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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Heaven is Here

Heaven is Here by Stephanie Nielson

This is a fascinating memoir.  Stephanie Nielson tells the story of her life, including the plane crash that burned over 80% of her body.

I was curious. I had heard of Stephanie Nielson, or Nie Nie, before I read this book -- Amy (our fab logo designer) has followed her blog for a long time. Like myself, Stephanie is Mormon, and we Mormons know that not everyone is Mormon, so we're naturally curious about what other Mormons are up to. My friend Rachel (you guessed it, she's Mormon) offered to lend me the book, and I jumped at the chance. I had wanted to know Nie Nie's story in her own words (not second hand, not in a news article or magazine) but I didn't want to read the vast archive of her blog. So the book was perfect for me.

The book has three parts: the first gives background, the second takes us through her dark days of early recovery, and the third shows us life after the hospital. The crash happened in August 2008, and the book ends with some good closure but Stephanie's story (and surgeries) are far from over.

It has solid writing and pacing. Stephanie conveys her experience with a delicate balance of detail and distance. I never felt like I was prying into her personal life, and somehow still got all the information I wanted. Though at first I wasn't sure that we needed so much background about her life before the crash, as I read on I was convinced. Her recovery was more moving to me because of the context that the first section gives.

Stephanie had really put all of herself toward fulfilling her dreams -- dreams of motherhood and domestic bliss. She pursued her goals ferociously. It seemed to be working out for her, until after the crash --  all of her lovely eggs had been in one basket and upon awaking from a medically induced coma of three months, she felt wholly incapable of living. It is gratifying to see her slowly and steadily overcome depression and regain physical strength.

The book changed the way I look at Stephanie, literally. "I hate to say it, but it's hard for me to look at pictures of her" said my (Mormon) friend Kate. I knew exactly what she meant. But after reading this book I can look at photos of her. Probably because I know why she looks the way she does. To look at her is not as confusing as it was before. Hearing her explain her appearance to her kids helped me comprehend. And I know that pictures of her now look much better than they would have in her early recovery days. She's looking great! And by the end of the book you can tell she thinks so, too. She's not in denial, she says in so many words that she is disfigured. She has felt discouraged about her appearance, but the bottom line is she knows where she has been.

This book was powerful for me because Stephanie and I share the same faith. (We're members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Also I know the settings of the book well -- Mesa and St. Johns, AZ. Salt Lake City and Provo, UT.  I definitely felt a personal connection. I can't speak for anyone else, because, simply put, I am me. That said, I think this book would work as well for someone who doesn't share our faith or geography.

Recommended.

_______________
p.s. Stephanie's popular blog can be found at nieniedialogues.com
Her sister Courtney blogged Nie updates while she was asleep
My favorite Nie Nie video: A New Life
My Thank You to Nie Nie!

2 comments:

llcall said...

I read a brief excerpt from this in Parade magazine and was definitely moved, particularly by the story of some of her children not wanting to see her after the accident. I just felt that as a mom -- how hard it would be for your children to be scared of the sight of you. I am interested to read this even though I know her story well (and was living in her neighborhood in Utah).

Alysa said...

Let me know when you do. It's a book worth discussing.

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