“To a worm in horseradish, the world is horseradish.”*
I was that worm until my husband spent six weeks in a coma, came back, and showed us life after horseradish.
When my husband finally and miraculously woke up from the coma he had been in for six long and terrifying weeks, we were ecstatic, but still not sure if he would make it. His body had been near death for so long. We hoped and prayed with all our might that this unexpected ability of his to become conscious was not just a momentous last effort to say good bye before he left us for good. His lungs were still dangerously filled with fluid, his body overcome with staph and MRSA infections – both very often lethal. His skin was completely covered with boils and blisters – a bad reaction to the powerful antibiotics that were absolutely necessary for the slight possibility of his survival, and he was so weakened from his lengthy ‘medically frozen state,’ he had lost almost every bit of his muscle fiber.
He couldn’t even lift his arm enough to scratch his own nose. If he did survive, we were told it would take about a year of rehab and physical therapy to retrain his muscles to perform their proper functions, walk out of the hospital and come home. Because of the tracheostomy in his neck, he could not speak. As a family, we gathered around him, every inch of us covered by masks, gloves, and sterile gowns; tears streaming through our masks as we marveled at how much we loved him, so thankful for the amazing miracle that he was still alive and could simply open his eyes and look at us! We were filled with overwhelming desire to do anything possible to help him recover and to escape the horrible, constant pain and the continual terrifying struggle for every breath.
Lance seemed to be filled with an overwhelming need for something, too. He mouthed the same three words to us with urgency, over and over again. His eyes showed his great desire for us to understand. But for what seemed like an eternity, he was not strong enough to move his arms and hands enough to write, and because of the tracheostomy, speech was impossible. We all made futile attempts to guess what his passionately mouthed words could possibly mean.
The look on his face was so compelling, we worried that he was about to die of some small problem that our inept lip reading skills just could not grasp. “Is your mouth dry? Do you need ice chips?” (His digestive system wasn’t working yet, so ice chips was the only item on the menu.) “Do you want us to roll you over?”, “Need a bedpan?”, “Is the ventilator giving you enough oxygen?”, “Need more pain medication?”, or simply, “Are you itching somewhere?”
Every time, our efforts to understand were met with a frustrated shake of the head, meaning “no.” However, since he seemed to only direct these same three words to his family and not the medical staff, we decided that whatever he wanted to tell us must not be life-threatening. After awhile, he stopped trying. We looked forward to the moment when the doctors would finally remove his tracheotomy, allowing the most amazing gift of speech.
“I’VE BEEN THERE! I’VE BEEN THERE!” was what he was trying to say.
“Been where? What are you talking about?”
“I’ve been to heaven! I know what it’s like!” And although his long struggle to overcome Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome had left him continually fighting to get enough oxygen, all he wanted to do was talk. He was so excited, he could not stop talking. He raved on and on with labored breaths about what an incredibly different feeling he enjoyed in the next life.
It almost seemed as if he hadn’t even noticed how very ragged his breathing was! He told us how amazing it was there—an almost incomprehensible world so full of peace and joy that words cannot even describe it. Not even the slightest bit of selfishness, pride, jealousy, comparing yourself with others, holding grudges, or any negative feelings at all—just happiness and love! “Oh, Jozet, it was the most powerful, wonderful feeling I have ever felt. I would do anything…anything, to have that peace again.”
Here are just a couple of the stories he shared with us that he experienced while in the next life. I know they are true because I know Lance Richardson. I’ll let him describe what he experienced in his own words. This first story happened with his grandfather on his dad’s side, who helped show him how things work in the next life, and who had died many years previous.
“Grandpa hugged me, then smiled and said, ‘Lance, your dad needs to give you a blessing today and he needs to catch an airplane. Come with me.’
He took me by the hand and we began to step into the sky, as if we were flying. Everything went foggy around us, then instantly we were standing in an airport terminal. I watched as my grandfather went to a computer monitor and put his finger on the screen. Whether he was reading the information or changing it, I do not know. Then he said, ‘OK, Lance, let’s go.’ He once again took my hand and we began to rise into the air, our vision clouded.
