The Day Grandma Left Heaven for Dead

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You see I’ve always wanted to believe in heaven.

When I was a little girl and Santa’s beard fell off to reveal Uncle Seymour, I dropped my belief in Santa. I took Santa Seymour’s gifts with sadness, because Mr. Claus was for me no more. Heaven was different. I held on to heaven right up to my first double-digit birthday. You see, I missed some dead people so much. I wanted to believe they had landed somewhere friendly and warm, floating on a cloud, with room one day for me. I would arrive up there and meet them and they’d be so happy to see me. They would notice how beautifully I had grown up and how pretty my hair was long.

Now, when Grandma Celia died, she went straight to heaven. At that moment heaven was still a certainty to me. I was seven and I didn’t question Grandma’s arrival there because she had always called me her angel. She had loved me and kissed me more than a million and had made hot soup for colds and sweet desserts just because. Yet when I was nine and a half, Grandpa Louis died in his sleep. Then I began to wonder. You see, Celia and Louis were always disagreeing about things. I didn’t think that could happen in heaven. No arguing. You had to be peaceful up there. In addition, just a few months after Grandma Celia died, my family was taken by surprise, because Grandpa Louis had found a new wife – Dorothy Rabin. This shotgun wedding, just months after Grandma Celia’s departure, was troubling for my concept of heaven. For Celia would not have liked the fact that Dorothy had married quarrelsome Grandpa Louis. Dorothy had been Grandma Celia’s closest-dearest-confidant and friend on earth. So, by the time I was double-digit ten (a day I had long waited for), I dropped my notion of heaven and deemed it a fairytale – continuing to live wistfully, in full doubt, for many decades. Yes, it happened, conclusively, the day I blew ten candles out with one for good luck – that was the day Grandma left heaven for dead.

Recently I went to a funeral mass where the Grandma who died was proclaimed to have left the earth and was by God’s side. There was choir singing and glorious organ music. There was incense swinging and no air-conditioning in the church. I fell under a celestial spell. The sonorous priest knew, without a doubt, that this Grandma was heaven-sent and had gone to a better place. He rejoiced in the fact that in heaven a joyful reunion would take place with her brothers and sisters and pre-deceased husband, etc. The priest also knew that this Grandma was looking down on her many grandchildren and would “guide their way into the light of eternity.” He knew it for sure, and the grandkids knew it for sure, and so did most of the people there who sang prayers that they knew by heart, kneeled when told, rose when asked and most importantly knew not to applaud when each hymn was over.

I was a stranger to this. I just couldn’t accept it. For me this cloud paradise didn’t add up. I am too logical I guess. I don’t have the gift of belief. Not that I didn’t want it. Who wanted life to end in a dead end? But I had no choice. I guess you could blame it on Grandma Celia and Grandpa Louis’s arguing and the scandal with Dorothy.

I left the church estranged. I was now well into my double-digit birthdays. I remembered clearly the day I was ten and turned away from Cloud Nine. My inquisitions into heaven would stop at the planetarium, in the Museum of Natural History on 81st Street and Central Park West. I would have to exchange the hereafter for here and now. I would have to face my atheist self, and exist in the occasional solace of living daylight. I would try to find heaven in children, in the sun, in the moon, in the stars, in work, in the laughter, in the tears, in the friends, in the moments of life that were within life – moments that would never be again.

“Quelle dommage,” I thought. How much I yearn for the heaven train to give me a ride – but I simply can’t find that ticket.

6 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Joan Larsen says:

    Sheila . . . I am going to be honest. I think sitting on a cloud would be boring — and after thinking long and hard about it in my younger years, I always got the impression that we could be reunited with the family members — which was to be glorious. But – while the holidays with family long ago were fun – we all know how glad we were to go home. Isn’t that right? I have never heard anyone go past speaking of the “reuniting with loved ones”. But then what?? Can we start a new life with all the wisdom we have gained from this life (I have so much wisdom I have not even used on this earth), shouldn’t there be suggestions if not promises that this new world is going to be far more fun and happier than this one is now. And speaking of that, am I wrong OR, if we are honest, don’t we all think that this life has come to be not so much fun and just plain not wonderful as it was 20 years ago or — to be honest — before that even ????

    Like Liz Smith, I am determined to squeeze every good moment I can out of this life . . . well, just in case this is all there is!! So far I am living a life and a half and I am speeding up . . . well, just in case I just could be right. Bet you are too!!!!


  2. avatar Linda says:

    Heaven did not seem to connect the dots to me, until my beliefs shifted from Heaven being a destination – to heaven being a transistion.

    • avatar Joan Larsen says:

      Hi Linda . . . and where have I been? As I never heard or thought of that being another “take” on heaven. We will never know, but this thinking of heaven as a transition is much more — well, comforting — than the alternative. I will remember this, thanks to you!!!

      • avatar Linda says:

        What I do know from my own experience, all doctrines and learned beleifs set aside, is “the other side” is within 8 feet of mortality all the time. The night a mother of a friend of mine died, I could see a cross drawn across her heart. No hand, just the imprint made. The cross started pulsating and then with a split second sort of whoosh, her energy came away from the body and she got up out of her bed,she took a look at her husband holding her hand then walked about 8 feet and was gone.

        When my mom was dying, I could see the wall of her CCU room just evaporate about 8 feet from the bed. Through the opening, my dad, grandmother and grandfather I never knew stepped in. I knew at that moment my efforts were pretty much toast – though she was not alone on either side.

        To me, the big bang unleashed the mortality of time, with no set speed which has been proven through researching the speed of light or sound, yet the other side of the big bang is within 8 feet. 🙂 The very earliest meanings of the word heaven was transition. The transition itself, is as far or close as accepted to be.

        Miss you being on WOW Joni!

  3. avatar Chris Glass` says:

    There is no easy answer as to why some people can see and experience those who have passed while others can’t. I don’t think it is cultural conditioning so much as it is being in a receptive state of mind when it happens.

    If anyone wants to learn to be receptive they can take a class at the Monroe Institute in Virginia that will prove that you are more than just your body. This organization is not affiliated with any religion or spiritual practice.

    I was living 300 miles away from my parents when my father died. I woke up and saw him standing beside my bed. Then I looked at the clock and thought, “I must be dreaming.” The next morning I heard he “died” at the time I saw him. I saw him again just two days before my mother passed away with lung cancer. He was as real as he was in life even though I did not hear him speak. My mother knew he was there and talked to him.

    My experiences are limited in comparison to others. Hospice nurses are very familiar with visitations and sometimes the visions that the dying experience.

    • avatar Linda says:


      I agree everyone is just as capeable as the next in tuning in. That is why I refuse to use the word “gifts”. I celebrated another birthday on Monday and spent time just thinking about where I will go from here in my life. Figure I could have 30 years yet. 🙂 Decided to step into teaching what I have learned to others. I have always felt the answer was to empower another rather than hand them a short term excitement in tuning in to who they are.

      Letting go of the expectations and just allowing this universe to bring it on.