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Waiting for Heaven: Finding Beauty in the Pain and the Struggle

Waiting for Heaven: Finding Beauty in the Pain and the Struggle

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Waiting for Heaven: Finding Beauty in the Pain and the Struggle

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Mar 27, 2014


Life can sometimes lead us to unexpected places, to only leave us broken, desperate, and hurting. Heather Gillis and her husband, Mac, waited in anticipation for the birth of their third child. Like many Christian couples, their dreams and expectations in marriage, parenthood, and daily life developed differently than theyd planned, and left them grieving a life that would never be. Their journey gives insight into a new normal and uncovers the stepping stones of the healing process. In their process, they re-discovered Gods abounding love through their experiences of joy, heartbreak, and purpose. Heather reaches out to parents around the globe to speak openly about being a wife, mother, friend, relative, or stranger during life-changing trials and devastating struggles. In Gods love, she has found beauty in the midst of pain, as well as peace in His presence on Earth while waiting for heaven.

Mar 27, 2014

Sobre el autor

Heather Gillis shares Waiting for Heaven in order to bring hope and healing to others who are walking the difficult paths of life. Through her organization, Bowen's Hope, her mission is to help put an end to polycystic kidney disease and bring hope to the children with kidney disease and their families. Wife, mother, and part-time health care professional, Heather shares her heartfelt story of caring for her terminally-ill son and finding her hope and healing in God. She resides in Phoenix, Arizona, with her family. To connect with Heather, visit www.bowenshope.com.

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Waiting for Heaven - Heather Gillis



Finding Beauty in the Pain and the Struggle


Copyright © 2014 Heather Gillis.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

Crystal Runge Photography (copyright 2011 Crystal Runge Photography)

WestBow Press books may be ordered through booksellers or by contacting:

WestBow Press

A Division of Thomas Nelson & Zondervan

1663 Liberty Drive

Bloomington, IN 47403


1 (866) 928-1240

Because of the dynamic nature of the Internet, any web addresses or links contained in this book may have changed since publication and may no longer be valid. The views expressed in this work are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher, and the publisher hereby disclaims any responsibility for them.

Any people depicted in stock imagery provided by Thinkstock are models, and such images are being used for illustrative purposes only.

Certain stock imagery © Thinkstock.

ISBN: 978-1-4908-2786-5 (sc)

ISBN: 978-1-4908-2787-2 (hc)

ISBN: 978-1-4908-2785-8 (e)

Library of Congress Control Number: 2014903573

WestBow Press rev. date: 03/20/2014


Chapter 1: April 7, 2011

Chapter 2: The Journal

Chapter 3: Day Thirteen, April 20, 2011

Chapter 4: The Next Day

Chapter 5: The Aftermath

Chapter 6: Unanswered Prayers

Chapter 7: The Kids

Chapter 8: Not So Simple

Chapter 9: The Process: The New Normal

Chapter 10: Back To Life: My Personal Journal

Chapter 11: Christmas

Chapter 12: Grieving Differently

Chapter 13: Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable

Chapter 14: In The Struggle

Chapter 15: Shifting The Faith

Chapter 16: Seeing The Rainbow

Chapter 17: New Foundations

Chapter 18: Being Thankful

Chapter 19: Phoenix Children’s Hospital

Chapter 20: Bowen

Chapter 21: Baby Caleb—February 15, 2013

Chapter 22: Boston Marathon, 2013

Chapter 23: The Price Of Freedom

Chapter 24: Full Circle





April 7, 2011

The earliest memory I had, as a child, was playing Mr. Potato Head with Tammie, my twin sister, when I was four years old. I would spend hours changing its eyes, nose, ears, and hats and putting on its glasses. There isn’t too much I don’t remember from my childhood that doesn’t include Tammie. As much as our parents tried to give us twins a chance at individuality, she and I found it almost impossible to be separated. Growing up as a twin was an interesting and unique experience. We experienced every milestone, every memory, every event in our lives with each other; we lived the same life in every sense, and at times, it was difficult to separate whose life was whose.

My sister and I shared the same crib for our first year and a half of life. After that, for a while, my parents would place us in separate cribs at night only to find us in the same crib. One night, they stayed up to watch how that happened. They saw my determined sister scoot in her crib and climb into mine. We had been together since birth, since inception, as a matter of fact, so how dare our parents try to separate us!