Suddenly we were standing on the floor of the Idaho State Senate. As Dad is a state senator and they were in session, my father was present in this large room. I looked to my right and saw my father sitting in his chair next to his seatmate. He had his legs crossed and arms folded, a studious look on his face. He was engrossed in a debate that was taking place at that moment on the Senate floor. We watched my father as he fulfilled his role as Senator.
As I beheld my grandfather observing his son, my father, who was carefully considering the impact a new regulation would have upon the people, I could see the pride in his eyes. I could see the love he had for my father. I had not noted the resemblance between them until then, but I was moved with a knowledge of how my grandfather was so much a part of my father, as he was also a part of me. Some of his characteristics had been carried on in each of us, and he watched with pride as his son worked.
A wonderful thing happened as we observed my father. I watched my grandfather walk up to my dad and lean to his ear and say, ‘Mel, you need to give Lance a blessing today, and you have to catch an airplane in twenty minutes.’
I watched as my father suddenly reacted with a start, and looked at his watch.
‘Oh, boy!’ he exclaimed. ‘I forgot! I am supposed to be catching an airplane in twenty minutes!’ He turned to someone standing there and told them that he had to leave immediately. I looked at a clock on the wall. It was 1:30 p.m.
We followed my father as he gathered his things, headed across the capitol building, crossed the parking lot to his car, and drove to the Boise airport. I saw every road he turned on, watched him park in long-term parking, catch a shuttle to the terminal, and witnessed him cross the tarmac to the plane.
Grandpa smiled at me. ‘Let’s go, son. You will be fine now.’
We headed back into the Spirit World. Along the way, however, my mind was spinning. What I had witnessed was a most amazing thing. My father had clearly heard my grandfather’s promptings and instantly reacted. He had not known his father was speaking to him, nor even that the inspiration came from God. But it had. Now I wondered how many times I had been inspired by unseen ministering servants of God, sent to assist me? How many times had I thought I suddenly had a most important idea and assumed I was the one with such great intellect? I was sobered by the thought.
The experience was a great example of what I had been taught concerning how our deceased loved ones serve and assist us. Never again will I doubt the influence of God in even the smallest of matters in my life. He is listening, and His servants are indeed being sent to help us.”
Why was it so important that Lance have a blessing on that particular day? I’ll let him answer that question with another excerpt from his book, “The Message.” This part of the story happened a few weeks after he woke up from the coma.
“My mother and father visited me not long after I had started speaking again, and commented how great it was to hear my voice. We laughed and talked together, each still masked so that I would not transmit my terrible infection.
Then my mother said to me, ‘Lance, your father gave you a special blessing while you were in your coma and things were at their worst. It probably saved your life.’
‘You gave me a blessing Dad?’ I said.
‘Yes, I did,’ Dad answered. ‘I was over in Boise…'
With the mention of the word Boise, my memory of the experience with Grandpa and my dad flooded into my mind.
‘I was there!’ I exclaimed, full of excitement to share what had occurred.
‘No, I was over in Boise…,’ Dad corrected me.
‘I know you were, Dad. And I was there with you!’
He looked at me with a strange expression. ‘What do you mean?’
‘Dad, I was there along with your father!’
Dad’s eyes became wider and a look of puzzlement filled his face. ‘My father? What do you mean?’
I began sharing the story of how Grandpa had taken me by the hand and we had gone to visit my dad. I stepped through the experience point by point and told him what I had seen him doing. I told Dad where he was sitting and who was sitting next to him, and repeated the things Dad said to him as he left.
Periodically Dad would say, ‘Yes, that’s exactly right! And then what did I do?’
I added the next details, then watched his face as he agreed each point was exactly right. I completed the story by telling him what I saw as we watched him board the plane.
His jaw had dropped a bit, and his expression was one of amazement. ‘You could not have known that had you not been there. That is precisely what took place.’
Dad and Mom looked at one another with awe. What I had shared with them was indeed what had occurred, and the only way I could have known it was to have been there.
‘You know, it was absolutely miraculous,’ Dad began to explain. ‘You cannot do all the things I had to do to get ready and drive from the capitol to the airport in twenty minutes. It can’t be done. The drive itself normally takes twenty-five minutes!’
'I know,’ I said. ‘But Grandpa was helping you.’
