The Train to Heaven
It’s been a while now, but I still think about it. I also feel that in certain situations I am supposed to tell others about my experience. I have been told that I need to write this down for as I get older the details will lose their sharpness. So here I go.
To start off, you need to know a few things about me:
- First thing is that my Dad died of colon cancer at the age of 44. I was almost 5 when he got the news and he didn’t last long after that. My Mother, quite a bit younger than my Dad, wasn’t really up to the task of being a single parent with two young children. Growing up was interesting.
- Second, that I have always been afraid of dying, and somehow this has manifested itself into terrible anxiety over turbulence when flying. Somewhere along the line I started calculating how long one would be alive and conscious of the fact that their plane just had some kind of failure and they were falling to their death from say 30,000 feet. It seemed like it would be a really long time to suffer. I prefer the “died instantly”, or better yet, “died in their sleep” curtain call.
- The third thing is that in high school, I was pretty smart, one of those brainy kids that played chess and did their math homework at the same time. I tested pretty well and got great scores on things like the SAT. When questioned about it, I would tell people that I had “two channels” – I was, in today’s terminology, “dual-core.”
- The last thing I need to share with you is that one of my hobbies is collecting model trains. I worked in a toy and hobby shop in high school – in the hobby department and collected model airplane kits as I couldn’t afford model trains. When my sons were little, I finally started collecting model trains, first in HO scale and then moved up to O scale – the Lionel sized trains. I have quite a collection and by 2004 had an operating layout in our basement that allowed me to run a dozen or so trains at a time.
passes. Wasn’t long before I had the opportunity to try it and I found that it really worked – my anxiety during flying was greatly diminished. From that beginning, I started praying. Maybe not everyday, but close to that. Even if it was just the Lord’s Prayer, or maybe a short thank you for my blessings – way too many to count, and then the Lord’s Prayer. There were a few situations where I prayed for the right words to say, for example, and felt that He helped me to calm down; and find words or the direction I needed.
Right before Christmas 2004, I had awakened on a weekend morning and was re-fluffing my pillows preparing to prop myself up to drink my first cup of coffee. As I settled into my pillows, I heard God say “You will not suffer.” Loud and clear – like I was listening to the radio. I blurted out loud a “What?” as I was startled. He then said, “When you die, you will not suffer.” Obviously I was thrilled with this news. An early Christmas present; perhaps an answer to a prayer.
On June 16th, 2005 I went in for my 8th colonoscopy. I had been getting them regularly since I was 30, every three years as colon cancer was in my family history. This time I was a little late getting it – it had been due in October, but there was a lot of time wasted talking about co-pays and insurance coverage. In all of the previous exams they had found a polyp or two, sometimes very small, and removed them. All benign stuff.
If you haven’t had one, the exam is effortless though they fill you up with a lot of air so they can see everything and that’s a little uncomfortable – mostly on the way out. The preparation is terrible – getting your system cleaned out before the exam. I always get sick. As an old hand at this, I was surprised to be waking up and still be on my side on the table. I could see the clock and I had been in there about 45 minutes or so. It’s usually a 15 to 20 minute procedure. There was a lot of discussion going on and I could see they were working on something that was on the monitor. The doctor told me to close my eyes and relax, they were almost done. Obviously, not a good thing. I got the confirming call two days later. I had colon cancer in the wall of my colon. They weren’t sure how much, or how bad. He might have got it all but without going in and checking they couldn’t be sure that it hadn’t started to spread outside the my colon.
The surgeon and his staff answered all of my questions, and I was scheduled for the surgery on July 7th. My sons would all be in town for the 4th so I wanted to wait until after that.
The problem now was when God told me that I wouldn’t suffer when I died was he also telling me that I was going to die during this surgery while I was out? I wasn’t really worried about treating the cancer. I felt like the doctors were all over it and it was still early, though they wouldn’t be sure until they got under the colon to look around. But maybe I wouldn’t survive the surgery. My family wouldn’t discuss it. Their position was simple - we are doing the surgery, getting rid of the cancer, and everything will be fine – and that was that. As far as they were concerned, no reason to worry – let’s just get it done. Up early on the 7th, and into the hospital for the surgery prep. Before she left me, my daughter kissed me and whispered to me that if any angels come to me and ask me if I want to go to heaven I am to say “no”. I am still needed here in this world by those that love me.
Amongst everything they did they piped me up for a saddle-block like in maternity as I would need more pain management in recovery. This didn’t sound good. As we headed down the hall, the anesthesiologist told me that I was kind of a big guy and if they had trouble venting me, they might have to wake me up to do it. He turned the knob attached to the IV in my left hand and I was gone.
The next thing I know, I coughed. One of those deep coughs. You know the kind where it gets your attention and you stop and wait a second wondering if you would cough again. That’s what I wondered – would I cough again? I knew in an instant that I would not cough again because I was dead. I remember being amazed that I was dead – but something I accepted immediately. There was no panic, or sense of foreboding. All of my responsibilities and worries about this world were taken from me. I felt like God had suddenly relieved me of my charges. There was no pain and no anxiety – just calm.
