Kelsie Stelting - Oct. 10, 2015

My grandparents gave me the best gift they could have ever given me.

The night before last, on my way to RCIA, I called my sister to talk. After a nice phone conversation (and a few wrong turns on my part) it became apparent that I was going to be late. I also had Papi with me, so I figured that instead of being disruptive at the meeting I would go to my favorite place: Centennial Park even though it was completely dark outside.

After walking around on some of the sidewalks I had the idea that I should go and walk through the Parthenon because I hadn’t yet. On my way up the steps, I saw an older couple sitting together and looking at me, so I said hello.

The asked me what kind of dog Papi was, and they asked me if I could take a picture of them together. We were making conversation, and I asked them if they were touring Nashville. They weren’t; they were Nashville natives. He said that they just like to come to a quiet place at the end of a long day of work and just be peaceful. They asked me what I was doing in Nashville, and I told them the truth… the whole truth. Usually when people ask, I just tell them that Ty is going to Lipscomb University and I’m working, not mentioning my change of heart after seeing my grandma struggle with cancer and my frustration with the healthcare system. 

This time I did tell them the whole ugly, painful truth.

The man commiserated with me and said that he really struggled when his mother had passed away, and that keeping busy helped him.  He said that the more he did, the more he could picture what his mom would say about it.

I told him that one of my cousins had told me that when I really needed Gram that she would come and talk to me.

 He agreed. Then, he told me about a time that his wife was in the hospital, and had actually passed away and he had gotten to the lowest point of his life, and he felt his mom say “You’re stronger than this.” And he felt hope again. Surely enough, his wife survived and was sitting next to him for our conversation.

The man looked at me and said, “I hope this is okay, but I got this feeling like we should talk to you. I can kind of read peoples’ spirits, and you have a definite spirit of sadness–a spirit of hope, too–but a lot of sadness. God told me to tell you that it’s going to be alright. That things aren’t so bad as they seem. He said things that are meant to happen will work themselves out. (When I told my aunt Lisa about this encounter, she told me that Gram was worried about me before she passed away, because even though she knew I was alright, I just seemed sad.)

I was getting chills the whole time he spoke. It was like the words carried a heavier weight than anything I had ever experienced.

He told me about a time when he and his wife were trying to buy the home that they had been renting for 30 years. They had looked to family and friends for a loan, but none of them agreed to help. In the end, the solution that they came up with was way better than them having to take a loan from family. If his family would have loaned him the money, it never would have felt like their own home. He said, God was trying to let me do something on my own to learn my own strength.

He stressed the importance of a good heart and a trust in God… that we should have a relationship with Jesus, instead of focusing on labels (something Gram disliked) like “Catholic” or “Baptist.” (Ty and I are Catholic, but before that we largely identified with the Baptist church… Gram strongly disagreed with the concept of organized religion and was a huge advocate for the power of prayer.)

He told me about a time that he and his wife were out fishing, and for some reason that day he had decided to bring a little pellet gun with him in his holster. The woman told me that it really did look like a real gun. Then, another man came up with a towel wrapped around his hand and said “I’ll show you my gun if you show me yours.” The man I was talking to said that he told this man, “I just got back from Vietnam, and I’m still shell-shocked. If I take this gun out, it’s because I’m going to shoot someone… and it has a hair trigger.” (I’ve learned from my Dad that only using a gun for its intended purposes, and not for play is something Grandpa strongly believed in.) They laughed as they reminisced about the man with the actual gun leaving in a hurry.

He said he wasn’t sure why he had brought his gun at all that day, since they were just fishing, then he paused and said, “I believe in divine intervention.” (If you know my Gram, you’ll know how many times she’s told me that exact phrase.) He told me that it wasn’t an accident that we had met that day. And he told me that there are guardian angels watching over us to help us. (Gram frequently talked about guardian angels.)

He told me another story about how his wife was in a horrific burn accident, and on the way from the hospital, his only prayer was “Lord help me.” And somehow, a surgeon from London called and offered to try a new skin-grafting technique on his wife basically free of charge.

Then he said how important it is to have faith in God, and to have a good heart. He said the most important gifts are given from the heart.

Then he said, “I think you just need to go for it. Vanderbilt I mean. Don’t back out because you’re worried about money, or too scared.”

