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‘Heaven is for Real’ doesn’t comfort this grieving dad

I would love to see my son again, hear him call me dad. Greyson is in excellent company, with his extended family. His great-grandfather, Papa Cecil, is with him.

Papa Cecil

“Heaven is for Real” is a wretched book. I’m not one to advocate book burning, though in this case, I might make an exception.

To be clear, I have not read this particular literary work. Not a single page. But it would seem every other person I know has, and they have all taken the time to describe it to me in excruciating detail.

It is the story of a father and his son. The son dies, briefly, but is brought back and regains his health. Soon he begins talking to his family about things that he saw while he was dead. Telling them things about family members he could not have known and never met. Proof he had gone to Heaven, but just for a visit. All meant to assure us that Heaven is, indeed, for real.

This is not something of which I have ever needed convincing. It would seem that this “every other person I know” either needed convincing themselves or for some reason assumed I was having a crisis of faith after my second son died. Not an unreasonable assumption, but I have never had trouble with faith. My belief in God and my belief in Heaven has never wavered.

Even before his funeral, people were telling us about this book.

“You have GOT to read it.” “It is SO amazing.” “It just made me cry and cry and cry.”

Because I needed help crying as I planned my son’s burial.

Some offered copies. One or two actually sent the book without so much as warning us it was coming.

My wife read it. Made her mad.

That was enough for me.

You see, while others seem to find reassurance in the book, there is a part of me that this book encourages — a part that does not need encouragement. It is the darkness that quietly longs for an idiot to run a red light. For the crash to be serious enough to kill me, but only for a little while.

You see while these kind, well-meaning people stand there telling me about this little boy who died briefly and got to go to Heaven, all I can think is “How nice. I hope that happens to me.”

The way I imagine it, as the doctors or EMT’s are beating on my chest and charging their paddles, I am sitting by a lake. Calm and still. Greyson walks up. Two fishing poles in hand.

“Hi, Dad.”


“You won’t be here long. They are sending you back. But I wanted you to know that I’m fine. WE are fine, actually.”

At this point he motions over his shoulder and I see his Papa Gary sitting with my papas Burl and Cecil. All sitting on a dock, laughing and fishing. Singing Tom T. Hall songs and drinking cheap beer.

Greyson hands me a pole. Sits beside me in the dewy grass. Lays his head on my shoulder.

“I miss you, Dad.”

Doesn’t seem like too much to ask. Though in all honesty, just hearing his voice say the word “dad” would be enough.

To be exceedingly clear, the fantasy does NOT involve an extended stay in Heaven. I do not wish to die. I am not suicidal. My place is here on Earth with my wife, my oldest son and my daughter. I’m hoping for 50 more years. And I’m eating better and exercising more in an effort to actually get that.

But this damn book. When everyone else hears the story they think “Aha! Proof!”

Me, I think “Visit!” And this makes it hard to concentrate on the world before me. Sort of like the week before Spring Break or Christmas, except I’ll be staying at the office putting in the hours. Just dreaming of my vacation.

So when it comes to literature, feel free to recommend a Western or a spy novel. An engaging title on economic theory or a well-fought argument in favor of the serial comma would be most welcome. But shut up about the well intentioned “Heaven is for Real.”

I know it is.

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