them. They seemed to glow with happiness. Marv wanted to run to them, but Peter was insistent. It wasn’t Marv’s time.

“The next thing I knew I was back in the hospital room, connected to tubes.” Marv paused. “I’ve been struggling with how to tell you all this. And how to deal with these feelings of wishing I was in heaven even now.”

I took Marv’s hand and squeezed it. “Marv,” I said, “you have been truly blessed. And I’m here for you. Those angels too are still watching over you.”

Now, sitting here with only the memory of Marv to keep me company, I recalled that conversation as if it had just taken place. In the weeks that followed, Marv’s spirits slowly improved. He told the children what he’d seen, then our minister and the people at church. With each telling he grew stronger. He saw how his account of heaven gave hope to others. He spent months reading everything he could about the angelic world. In time he wrote a book, My Journey to Heaven. But I’d felt a bit disconnected from it all. Hearing someone talk about heaven, even Marv, wasn’t the same as actually experiencing it myself.

Almost six years went by. It seemed Marv had made a full recovery. Then in mid-December he was hospitalized with pneumonia. I assumed he would be released in two or three days, but his condition only worsened. By early January I noticed he was markedly weaker on his left side. He struggled to speak. A CT scan showed a blood clot on his brain, and he was transferred to the ICU.

Four days later I made the hardest decision of my life, to remove Marv from life support. He was moved to hospice. I sat at his bedside day and night. Marv barely moved—barely aware, it seemed, of my presence, or the kids and friends who came to pay their respects. One afternoon he raised his arms skyward. “Do you think he’s reaching for Jesus?” a friend asked. I thought of the angels who had escorted him to heaven and wondered if they were there in the room with us. A short while later, Marv breathed his last.

With the funeral preparations and a house full of family, I hadn’t thought much about the day Marv finally confided in me about his first trip to heaven. But now, remembering the details of that journey, I truly understood Marv’s joy. The experience had been as much for his benefit as for mine. I imagined my husband in heaven as if I were standing right there beside him being greeted by those he loved. I smiled at the thought, and I knew it wasn’t only Marv who was in the arms of angels. The silence had brought me a blessing of my own.

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