And what about death? What will that be like? What will you feel when your heart thumps for the last time and the soul separates from its shell?
I often say, “I’m not afraid of death, but dying concerns me.”
The notion of being “dead” is actually kind of exhilarating for me. I believe I’m going to see God and live joyfully in eternity! I’m sure I’ll have some responsibilities in my new celestial home and I’m excited to see what they might be. Whatever they are, I’m sure they won’t include stressing over my health insurance.
But that whole “dying” part. That’s not quite so thrilling. I mean, it’s got to hurt, right? And are we going to know when it’s happening or will it be more like a blink? One second, we’re mortal, the next we’re … something else?
Dying? Heaven? How Do I Write About Things I’ve Never Experienced?
When I started writing my novel, “Unsung Lyrics”, it hadn’t really occurred to me how much I didn’t know about dying or heaven or what happens in between.
When I began collaboration on the story with screenwriter Mikie DeLong Pyle, we clearly identified the concepts we wanted to convey: life, death, afterlife, redemption – those sorts of things.
Knowing that God seemed to have commissioned us to work together on this wonderful project was inspiring and I was ready to put pen to paper as soon as we completed the first outline!
At first it was easy. I was pretty familiar with earthly things, like how it felt to wake up in the morning, shower, and burn breakfast. But as the story evolved, so did my understanding that I would need to rely on God’s guidance when it came time to take my audience through Megan Calloway’s physical death and spiritual transformation.
Painting a picture of heaven’s courtyard and the overall feeling of being there has forced me to dig deeper into my psyche than I’d originally planned when I started this collaborative journey!
As you can imagine, I did quite a lot of research but not surprisingly, there just aren’t a lot of people who have died and lived to tell about it.
What Does the Bible Say About Death and Heaven?
Thankfully, the Bible offers a few snapshots of what may await. It promises us that God has prepared a place for us, that heaven is infinite (there’s room for everyone!) and that our physical bodies will be transformed.
1st Corinthians has two awesome verses from which I pulled when writing the story! The first is verse 15. I’ll paraphrase for the sake of brevity. Basically, it says that we will all be changed in the twinkling of an eye. The dead will be raised and our perishable bodies will become imperishable. Our mortal bodies will put on immortality. “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
I love that! When Megan dies, I describe how I imagine her physical body transforming into an “imperishable” creation.
Another reference in 1st Corinthians is in verse two. This time, I’m not paraphrasing. The English Standard Version of the Bible says it like this, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” –
I’m confident that no matter how far my imagination carries us into this story, it won’t come close to the magnificence God has planned for us!
What Do Others Say?
In addition to God’s Word, I considered a few more “down to earth” reference points.
I was a big fan of the show, I Survived! Beyond & Back, which highlights experiences of people who have died and returned to share their adventures. I watched the series religiously before “Unsung Lyrics” was even a sprinkle in my thoughts. But as much as I enjoyed the stories, I still couldn’t grasp the details … or the sensation … of dying and going to heaven, at least not enough to take readers into that world through my pen.
In my early stages of developing “Unsung Lyrics”, Mikie gave me a book by Eben Alexander called “Proof of Heaven”. The author is a neurosurgeon who didn’t believe in afterlife until he experienced it himself. I ended up setting the book aside and never opening it. I was too excited to create my own story and, I suppose I feared that Eben’s book might hinder my own creative ideas.
It wasn’t until after I’d written Megan’s death, spiritual transition, and entry into the courtyard outside of heaven, that I finally opened “Proof of Heaven”. I was excited to see that some of the imagery I’d described in Megan’s experience was similar to what Eben Alexander had gone through! It was encouraging to know that my fanciful imagination isn’t too far off from what our actual afterlife experience might be like.
I’ve realized as I continue to pray about the story and seek God’s prompting, that we simply can’t exaggerate the magnificence of heaven or its Creator. Once that notion struck me, writing the otherworldly scenes has taken me on a whole new adventure!
The possibilities of what awaits us after we leave earth are truly boundless!
I believe that, while we will each share some generalities in our transitional experience, God has made arrangements for all of his children to experience their own very unique and personal voyage as they leave the physical world to return to Him in their everlasting home. That’s the direction I took when I described Megan’s journey.
