On a beautiful late summer day in August 2008, Stephanie Nielson’s fairytale life is devastated when her husband’s small plane crashes. The horrific crash leaves their friend and flight instructor dead, her husband with burns over 50% of his body, and herself hovering perilously close to death with burns over 80% of her body. In Heaven Is Here: An Incredible Story of Hope, Triumph, and Everyday Joy, Stephanie recounts her journey back to her life and her family.
Her memoir is divided into three parts, with the first part showing us the sincere, contented young woman who had found the love of her life and was making a home in Arizona with him and their four young children. She was a devoted mother, an active woman who loved to be outdoors, and a faithful member of the Mormon church. She was even a popular blogger, sharing her positive outlook on life and motherhood through her blog, the NieNie Dialogues.
As the second part of the book opens, we see Stephanie in the hospital in Phoenix, just beginning to awaken to the horror and pain of what has happened to her. She takes us through the long process of recovery with her, sharing her fears of letting her children see her – or of even looking at herself in the mirror – and the agony of relearning all the bodily functions that came so naturally before the accident.
Eventually, she is moved to a hospital in her hometown of Provo, Utah, to be closer to family, and plans are made for her to finally leave the hospital. Part 3 of this book shows her leaving the protective cocoon of the hospital and beginning the next grueling phase of her journey. There are many difficult moments as she and her husband attempt to bring their family back together, but they meet each challenge together and find a way through.
Heaven Is Here is a testimony to the power of love, faith, and determination. I was so impressed with Stephanie for having the courage to transform herself when her life did not follow the path she thought it would. I have to say that I found it a bit difficult to connect emotionally with her writing style, and I actually found the epilogue to be the most heartfelt section of the book. I especially loved these words:
I have accepted myself in a world that does not accept me, because I have learned—and more than any of the lessons of my accident, this is the one I wish I could teach everybody—that our hearts matter most. Your heart matters most, so be gentler and more patient with yourself, and their hearts matter most, too, so be kinder and more compassionate to others. It’s a beautiful heart, not a perfect body, that leads to a beautiful life.
So true, and a lesson that all of us need to learn and embrace in our own lives.
Very interesting! I of course heard about the horrible accident, but wasn’t familiar with her before that. That’s really an incredible story.