There Are No Wheelchairs in Heaven

There Are No Wheelchairs in Heaven

From A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul

There Are No Wheelchairs in Heaven

My grandfather was a Buddhist priest. At the time of his death, he was the highest-ranking Caucasian priest in the world. But it was not the distinction of his accolades that one noticed in grandfather’s presence; it was the energy that emanated from within. Grandpa’s clear green eyes sparkled with a mysterious vitality. Although a quiet man, he always stood out in a crowd. Grandfather had a radiance that emanated from within. Silence seemed to speak profoundly around him.

His wife, my grandmother, was a High Roman Catholic. Brilliant and energetic, she was a woman ahead of her time. I called her “Gagi” because the first word that came out of my mouth as a baby was “gaga,” and she was sure I was trying to say her name. So Gagi it was, and is to this day.

Gagi had wrapped her life around her husband, becoming the source for all the income for themselves and their five children during their 50 years of marriage. Grandfather was thus freed to fulfill his mission as a priest and minister to the needy, as well as a host to the visiting dignitaries that frequented his temple from around the world. When Grandpa died, the light went out in Gagi’s life, and a deep depression set in. Having lost her central focus, she retreated from the world and entered the stages of mourning and grief.

During those days, I made a habit of visiting her once a week, just to let her know that I was there for her.

Time passed, as always, and the healing of the heart took its true and natural course.

One day, some years later, I went to pay my usual visit to Gagi. I walked in to find her sitting in her wheelchair, beaming—alive with fire in her eyes. When I didn’t comment soon enough about the obvious change in her demeanor, she confronted me.

“Don’t you want to know why I’m so happy? Aren’t you even curious?”

“Of course, Gagi,” I apologized. “Tell me, why are you so happy? What has given you this new disposition?”

“Last night I got an answer. I finally know why God took your grandfather and left me behind,” she declared.

“Why, Gagi?” I asked.

Then, as if imparting the greatest secret in the world, she lowered her voice and leaned forward in her wheelchair and confided in me. “Your grandfather knew the secret of a good life and he lived it every day. Your grandfather had become unconditional love in action. That’s why he got to go first, and I had to stay behind.” She paused thoughtfully, and then continued.

“What I thought was a punishment was, in fact, a gift. God let me stay behind so that I could turn my life into love. You see,” she continued, “last night I was shown that you can’t learn the lesson of love out there.” She pointed to the sky as she spoke. “Love has to be lived here on earth; once you leave it’s too late. So I was given the gift of life so that I can learn to live love here and now.”

From that day on, my visits with Gagi were filled with a unique combination of both sharing and constant surprises. Even though her health was failing, she was really happy. Indeed, she finally had a reason for her life and a goal worth living for again.

Once, when I went up to see her, she pounded the arm of her wheelchair in excitement and said, “You’ll never guess what happened this morning.”

I responded that I couldn’t and she continued with growing enthusiasm, “Well, this morning your uncle was angry with me over something I had done. I didn’t even flinch. I received his anger, wrapped it in love and returned it with joy!” Her eyes twinkled as she added, “It was even kind of fun, and naturally, his anger dissolved.”

Day after day passed, and visit
after visit added up, while Gagi practiced her lessons in love—and all the while age continued to run its relentless course. Every visit was a new adventure as she shared her stories. She conquered mountains of habits within her and made herself constantly new. She was honestly giving birth to a new and vital being.

Over the years, her health gradually worsened. She went in and out of the hospital a lot. Finally, when she was 97, she entered the hospital just after Thanksgiving. I rode the elevator to the fourth floor and went to the nurses’ station. “Which room is Mrs. Hunt in?” I asked.

The nurse on duty looked up quickly from her work, pulled her glasses off and replied, “You must be her granddaughter! She’s expecting you and she asked us to keep an eye out for your arrival.” She came out from behind the nurses’ station saying, “Let me take you to her.” As we started down the hallway, the nurse suddenly stopped, and looking directly into my eyes she said quietly, “Your grandmother is a special lady, you know. She’s a light. The nurses on the floor all ask for her room when they’re on duty. They love to take her medication to her because they all say that there’s something about her.” She paused, almost embarrassed at the thought of having said too much. “But, of course, you know that.”

“She’s special, all right,” I reflected, and a small voice whispered within, “Gagi has accomplished her goal. Her time is nearly done.”

It was two days after Christmas. Having spent a couple of hours visiting with Gagi earlier that day, I was home in the evening relaxing when a voice suddenly came to me, “Get up! Go to the hospital, now! Don’t hesitate! Go to the hospital now!”

I threw on a pair of jeans and a T-shirt, jumped into the car and sped to the hospital. Parking the car quickly, I broke into a run, racing the rest of the way to the elevator and up to the fourth floor. As I hit the door of her room, I looked in to see my aunt holding Gagi’s head in her hands. She looked up with tears in her eyes. “She’s gone, Trin,” she said. “She left five minutes ago. You’re the first one here.”

My mind reeled as I moved to Gagi’s bedside. In prayerful denial, my hand went out to test her heart. It was silent; Gagi was gone. I stood holding her still warm arm, looking down at the beautiful old body that had housed the soul of the woman I had adored. Gagi had cared for me during my early years. She had clothed me and paid my way through school when my parents were young and struggling to make ends meet. I was at a loss, unable to believe that my beloved grandmother, my dearest Gagi, was gone.

I remember the aching emptiness as I walked the floor around her bed that night, touching every part of her precious body. I was overwhelmed, flooded with impressions I’d never experienced before. Here were the arms and legs I knew so well, but where was she? Her body was vacant; so where had she gone? Deep in inner thought, I begged for an answer. One moment the body is animated by the soul and in the next moment it is gone, and nothing on earth can cause it to move or have life again. Where was Gagi? Where had she gone?

Suddenly there was a flash of light and a burst of energy. My grandmother was hovering near the ceiling above her empty body. The wheelchair was gone and she was dancing in light.

“Trin, I’m not gone!” she exclaimed. “I left my body but I’m still here. Look, Trin, I’ve got the use of my legs back. There are no wheelchairs in heaven, you know. I’m with your grandfather now and my joy is boundless. As you look down at my vacant body, realize the secret of life. Always remember that you cannot take anything physical with you when you leave. I couldn’t take my body with me, nor all the money I earned in life, nor any of the things that I amassed. Even my most prized possession, your grandfather’s wedding ring, had to stay behind when I left.”

Gagi’s light was very bright as she continued, “You’re going to meet a lot of people, Trin, and you must share this truth with all whom you meet. Tell people that the only thing that we take with us when we leave is a record of how much love we gave away. Our life, my child, is measured in giving, not in taking.” And with that my grandmother’s light dissolved and disappeared.

Many years have passed since that bedside moment, yet my grandmother’s message remains. It is indelibly inscribed on my heart, and written in the little things I try to do to improve my character daily. Gagi loved me with all her heart. In the course of her lifetime she had showered me with gifts, but I knew that she had just given me her final and greatest gift. In her death she renewed my life.

D. Trinidad Hunt

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