We had occasional sleepovers at friends houses, that separated us for a night here and there, but the first time my sister and I were separated for any length of time was when she went to a college five hours away and I stayed local. I didn’t realize when we made that decision the impact it would have on me. When it was time to leave for college and we had to say good-bye, I bawled my eyes out. I didn’t realize how hard and emotional it would be to be separated.

It is very interesting how she chose the profession she did and I chose the profession I did. Growing up, I was the leader, the nurturer, the planner. My sister is my other half; she’s everything I’m not. She’s one of the most creative, talented, and patient people I know. God created us as two pieces of a puzzle that fit together. When she was growing up, my sister didn’t have much to say, because I would always say it for her. Twins in general receive a lot of attention; people are intrigued and ask questions. We were frequently asked if we were twins and what our names were. Yes, we’re twins. My name’s Heather, and her name is Tammie, I’d say. People would ask, Can she talk? I’d respond, Yes, she can talk!

My parents said we would talk to each other in our own language they couldn’t understand. So of course, the natural profession for me when I grew up was nursing and my sister became a speech pathologist!

Looking back, I realized I was a royal brat! I was bossy and always wanted things my way. I’ll never know how Tammie ever stayed friends with me. I thought my sister needed me and couldn’t live without me! To this day, she will never initiate a plan, because I always did that for her. Today, she has a husband who does that for her (ha, ha).

Our awkward teenage years and those years of separation during college made me who I am today. I am very grateful I’m able to live my adult life with my twin; I wouldn’t have it any other way. I feel bad for other twins who don’t live in the same town and get to experience life together. She moved from Delaware to Arizona to be with me. I am truly blessed.

My parents divorced in the seventies, when Tammie and I were young. My dad filed for full custody and won. He could financially support us, but we lived with our grandparents for two years until we were able to move back in with our dad. When we turned five, we moved in with our dad, who remarried; I even remember being in their wedding. The woman he married is wonderful; she helped raised us, and I consider her my mom. They had one child together, Scott. My mother also remarried and had two other sons, Jordan and Aaron. Just to recap (it can get confusing) I had four siblings—Tammie, Scott, Jordan, and Aaron. We lived with our dad and Scott and visited our mother and our other brothers on weekends.

We grew up in a pretty rural area. We had about an acre and a half that took over three hours to mow on a riding mower. Where we lived, there were not any fences, and had friendly neighbors on whose doors you could knock and ask to borrow an egg. We were surrounded by cornfields and saw our share of wildlife. I remember playing outside all day and hearing my parents call us in for dinner before it got dark. We didn’t have cable TV; in fact, we had only one TV. I remember trying to get my homework done in time to be able to watch a show I wanted before my dad got to the TV. If I didn’t, I’d have to watch episodes of This Old House or Wild America and pray that he’d fall asleep so I could change the channel. (My dad was and still is notorious for falling asleep on the couch). Now when we visit, they have two TVs, a DVR, and Direct TV. When my dad falls asleep when watching something, I still sneak the remote from him.

I met my husband, Mac, in April 2001. I was at a restaurant in Delaware with a friend when Mac walked in with his posse from the dental program. Mac had completed dental school and was completing a general-practice residency at a trauma center in Delaware, Christiana Medical Center, the same hospital where I worked as a registered nurse. He had been interviewing all over the country in order to be matched into a residency program. Matching is the process in which the interviewees and the hospital rank each other. Mac had found out that day he had matched at CMC for its oral and maxillofacial surgery program. That means he ranked Christiana as his top pick and Christiana ranked him as their top pick. We instantly hit it off that night and exchanged numbers.

At that time, I was in pretty good shape, training for marathons and triathlons. Mac claimed to be in shape and claimed he ran as well. I suggested maybe we go running sometime. I called him the next day to see if he wanted to; he said he couldn’t but would love to grab something to eat. He let me pick the restaurant. When we sat down, he asked, What’s your favorite food? I said, Sushi! He said, Mine too. Let’s get out of here and get sushi! We left; our first date was at a sushi restaurant, Mikimotos, and we’ve been together since.

After about a week or two of dating, I discovered that Mac had just gotten out of a serious relationship and wasn’t ready for another. To be honest, I wasn’t either; I was having fun being single. He tried to tell me he didn’t want a girlfriend, and I said that was great; I didn’t want a boyfriend. He was shocked I had responded that way; he was used to girls throwing themselves at him. Funny how things turn out; the more he stated he didn’t want a girlfriend, the more we hung out.