I found myself floating down into the seat of an old Madison passenger car. Just like dozens of model passenger train cars on my train layout, except I was floating into a broad center seat at the front of the car. Normally, these cars have a center aisle and seats on each side. This car had two aisles, and there were seats on both sides of the aisles. It was more like a very narrow church. The car was white and the seat was soft as I settled into it. There was a bright light coming through the door; all around the car
door really, just a few feet in front of me – say maybe ten.
As I settled into the seat a Messenger spoke to me, “God has sent this train for you so that you will be comfortable on your trip to heaven.” I could clearly hear him, but didn’t see anyone. I didn’t look behind me in the car to see if there was anyone else there, but I had the sensation that I was not alone. I felt that there were souls all around me, but I didn’t see or hear them.
As I looked to my left, I could see out the windows and I recognized that I was in downtown Indianapolis in front of the Indiana Bell building at 220 North Meridian Street. In the 1970’s I had an office in this building while I worked for IBM on the Indiana Bell account.
The Messenger spoke again and told me something I have since forgotten, but I remember being quite surprised by it and I said to myself, “Oh my God.”
The train began to move and we were heading north – the direction I was facing. The Messenger then told me that we needed to make three stops on the way to heaven and I wondered to myself if this was the first of the three or if I had three to go. I wondered why we were here at this building and what the next stop would be.
At that moment, I felt several hands on both sides of my body holding me. Not wrapped around the front like a hug from behind, but just holding me by my sides. Several pairs of hands. There was a sensation that they were holding me back, and I could see the train car door in front of me with all of its light spilling through it start to recede away from me, like it was leaving without me. As it pulled away, the light got dimmer and eventually was gone.
My eyes popped opened. The anesthesiologist was over my right shoulder and I was
laying on the gurney. I looked back up to him and he looked spent. There were tears on his cheeks and in his eyes. I told him that I had been on the train to heaven and he told me that he knew that already, then softly covered my face with his hand and shushed me. “Rest now” he said. I closed my eyes.
Sometime later they were rolling me to my hospital room. They were hooking up an EKG which made no sense to me and then asking me questions about my kids’ names and who was the President of the United States – all very annoying. I eventually got to my room and they somehow got me from the gurney to the bed.
I had a private room. As the night wore on, and my general anesthetic wore off I was in a lot of pain. I was having trouble getting to the point where it was manageable. I was also having a lot of visitors – the hospital administrator and then later the head of surgery came by and gave me his card in case we needed anything. Something was going on – but I didn’t know what. My questions would be answered when the surgeon visited me tomorrow.
It was a tough night, but first thing in the morning I had a visitor. She introduced herself as the floor pastor. She was a small, middle-aged woman in a nice Sunday dress, carrying a bible. No purse or anything like that. She told me that she wanted to introduce herself and that maybe when I felt better, I would like to play cards or something and she would be nearby. I must have snorted at the idea of playing cards, as she smiled, and I asked her if instead we could say a prayer of thanks for all of these people that were taking care of me. She was almost giddy at the suggestion, like I had guessed the right answer or something like that. She came over and took my right hand. She then reached across me and took the nurses left hand and the nurse took my other hand. A nurse was to my left checking the drips in my IV, and as she bowed her head I could see the nurse’s cross on her neck at her collar. I started to say the prayer and the pastor said, “Oh let me, for I have the Words.” She then began her prayer. It was a most beautiful prayer of thanks, and ended with her saying “and dear God, we know that the healing has begun. Amen.” She then kissed my hand, thanked us and we thanked her, and out the door she went.
I was still in a lot of pain. They were adjusting this and that, trying to dial in the right combination. Late that morning the surgeon came in. I asked him about all of the special attention – what was with that, and he then told us that they had lost me during surgery. While I was still open, I had coughed and dislodged the ventilator, and before they could re-vent me, I had died. I was gone about six to seven minutes before they could hand vent me; get up on me and give me CPR; and then shoot me with some stuff that got my heart restarted. They were going to run some tests the next few days to verify that I didn’t have any heart damage – but so far everything looked good.
He told me that it was his worst nightmare comes true, but that they had a really good team working it and were able to get me back; I had coughed and I had died. Wow.
Sometime early afternoon, they got the combination of medications dialed in and I was able to sleep. I was not exactly comfortable, but close enough that I could doze off.
Late afternoon sometime I woke up and could see the late day sun light coming through the window. It was that warm glow you see in a late afternoon or early evening sky just pouring in the window. I thought there was some kind of shift change going on – there were suddenly a bunch of people at the end of my bed.
I reached over; picked up my glasses and put them on. There were six or seven, maybe even eight people at the end of my bed all facing me and I noticed they weren’t wearing hospital clothes – but street clothes. The first guy on the left was middle aged, short and wearing wool slacks and some kind of tweed sport jacket. He was wearing a hat. I thought he resembled Don, a close friend of mine. He slowly removed the hat, sort of tipping it and stepped past the second person. She was a big woman with partially gray hair wearing a house dress, like one Aunt Bee wore with the two small pockets in the front. He stepped in between her and the third person – a small woman, middle aged or so, again with gray hair and wearing stretch pants, like stirrup pants and a loose blouse over them. As I started to look at the fourth person in line, the big woman raised her right arm and from it suddenly extended a screen. It appeared kind of like the opening of an umbrella. This screen was cardinal red in color and with the sunlight coming in the window; the whole group was bathed in a red glow. Almost like a stained glass window. Being an engineer, my attention turned back to her and the screen as I tried to figure out what that was and how it came to be opened. As I looked, they all smiled at me and she said “You’re safe now.” I remember a slight nod of her head, then she lowered her arm; the screen disappeared and they all turned and filed out of the room.