Then his wife asked me, “Why nurse practitioner?” And I tried to come up with  a reason, and for some reason I couldn’t really come up with a good one. I said, “I just wanted to find a career where I could help people, and looked on Google and that came up.”

She kind of pursed her lips and was quiet.

Then the man told a parable. I might be paraphrasing, but this was it: “There was a fisherman who wasn’t catching any fish, and he prayed to God, and said please God, let me catch some fish. Well, the next day he went out fishing and he noticed big storm clouds coming in, but he really needed the money so he decided to go out fishing anyway. Well, it started raining and his boat was sinking, and he was drowning in the ocean, and this dolphin swam by. Then a log floated by. Then he drowned and was at the gates of heaven. He asked God, ‘Why did you let me drown?’ And God said, ‘You saw that dolphin? That was your life. You saw that log? That was your life. All you needed to do was grab on.” 

Then the man told me, you just need to go for it, because one day when you’re older you’ll look back and wonder why you didn’t do that, and think of all the things that were going on in your life at the time.

Then his wife cut in and said, “And God will say, ‘excuses, excuses.'”

Looking back on that part of the conversation, I don’t feel like it was Vanderbilt they were talking about… I felt like it was life in general. To do the things that are scary… And I think they knew somehow that I had a decision about school coming up that might challenge Ty and me as a couple…

This whole time while we’re talking, I was wishing (silently) that I would have had my camera so that I could take pictures of them, and the man asks me if I wanted him to email me the picture I took of them. (How perfect is it, that two people who have lived in Nashville their entire lives were at the park, at night, with a camera?)

I asked them if they had Facebook, to see if we could connect and I could share the picture that way, and they said no. They expressed how they don’t like all of this new technology and how they don’t like to “message.” (Gram felt the same way… also, she could never pronounce “text” or “texting” correctly. She would always call them “Texxes” or “texan”.)

Then, the woman introduced herself. Her name was “Erma.” If you’re family, you’ll understand, but Erma is the name of a woman from back home who Gram spent many hours talking on the phone with. The man’s name was “Emreik.” Grandpa’s middle name was Emerson. When they smiled at me, their eyes literally sparkled with a light and love so bright that it was overwhelming.

As I walked away from them I broke down bawling. While I was talking to them, I didn’t realize the enormity of what had just happened, and didn’t even comprehend fully what was happening. I wasn’t crying because I was sad, I was crying because I was overwhelmed with so many emotions… grateful that Gram and Grandpa had spoken to me in the way they had, thankful that I, for some reason, when I should have been somewhere else had ended up walking through the park and going on a path that wasn’t normal for me, sad because I’m missing them both, and amazed at how close heaven felt at that moment.

I talked to Angie about it, and she pointed out to me that it would make perfect sense that I felt close to heaven; Gram and Grandpa are in heaven, which is their permanent home now. They won’t ever be able to come back from heaven. So, to talk to me, they would have had to bring heaven with them.

The more I look back on this situation, and talk with family members about it, the more I realize how tailored this conversation was to me. Emreik did most of the talking because I was only in 5th grade when my grandpa died, and I really lament the fact that I wasn’t ever able to get to know him in the same way I had with Gram. Erma was quiet, because what I really miss is my grandma’s loving presence. Gram and Grandpa know me well enough to know that I would over-analyze every single snippet of this conversation to make sure that it wasn’t all just some happy coincidence. No, they wanted to make damn sure that I knew it was from them. 

I wrote down as much of our encounter as I could remember. If I tried to think of it all off the top of my head, I wouldn’t be able to. I can’t even begin to grasp or understand what happened. It’s too complex for my mind to understand, which somehow makes it even more real. If it wasn’t from heaven, my human brain would be able to understand it… I’m not sure if it was that God and my grandparents sent me those two special people to have a conversation with, or if it was actually my grandparents talking to me through these people, or what had happened. Whatever it was, it was love.

I’m not sure how I feel in the aftermath of this. I’m still overwhelmed, and a strange feeling takes me over every time I think of it. It’s not like everything is all of a sudden happy, but it’s something like God showed me how real heaven was. Before this, it felt so abstract and far away to the point of being imaginary. After this, I know it’s real–I’ve felt it. And I feel like our loved ones are so close to us.

I’m glad my Grandma and Grandpa are together again. I’m not sure when the next time I’ll talk to them will be… maybe it will be tomorrow, or maybe it will be when I join them in heaven. Either way, I know they’ll talk to me when I really need it.