When I met him, I was a little skeptical because I thought he was a bit of a ladies man. I asked him after our third date, If you were to die tomorrow, how do you know you would go to heaven? He was floored I had asked him that because I didn’t know him that well. He answered, Well, because I believe Jesus died on the cross for my sins. I said, Great! I believe that too! He was actually confused when I asked him that because nobody he had dated had asked him that. Well, I said, I guess you’ve been dating the wrong girls!

At that point in my life, I was done with playing games. I was just going to cut to the chase and ask the most important question, if he believed. I was glad for the first time in my life I was starting out a relationship knowing my significant other was a believer.

While Mac was in residency, I went back to nurse anesthesia school at Villanova University in 2002. We were engaged nine months after we met, and we married on April 5, 2003, in the same church my parents and my twin had gotten married.

After I completed school and Mac completed residency, we looked for jobs in Phoenix, where Mac was from. I was apprehensive at first about moving so far away from family and friends; I had never been that far away from home before. We moved there in the summer of 2005; the temperatures were hot, and housing was expensive. The first time we saw the house we bought was when we moved in. It was perfect, though, and everything was falling into place.

Mac and I started building our lives together. He bought into a growing practice, and I was working at a hospital. We started growing our family as well. In May 2007, Brooklyn was born, and in July 2009, our son Blake was born. On April 7, 2011, Bowen, our second son, was born on Mac’s birthday. All three of our children have been such blessings in our lives.

I am so glad Brooklyn was our firstborn. We’ve been through a lot with Brooklyn. Early in my pregnancy with her, I started to bleed heavily. I was at work working on the labor and delivery floor when that happened, and at the time, nobody but my boss knew I was pregnant. I had told him because as a certified registered nurse anesthetist, I had to avoid operating rooms with X-rays and any other form of radiation.

I had just started a C-section case when the episode started; I thought I was having a miscarriage. I left work, and Mac drove me to the doctor. They performed an ultrasound, and to our surprise, we saw a heartbeat. We were amazed there was a heartbeat and I was still pregnant. That is when the doctor told me that I had a special shaped uterus, one shaped like a heart, that I should be prepared to have a premature baby. The doctors didn’t know the reason for the episode, and I was put on modified rest, to minimize chances for miscarriage. For the next month these episodes occurred on and off. I was in the doctor’s office every week until the end of the first trimester getting checked out to make sure there was a heartbeat every time there was an episode.

After the first trimester, the episodes thankfully stopped, and I didn’t have any problems the second trimester except for a lot of contractions.

I was only thirty-two weeks pregnant when I went into labor. My husband and I were going out to dinner with our friends Greg and Joya, who were visiting from Wisconsin. I was contracting all day, but I didn’t think I could have been in labor because I was only thirty-two weeks pregnant.

After dinner, my husband and Greg went out, and Joya and I went back to my house. Something just didn’t seem right—something seemed different. I drove to the OB triage at Good Samaritan Hospital in Phoenix, but after two hours, they decided to send me home. I went to bed still thinking that something didn’t seem right. I was home for two hours and woke up to discover my water had broken! I tried to wake Mac, but he was out of it from having been out with Greg. I drove myself to the hospital a second time!

They admitted me because my water had broken; they had to stop my labor because I was eight weeks early. The nurse gave me terbutaline shots; anyone who has received one knows it makes your heart race and makes you feel that you want to jump out of your skin! The doctor ordered a magnesium drip, which made me feel on fire and so weak I couldn’t stand, but I needed these medications to postpone my labor for at least three days. In the meantime, I had to receive steroids to optimize Brooklyn’s chances of better lung development; she was right on the cusp of mature lung development and needed all the help she could get. After the three-day window of steroids was over, the magnesium drip was turned off, and twelve hours later, I was in full-blown labor again. I was supposed to have a C-section because Brooklyn’s head was up (in a breech position). For some reason, the doctor didn’t come, and after hours of labor and dilating to eight centimeters, I was taken for the C-section.

We were so anxious and nervous because we had no idea what to expect if there would be any complications since she was coming so early. When Brooklyn was born, however, she came into the world screaming. Hearing her cry was like music to our ears. It was amazing that she never needed oxygen despite being born at thirty-two weeks and only three pounds eight ounces.