Wow. I hit the nurse call button and asked her if she saw that. She didn’t see anyone. The nurses’ station was maybe ten feet from my door.
Saturday morning I asked to see the floor pastor as I wanted to discuss all of this with her, and my weekend nurses didn’t know anything about a floor pastor. Later Saturday, the surgeon returned and the pathology report was back. He told me the good news I felt I already knew. He wanted me to meet with an oncologist once I had been discharged, but in his opinion, I wouldn’t need any further treatment for the cancer. We just needed to get me to eat; get my bowels to function; get me up and walking again; and then I could go home. It would be a few more days.
Sunday I checked again and still no one knows the floor pastor.
Monday morning the nurse that was with me for the prayer Friday was back, so I asked her about the pastor. Yes, she remembers her visit and comments on what a wonderful prayer it was. She too remembered the pastor referring to herself as the “floor pastor” and at the time was confused by that as the hospital didn’t have floor pastors. She assumed she was from my church. I don’t have a church.
I made good progress through the next couple of days; eating, walking and pooping. All of the other tests came back with good results. I was finally released to come home on Wednesday. I cried as they loaded me in the car – mostly from relief that I was able to leave the place by the front door.
Recovery at home was slower than I had hoped. It was weeks before I could get in and out of bed by myself, or even sleep on my side. I dutifully changed my gauze and even found an infection that was effectively treated. I recovered and went back to work.I did go see the oncologist, and he told me that I would be the best appointment he would have all week. I was officially a cancer survivor.
The surgeon and I finally got a chance to discuss the train to heaven. He said in his position he has to have great faith too. He sees people he thought ought to recover and don’t and people in real trouble that survive. He was all smiles for the first time I had seen him – they had brought me back. He was also quite impressed that I knew I was gone – no way should I have known that. He also said in another year I wouldn’t have made it.
An interesting point I picked up later: The guy that looks like my friend Don might have been his Dad. His Dad died unexpectedly during routine surgery when he was 52, same age as I was when I had the surgery. Don and his wife Lori had been praying for me all along.
When I pray, I always like to have my prayer all thought through before I start – like I am doing it on stage or something. When my mind adds things or gets distracted, I get upset and then set about to start the prayer over. One night after I had long since healed and was back to driving, I was sitting in the car out front of a take-out Chinese place waiting for my order. I thought it was a good time to say a prayer, and part way through got distracted. I was upset with myself and then heard God say, “I know you have two channels – just say your prayer.”
Conclusions I have come to from this experience:
- There is a heaven; we do pass to the other side
- Once there, you are at peace and there is no more pain; no anxiety
- Messengers are there to greet us as we go. Some things we learn when we pass over are not for sharing in this world. That’s why I can’t remember the second thing the messenger told me – it was taken from me
- God takes over our worries and responsibilities when we pass over
- Our loved ones wait for us on the other side – we will see them again. I could feel them all around me when I was on the train.
- When we pray for people, our guardian angels try to help them. I believe the angels that were in my room were the angels that held me back when the train started off.
- To hear God we need to listen for him. He sends us suggestions and solutions.
There have been many occasions when I have felt that I needed to tell this story, or part of it, to other people. It’s as if God knows that they are suffering; they need my words; and He sends me to talk to them.
For example, in the drivers’ license branch I was waiting for my turn and getting passed over by people that came in after me. You find that when you have died and returned stuff like that doesn’t bother you anymore. My name was finally called and the young lady processing my license plate asked if I needed anything else. I checked my driver’s license and it was near needing to be renewed. I asked her if she could do that and she agreed. While doing the paperwork, she asked me if I wanted to be an organ donor. I had never thought about being an organ donor, but before I could say anything I heard myself say that I was not supposed to be an organ donor. She looked at me stunned and then I told her that “I had cancer last year and died during surgery. They brought me back after six to seven minutes. I need to tell you that there is a heaven and they wait for you on the other side.” She broke out into tears. Making a woman cry in the license branch isn’t a good thing, but before security got involved, she thanked me and told me that she needed to know that.”
That’s my story about the train to heaven. I still have to work sometimes at not being scared. Saying the Lord’s Prayer on planes still works. I still pray almost every day. I have more patience.
One of my sons is an anthropology graduate from a prestigious university. I wouldn’t call him a man of faith, not before or even after my story. Subsequently, he did a research sabbatical in western Africa for several weeks and came back with some perspective of his own. That part of the Lord’s Prayer that got to him was “give us this day our daily bread” as most of the people he met did not know when they woke up in the morning where their food for the day would come from yet they had the faith to get up and live another day. His faith is growing, and he’s hiding his lamp under a bushel.