Monday, January 4, 2016

Touching Heaven - a very personal post

Early last week I spent a couple of hours standing on a great Hawaiian canoe, handcrafted by men who love and honor their ancient traditions. Spiritual giants, who opened their hearts to their ancestor's beliefs, and their own faith. It is a magnificent vessel, a true work of art. And it is a testimony to the knowledge of Heavenly Father's presence and interaction, throughout time.

I had the distinct honor of interviewing Kawika Eskaran, who along with Sione Tuione Pulotu, guided the design and construction of the Iosepa. The Iosepa is a 57' double hulled sailing canoe modeled in style and function after the ancient canoes utilized by Hawaiians to travel the seas.

I will be writing up the stories and experiences Kawika shared sometime soon, and will happily post that narrative when it is completed. But what I'm trying to convey here is not the stories, but the spirit of that day. The spirit of a mighty canoe that lives, breathes, and speaks so clearly to anyone listening; and the spirit of the man who envisioned, nurtured, sacrificed and dedicated his heart and soul to its existence.

As I stood there, on the deck of the Iosepa, hearing Kawika share his experiences, I found myself literally transported into his heart. Kawika is a master of carving, a trained navigator by ancient means, and a real talker, luckily for me. By listening and learning from him, I found myself stronger and closer to God. I remember thinking as he spoke that this would be an experience that I would ponder and utilize in my personal voyage through my own stormy seas of life.

Who knew that this realization would play out so quickly?

After I left the deck of the Iosepa (which is housed in a great open building on the campus of the Polynesian Cultural Center), I was on a spiritual high. How could I not be? I felt for a few moments as if I had actually touched heaven.

The next two hours were spent at the office - a place where I am allowed to envision, nurture, sacrifice and dedicate in the manner that brings me the same joy that Kawika feels on the deck of the Iosepa.

Soon enough, Ron came to take me home. As I climbed the stairs to our apartment I found that I was tired, body and soul.

Our apartment is contained within a great big house. It is humble, but clean, and it sits on the historic Hukilau Beach, a busy, happy place for the community and anyone else who stumbles upon it.

The beach was particularly noisy at that moment. This is no surprised. I am not being derogatory when I say that Polynesians are very loud people. They laugh loudly, they cry to the heavens, they scream for joy whenever they feel like it. So the noise level did not seem out of the ordinary.

As he does many evenings, Ron took a moment to look out our window. He paused for a moment, then turned to me and said "something is wrong".

There was a crowd - a very, very large crowd at the shoreline. They were carrying someone out of the water.

My background includes medical training. I was a certified EMT (though I only used it at work). I worked in surgery, labor and delivery and a few doctors offices. I kept my certifications up throughout the years.

So, I ran. I ran to the beach.

There were two men kneeling. One was performing CPR. The other was yelling instructions.

"EMT certified", I called out and knelt down. The man performing CPR said "I'm an EMT in Denver".

"I've been certified, but its been a while", I replied. "You're in charge. Tell me what to do."


So I cleared the mouth and started breathing. I'd never performed manual breathing before. But I knew what I was looking for. Airway? Clear. Chest rise when giving breaths? Check.

The other man kept on yelling. Once in a while, his words made sense. Mostly, he was just being.....and now I have to pause. What to say?

I don't mean to make light of him. He was trying. He wanted so badly to help, and I appreciated his desire. People react differently to a crisis. Some people fall back, unable to think of what to do. Others reach out to support those around them. Some jump in and try to help. But for those people, there is a necessary rule, which is to recognize both your knowledge and your limitations. The truth of the matter is that this man had no idea what he was dealing with. Shoot, it was no different than me. I may have been the biggest bungler out there, and if so, the EMT in charge may simply have found a way to keep me occupied while he did the important work. I just had to do the best I could and be willing to be pushed to the side if necessary.

It is almost impossible to explain what it's feels like to be a part of  a medical situation, whether as an active participant, or as an observer. It brings out almost every emotion one has zipping around inside. But the most difficult part is that you must keep those feelings in check. Emotions do not help someone in an emergency.

When I was training for my EMT certification, I was required to pick three areas in emergency care to observe. I chose four. I had so much I wanted to know, see, experience, understand. I rode along with a police officer and then I rode in an ambulance. I observed in labor and delivery, and I observed in ER.

My shift in ER happened to be in October of that year. That night it was both the university's homecoming celebration and the city's Octoberfest celebration. It was wild. I ran with my assigned team back and forth from room to room. I was exhausted and my brain was full. I was loving every minute of it.

Then an ambulance brought in an elderly woman. My assignment with each case was to find a corner, close my mouth and watch. So I found my corner. The woman's breathing and heart rate were labored, shallow and slow.

After a thorough examination was performed, the woman's physician sat the family down and told them that everything that could be done had been done. He explained that they could keep her alive by artificial methods. He told them that he knew that they loved her very much and would miss her in their lives, but that she was ready to go. He gently advised them that if it were his mother, he would let her slip away with dignity.

Bless them - they agreed. I expected at that point to be ushered out. But the physician turned to the family, and asked if it would offend them if I were allowed to stay. Again, they agreed. I sat there quietly while they said goodbye. I watched as the tubes were disconnected. I respectfully share that I felt her spirit release itself from her mortal bonds, and I felt that spirit fly. How very humbling, to share such a sacred time with this family, a moment in which they were allowed to touch heaven.

The moment my first child was born, and all subsequent births of children and grandchildren also felt like touching heaven. Heaven, at that moment, came in the form of an soft, helpless infant, looking around at the crazy world it had just entered.