Dad then shared with me another miraculous part of the story. He had flown home each Friday evening on the 5:20 p.m. flight. Mom would leave me at the hospital to pick him up at the airport, and they would drive to the hospital to see how I was doing.
Dad would call and schedule his flights for several weeks at a time. When he called to schedule this flight and a few others, he was informed that the only seat available on that particular Friday would be on the 1:50 flight. Every other Friday had openings on the 5:20. Having no other choice, he scheduled himself to fly on the 1:50 flight, but was hoping to be able to rearrange this later, as he would not be finished with his Senatorial work for the week by the time the flight left.
Unfortunately, Dad forgot about all of this until that very Friday when Grandpa and I visited him. Now I understood perfectly why Grandpa had needed to prompt Dad to leave when he did. Particularly in light of the blessing I received later that day under my father’s hand.
‘I’ll bet you had some help forgetting to change that flight, Dad!’ I said.
‘You must be right,’ he agreed.
There was another miracle taking place as far as my mother was concerned. She had been sitting with me in the hospital that particular day. Things with my health were at their worst. One of my doctors had just called my mother into the hall to inform her that there didn’t seem to be anything else they could do for me. They could see they were losing ground. It appeared I was dying, and they were not sure I would survive through the afternoon.
Mom was distraught. My family had begun to fear the worst, and Mom was not sure she could handle such news. At that moment, when things looked bleakest, Dad, who had caught a ride with another legislator from the airport to the hospital, began to walk down the hall toward my mother and the doctor. Mom knew Dad should not be home until after 6:30 that evening. To her it was an absolute miracle to have him arrive there at such an important moment.
She cried as they talked to the doctor. She turned to my father and told him, ‘You need to give Lance another blessing.’ Dad responded that he knew it was what he was supposed to do.Dad went home and prayed desperately for God to give him inspiration as to what he should do and say. He shared with us that he felt the words come into his mind that he was to say in the blessing. He said that this was perhaps the only time in his life he had ever felt God inspire him with specific words to say in a blessing. But for some reason it was important at that time.
Dad came back to the hospital, along with my brother Mark, my wife, and my mother. Mark and Dad placed their hands on my head and Dad, in the name of Jesus Christ, pronounced the words of prayer and blessing which had been given to him. He blessed my specific organs to heal much quicker than would normally be possible. From that point onward, I began to heal. Most certainly, the blessing had significant impact. I now knew why it was so important that Grandpa and I went to help my father catch that plane and give that blessing.
As we finished sharing our thoughts concerning the experience with one another, the Spirit burned again inside of us. It was that sure witness which I had learned testifies of all truth. And indeed, this was truth. Each of us knew it, and we knew that God knew it as well.
This entire experience was most remarkable. We all knew that there was no way I could have known these particular details and facts, had I not been present. It became a physical evidence of the truth of my journey to the other side.
Somehow it is not too hard for me to imagine my Grandfather standing next to my dad to inspire him with the very words that needed to be said to bless me with life again. I do not know it is so, but from what I have witnessed, I can never doubt the possibility of such things again.”
Lance told us so many heart-warming stories about how our deceased loved ones guide and help us when he came out of his coma, we became much more astute at recognizing his angelic fingerprints after his death. I believe that all of our lives are touched by our guardian angels many times more than we ever realize. It was such a blessing that the children and I had our own “guardian angel recognition training course” during those five years before he died. I hope that by reading about our experiences, the angelic fingerprints from your deceased loved ones will become more visible, also.
Toward the end of his coma, Lance began worrying about the children and I. He knew we must be terribly distraught, wondering if he would live or die. As a result, mercifully, he was allowed to come and check on us. At the time this happened, I had only a vague and unsure awareness of his presence. Here’s what occurred, again, in Lance’s words:
“My cousin, Randy (who had died almost 20 years previous of leukemia) escorted me to where my wife was, and then told me he would be back in a minute. My wife was driving our Suburban into town at the time. I was able to literally sit down in the passenger seat next to her. The radio was on and she was singing along with it. It happened to be a song called, ‘God Must Have Spent a Little More Time on You.’ She was crying as she sang. There was no doubt of whom she was thinking at that moment.