She had to stay in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) until she learned how to feed from a bottle (breast-feeding came later); at thirty-two weeks, babies do not have the sucking, breathing, swallowing reflex. What babies innately achieve in utero, Brooklyn had to learn outside the womb.

It was so hard going into the hospital pregnant and leaving a week later without our baby. At the time, we didn’t know how long she was going to be there or if she was going to have any complications, but she was such a fighter. She was in the NICU section with an IV and feeding tube for only one week; she went then to the special care nursery to learn how to feed and grow.

We brought her home in three weeks, when she was still only four pounds! From the day she was born, I was not only scared to death because she was my first one but because she was a preemie. But she was perfect!

Despite our previous experience of having a premature baby, we decided to get pregnant again. We found out we were pregnant with Blake when Brooklyn was sixteen months old. My pregnancy with Blake was the easiest pregnancy one could have ever asked for. I had to receive progesterone shots once a week from week eighteen to week thirty-six during my pregnancy from a visiting nurse. The progesterone shots were given to help keep me pregnant longer because of my previous history of premature birth. I kept anticipating something would go wrong with Blake’s pregnancy because of everything we had gone through with Brooklyn. I was glad to be given the shots to help improve my chances of going full term.

I had to have a C-section with Blake as well because he was also breech. The only problem was that Blake was supposed to arrive the first week of July. Everyone in the medical field knows that July is the worst time to have a C-section because that’s when new residents start. I didn’t mind having a new resident help with my C-section, I just didn’t want mine to be his or her first C-section. Thank goodness I had a second-year resident, and I made it all the way to the scheduled C-section date.

It was the strangest thing walking into the operating room; everything was so calm and controlled. Blake weighed seven pounds six ounces, almost double what Brooklyn had weighed. From the time he was born, I have been amazed by him. There weren’t any complications or unexpected events—everything went as smoothly as my pregnancy with him.

From the moment Blake was born, he was with me. He never left my side, and I was in heaven. When I was discharged, I held him while they were pushing me in the wheelchair. I wondered, is this for real? Was I taking him home with me? I hadn’t had that experience with Brooklyn. Nonetheless, bringing our babies home were very happy moments in my life.

Blake was a most peaceful baby. He was easy, and calm. I was in disbelief; was he for real? He did everything by the book. Blake grew up way too fast; he didn’t stay a baby long. He got his first two teeth at five months, and he was on all table food by nine months. He was walking by eleven months.

When Blake was born, Brooklyn was exactly two. Funny thing about two-year-olds—you can’t trust them. I couldn’t go to the bathroom if Brooklyn was in the room with Blake. One time, I walked from the living room to the kitchen to put a dish in the sink (it’s in the same room) and came back to find Brooklyn sitting on Blake’s head! Yikes! I had been away for six seconds!

Another time, I found her shoving a cheese stick into his mouth, and he wasn’t even two months! Everyone always asked me what time Blake got up when he was an infant. I’d say I wasn’t sure because he never cried when he woke up. I could see in the video baby monitor that his eyes were open, but I never knew how long he had been lying there awake! Blake has been my healthy, rock-solid, joyful child. I love my children dearly and love that they have each other.

On April 7, 2011, Bowen Thomas Gillis was born. We were scheduled to have a C-section on April 23, but he decided to come a little early. At the time, I was two days shy of thirty-seven weeks. I had been up all night the night before, contracting off and on. I dropped Brooklyn off at school (she was four at the time). My husband had gone to work, and my mother-in-law was watching Blake. My father-in-law dropped me off at the hospital. This was not the first time I had gone into labor early, but I was farther along than I had been with Brooklyn and was not concerned if he came a couple weeks early.

April 7 wasn’t any ordinary day; it will be forever marked as a day that changed our lives forever. Big things happened April 7th, twin boys were born. At the time, their parents thought it would be a great idea to name them both John, after their father. They were from the south, and everyone from the south went by his or her middle name anyway, so it wouldn’t be a problem, right? The firstborn twin was named John Edward Gillis, after his dad and grandpa. The second was named John Malcolm Gillis, also named after his father and grandpa, and we call them Ed and Mac.

Life in the Gillis household was never dull; the twins played tricks many times on others who could not tell them apart. They are now over forty, but they still try to fool others; that never

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