More personally, when my own beloved mother was at the end of her earthly life, there was a moment where she needed to be assured that everything was going to be alright. "It's okay Momma," I told her. "You need to go. It's going to be alright". It was literally the hardest thing I've ever had to do. I wanted to shout "No, Momma. Don't leave me alone down here. I need you!" But it was her time to continue her journey, and she needed me to open the door and let her fly. Here again, I felt her spirit release from mortal bonds, and though overwhelmed with great pain, I was still able to feel her spirit fly towards heaven. Again, an extremely sacred moment.

Now I was on the beach working with others to bring a man back to life.  He was not breathing. We shouted our encouragement. We plead with him to take a breath. We fought as hard as we could.

But we knew. We knew he was already gone. And nothing we did would bring him back.

I have avoided talking to people about this experience. I don't want to. This man deserves better than to be the subject of gossip and self aggrandizement. The situation had very little to do with me - I was just someone stepping in, and if it wasn't me, it would have been someone else, and the fact is, I did nothing for him. But I hope that our efforts on the beach are a comfort to his family that their beloved son, father and brother was given every chance.

I go over and over again what I could have done better. I am sad - so sad - for his family. I am frustrated. But as hard as it was....and with time to process, I know that it was enough and I am humbled that I was given a chance to at least try.

And so I come full circle to Kawika and the Iosepa. I think the timing of that experience was a perfectly planned gift. Kawika showed me that God gives us strength and guidance to do the hard things and the glory is that we learn from them and, as I have found many times, we will almost assuredly utilize that knowledge again. It's all part of a marvelous plan that truthfully makes me dizzy.

To my friends, asking if I'm okay. Don't be disappointed if I don't talk to you about it. I process better alone. I honestly didn't want anyone to know I was even involved and have become frustrated in the fact that the story got around, despite my wishes.

So, to lay this all to rest, I've pulled out my computer and began to type, and erase, and revise and put everything in its place. I hope that I have been able to share my thoughts respectfully and truthfully. And I hope, just maybe, that you have been able to reflect on the sacred passings that you have witnessed - the comings and the goings - and to remember that because of those experiences you too have had the chance to touch heaven. Life really is a marvelous gift. Death, once we truly understand it, will be also. I know that it is a strange thought for most of the world - but I know that it's true. The Lord has directed us to have faith, love one another, and look forward with a brightness of hope. These are the actions that opens the doorway to heaven. These are the means to not just touch, but become a part of heaven; to be back with those we love so much and to be able to claim the peace and joy promised to us by God. 

How marvelous is that?

Mosiah 5:15

Therefore, I would that ye should be steadfast and immovable, always abounding in good works, that Christ, the Lord God Omnipotent, may seal you his, that you may be brought to heaven, that ye may have everlasting salvation and eternal life, through the wisdom, and power, and justice, and mercy of him who created all things, in heaven and in earth, who is God above all. Amen.


  1. Nina, this is so moving and so beautifully written. You have brought many emotions to the surface, for yourself and for me. I had a similar experience when I lost my mother. I was just 26 years old, and had two young babies (5 and 1), and wasn't ready to lose my beloved mother. It was the most difficult thing I had experienced to that point in my life. But death can be a beautiful thing. And, though it took time, I am so happy for her and the home in which she now resides. I am sorry you had to experience such a frantic attempt to save a life on the beach, and I know every time you look out that window, you'll remember that day, but what a blessing you are to those people. And obviously, your experiences there with such vibrant life and death, are going to enrich your life, and your heart, forever. Thank you for sharing with your friends. You are beloved.

    1. I know how difficult that time had to have been for you. I always remind myself how blessed we are to have these angels in our lives - even if it isn't as long as we would hope for.

  2. Dear Nina, how brave of you to allow us to share in this transforming event in your life. I too was touched and reminded again that life's defining moments always are accompanied by the Holy Spirit and bring great growth and insight. Love you.

    1. Thank you for your response. Isn't the Holy Ghost an amazing companion?

  3. Interesting that you had this experience and wrote so profoundly about it. The Relief Society president and her husband, in a ward we're working with, lost their oldest son yesterday in a car accident. He and another young man lost their lives driving back to school in Utah, straight through without stopping; fell asleep at the wheel. It has been difficult to know what to do to help this family. Their hearts are aching. I also lost a dear friend (originally from New Zealand) the first week of December. Your writing helped sooth the hurt.

    1. I'm so sorry to hear of these difficulties and will keep you in my prayers. Much love - hope to be together again someday. Your friendship, even from afar, is a great blessing.

  4. You are a beautiful lady inside and out. I cherish our friendship. You make a difference in many lives.

    1. Thank you so much for saying so. I greatly enjoy your company and great spirit.

  5. You are amazing. I'm grateful you were able to be blessed with a sweet spiritual high to give you the strength to run & assist as this very scary experience unfolded. How blessed to be certified so that all that could be done was done. You are loved!

    1. Thank you - yes, certification has been a great blessing and comfort during scary situations. Just knowing that I have some means to at least assess situations has been greatly helpful.

    2. Those of us who have had the experience of letting a beloved parent leave our earthly life can share your feelings. For me, Heavenly Fathered assured me that my mom was in his hands. He gave specific instructions as to what I needed to do. Even so, a part of me still weeps when I recall that experience. Thank you for sharing. I am certain the man's family has been reassured to know that there were strangers lovingly willing to try every thing they could. You will be able to meet him on the otherside. What an experience that will be.

    3. That is a fabulous thought, Deneen. He was very beloved by his family and our community.