A Picture of Heaven

A woman who misses her father learns that her mother has received assurances from beyond.


Cathy's father and mother on the beach

Warm, glowing lights. Music, joyful and familiar. What was the tune? Where was it coming from? Where was I? I felt so safe, so loved. Strong arms enveloped me. I looked up. Dad! We were dancing together the way we did when I was a little girl. The way we did at my wedding.

But Dad was gone now. How could we be dancing? How could he be here at all?

I searched his face for an answer. He smiled and suddenly none of it seemed strange at all. It was as real as anything I’d ever experienced. “I love you,” he said with his eyes, his very presence.

For the first time in months my heart wasn’t weighted down by grief. Dad wasn’t gone. He was happy and he wanted me to be happy too.

I opened my eyes to the morning sun in my bedroom. The dream faded away, but the feeling stayed with me. Dad was here, I thought. It was really him. He’d come to me to let me know he was all right.

I jumped out of bed—I had to tell Mom. She knew how much I missed Dad, how upset I’d been for so long, angry at God for taking a good man so young—only 52 years old—after a short battle with cancer. In my grief I couldn’t believe there was any meaning to it. I knew Mom grieved too. She’d lost the love of her life. And yet her faith sustained and comforted her.

“Do you really believe in heaven, Mom?” I’d asked her one day as we sat in her kitchen. “Do you really think there’s anything after we die?”

Mom patted my hand. “Honey, all I think about lately are the wonderful times your dad and I spent on the beach in Florida. Remember those days?”

Of course I did. Mom and Dad went to Clearwater Beach every year. They spent hours walking the shore collecting seashells, Mom in her sunglasses and Dad in his favorite floppy, crumpled blue hat—picture-perfect beachcombers.

“I think about the white sand, the sun, the hugs and kisses we shared, and all those seashells we collected, and I’m sure there is a heaven. Your dad and I saw a glimpse of it here on earth,” Mom said. “God would not have given us those moments if there wasn’t something greater awaiting us.”

“But how can you just believe that?” I said. “We can’t know what happens after we die. All I know is that Dad’s not here anymore.”

Mom put her hands on my shoulders. “Before your dad died he promised to try to send me a sign when he got to heaven to let me know he was okay. He never broke a promise to me. I believe that one day God will send me a sign that your father is safe with him.”

Could it be that my strange, wonderful dream was that sign? I rushed over to Mom’s house to tell her. “I had the strangest dream—” I began, but Mom interrupted.

“Sit down,” she said. The urgency in her voice puzzled me, but I did what I was told. “I want to show you something,” she continued. “I just got this in the mail.” She handed me a travel magazine that her credit card company had sent its customers. “Look,” she said, opening to a feature section on Clearwater Beach, Florida—Mom’s heaven on earth. I flipped through the glossy pages to an article called “Shelling.” The pictures were gorgeous—seashells of all varieties, endless stretches of sand and sea and sky. “Turn the page,” Mom said softly.

A wide shot spread across two pages. A lovely view of Clearwater Beach. In the foreground a man was bending over to pick up a seashell. A man in a funny, crumpled blue hat... “Dad?” I gasped. It was Dad, plain as day. And beyond him, in orange pants, not quite in focus, was Mom. Caught by a travel photographer’s camera without their knowing.

“Now I know,” Mom said, running her fingers over the page. “Dad’s in heaven for sure. He got there first, but one day I’ll be there too.” Mom closed the magazine and looked into my eyes. “Now that I’ve got my sign, do you believe?”

“I do, Mom,” I told her. “You see, I received a sign as well....”

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