I’m eager to watch “Heaven is For Real”, the soon-to-be-released film about Colton, a young boy who experienced heaven as he was undergoing emergency surgery. When he awoke from the operation, he talked of meeting a miscarried sister of whom he’d never been told and spoke of things that he could otherwise not have known.
I don’t expect Colton’s experience to be a lot like that of my fictional character, Megan Calloway, but it still will be fun to see if there are similarities. Every now and then, I’ll see or hear something from a near-death survivor and think to myself, “I knew it!”
What Does My Mind’s Eye See?
Here is an excerpt from “Unsung Lyrics. Although the book is a work in progress (I may still tweak some things), it will give you an idea of what I imagine our transition might be like. You’re jumping into the story after Megan’s conversion from her physical life to her spiritual form has already begun. In this scene, she’s still not quite sure what’s happening to her, but she knows she’s dangling between two realms.
CHAPTER 7 – Transformed
Azrael, the angel of death, glided toward her from the heavens. She felt herself floating upward, toward him. None of this made sense, yet it felt magnificent. Soothing. Beyond magical.
As she drew closer to him, Megan could understand why history had painted wings on these beautiful figures. The angel was bordered by a glow more glorious and vibrant than any she’d ever seen. The glow originated from his back and was brightest near his frame. Its intensity faded as it grew away from him.
While the angel didn’t technically have skin, Megan would find no other description for the silvery, somewhat transparent shine that covered his form. His cranium was nothing more than a single, large eye beckoning her toward him. Looking into the eye, she felt more love and comfort than she could describe.
A beautiful mouth adorned his chest, directly over where his heart might be. The lips were cracked just slightly, as though breathing gently, waiting for the right chance to speak.
She could not have known that this angel was, in fact, covered with millions of eyes and tongues, but the only ones visible to her were those which represented her physical life.
There were no other human features one would expect to see, yet this creature was more natural and brilliant than she could comprehend. If it were possible, the eye almost appeared to be smiling at her, loving her, communicating with her.
As Azrael approached, Megan gazed at his peaceful aura, examining his beauty, happy he was there. She reached her fingers to his chest and placed them tenderly over the waiting lips, exploring them, admiring them. She could feel air exhaling softly from them, emitting new life into her. With each gentle breath, she felt more alive, more complete.
Azrael took her hands, gently placing them face-down onto his huge, luminous palms. Instantly, an impulse ran through her body that told her she was with somebody who loved her like none other; that he would take care of her.
As they hovered in the atmosphere, restful and silent, she began to hear a faint singing, adding to the tranquility of the moment. Heat from Azrael’s hands radiated into hers. She was mesmerized by the site and feel of their touching fingers and didn’t want the experience to end.
Azrael was speaking to her through his touch.
They remained in an intimate moment, saying nothing, but communicating everything. Megan looked at the creature, wanting to be closer to him, hungry to know more.
After a brief pause, the mouth that covered his chest inhaled deeply, slowly. The lips and the single eye closed simultaneously for the first time since November 5, 1965 – the moment Megan Frances was conceived. As soon as the upper and lower lids touched, she felt herself change.
Her skin, now back to the dull pallor of passing, began to turn pink and alive. It was lovely. Exhilarating. As instantly as it appeared, her new skin then began to dissolve away, revealing the muscles, tendons, and nerves beneath, which disbanded, layer by layer and liquefied before her, becoming drops and slowly floating into the atmosphere before they disappeared. The process moved up to her wrists, arms, and eventually throughout her body. Every physical aspect of Megan was vanishing, peeling away from her soul. She felt her thick, dark hair fade away and knew she no longer had eyes, but could see clearly. Her ears did not remain, yet she could hear the distant singing grow louder as she and Azrael began moving again, travelling up.
In an instant, her insight of everything was even more acute than before. Without knowing how, Megan had wisdom beyond explanation.
Her fleshly being was gone. She realized that all those stories of souls leaving the carnal body when a person dies were wrong. It was the other way around. It was the physical body that left the soul.