I watched her momentarily and kind of chuckled to think I was sitting there watching her singing. But the song and her tears touched me deeply. As she wiped them from her cheeks, I began to feel emotional, as well. I began to cry.
‘Jozet, dear. I love you. I am coming back. They have promised me now that I get to come back.’ I watched for any reaction from her that might tell me she was feeling my presence or hearing my words in her mind.
‘I am really coming back, dear, I really am. Just hold on a while longer.’ Then she turned and looked my direction. I could not tell at that moment if she knew I was there, but she seemed as if she had felt something.
I watched her look around, as if to see if someone was there.
‘Honey, I’m here. I’m right here. I will be back soon, and then I will never leave your side.’
Yes, God was ‘spending a little more time on me.’”
After Lance’s lengthy coma and near-death experience, we enjoyed five precious years together before his unexpected death. During this time, he shared story after story of how wonderfully different it is to live completely for others. We tried to incorporate this new way to think and to live into our family, and found greater happiness than we had ever experienced, by far.
I have not seen the next life. But because of what Lance went through, I have tasted and felt it. I will never be the same.
We’ve all wasted too much of life comparing who has the biggest and best houses, cars, and the most followers. Who really cares anyway?
All I want now is what’s beyond horseradish.
*From Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Seeing beyond the Leaf,” (address given at the Brigham Young University Church History Symposium, Mar. 7, 2014).
By Jozet Richardson Hulley, an excerpt from the book, “The Message From Our Side,” by Lance and Jozet Richardson and their children. Order your copy at www.themessagefromourside.com, or buy it at Seagull Book or Deseret Book.
I realize that having your friend’s spouse die can put you in a position of not knowing what to say — at all. I understand. My best friend’s husband passed away a month ago, completely unexpectedly, and although my husband died very similarly 14 years previous, I still found myself at a loss for words.
I’d like to relate some of the worst things my family heard at the time of my husband’s death — so you won’t make the same mistakes — and offer suggestions as to what might be helpful to say and do if someone you know encounters this terrible situation.
The worst thing my family heard at my husband’s funeral was this attempt at sympathy: “Our family knows just how you must feel. Our dog died.” Fortunately, although this comment was so incredibly bad we were left speechless, it has since brought so much laughter that the unsuspecting contributor has almost become endeared to us. So maybe stupid comments aren’t always a complete disaster.
The next thing you hate to hear when your spouse dies is, “I know you don’t want to think about this now, but sooner or later, you will find someone else to love, and it will all be better.” No, you REALLY don’t want to hear this now. All you can think of is your loss and how much you love your spouse. What a great husband and father he was, and how the world will never be right or OK again. Ever. And how much your children needed their dad, and how God cannot possibly be good. When someone gently reminds you that you’ll be able to get married again, the only thing you feel like doing is punching them in the face. Again, and again, and again. Sorry. But that’s the way you feel.
Another bad attempt at helping someone who’s just lost their spouse is to give them too much advice. Like, “Let me tell you how to raise your sons, now that they don’t have a dad.” Or, “I can show you a great way to pay your bills, or how to handle your money.” Although the grieving person might want this advice in the future, it’s best to wait for a couple of months until the initial numbness wears off. Then, it might be appropriate to say something like, “If you have any questions on this subject, I would be happy to help in any way I can.” When you act like your friend can’t manage without your help, it makes them feel as if you think they are dumb or incapable of handling the huge challenge they face. Honestly, they DO feel incapable at first, and they really need you to act as if you know they can do this. Offer your help at the appropriate time and then let them ask for that help when and if they want it.
Lastly, don’t tell them you understand if you haven’t been through it yourself. You don’t. You can’t understand. You never will until you’ve walked that same path. To say, “I understand” will just be a mockery of the pain that is so deep, they can’t even begin to express how badly or how deeply or how completely they hurt. The only thing to do is to hug them and cry with them. For a long, long time. And when you can’t cry anymore, just look around and see what needs to be done and do it. They will thank you when they break out of the numbness enough to even notice that their children were fed or their lawn was mowed.
Because right now, they don’t even believe the sun will rise tomorrow.
By Jozet Richardson Hulley
American Family Publications
2299 Rock Canyon Cir., Provo, UT 84604