The Color of Heaven
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"A box of tissues should be included in the purchase price of this book.... I finished THE COLOR OF HEAVEN in a matter of hours, but I've no doubt the read and the lessons imparted through Sophie's story will stay with me... probably forever. THE COLOR OF HEAVEN is an incredibly poignant and unbelievably gripping novel."Chris - Romance Junkies
A deeply emotional tale about Sophie Duncan, a successful columnist whose world falls apart after her daughter’s unexpected illness and her husband’s shocking affair. When it seems nothing else could possibly go wrong, her car skids off an icy road and plunges into a frozen lake. There, in the cold dark depths of the water, a profound and extraordinary experience unlocks the surprising secrets from Sophie’s past, and teaches her what it means to truly live...and love.
Full of surprising twists and turns and a near-death experience that will leave you breathless, this story is not to be missed.
THE COLOR OF HEAVEN is a work of fiction.
Release date: January 6, 2014
Publisher: Julianne MacLean Publishing Inc.
Print pages: 250
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The Color of Heaven
The Color of Heaven
“A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a man perfected without adversity.” - Donina Va’a Renata
A lot goes through your mind when you’re dying. What they say about life flashing before your eyes is true. You remember things from your childhood and adolescence – specific images, vivid and real, like brilliant sparks of light exploding in your brain.
Somehow, you’re able to comprehend the whole of your life in that single instant of reflection, as if it were a panoramic view. You have no choice but to look at your decisions and accomplishments – or lack of them – and decide for yourself if you did all that you could do.
And you panic just a little, wishing for one more chance at all the beautiful moments you didn’t appreciate, or for one more day with the person you didn’t love quite enough.
You also wonder in those frantic, fleeting seconds, as your spirit shoots through a dark tunnel, if heaven exists on the other side, and if so, what you will find there.
What will it look like? What color will it be?
Then you see a light – a brilliant, dazzling light – more calming and loving than any words can possibly describe, and everything finally makes sense to you. You are no longer afraid, and you know what lies ahead.
In this remarkable, complex world of ours, there are certain people who appear to lead charmed lives. They are blessed with natural beauty, have successful and fulfilling careers. They drive expensive cars, live in upscale neighborhoods, and are happily married to gorgeous and brilliant spouses.
I was once one of those people. Or at least that’s how I was perceived.
Not that I hadn’t endured my share of hardships. My childhood had been far from idyllic. My relationship with my father was strained at best, and there were certain pivotal events that I preferred to forget altogether – events that involved my mother, which I don’t really wish to go into now, but I will explain later, I promise.
All you need to know is that for a number of years my life was perfect, and I found more happiness than I ever dreamed possible.
My name is Sophie. I grew up in Camden, Maine, but moved to Augusta when I was fourteen. I have one sister. Her name is Jen and we look nothing alike. Jen is blonde and petite (she takes after our mother), while I am tall, with dark auburn hair.
Jen was always a good girl. She did well in school and graduated with honors. She went to university on scholarship and is now a social worker in New Hampshire, where she lives with her husband, Joe, a successful contractor.
I, on the other hand, was not such a model student, nor was I an easy child to raise. I was passionate and rebellious and drove my father insane with my adventurous spirit, especially in the teen years. While Jen was quiet and bookish and liked to stay home on a Friday night, I was a party girl. By the time I reached high school, I had a steady boyfriend. His name was Kirk Duncan, and we spent most of our time at his house because his parents were divorced and never around.
Before you pass judgment, let me assure you that Kirk was a decent, sensible young man – very mature for his age – and I have no regrets about the years we spent together. He was my first love, and I knew that no matter where life took us, I would always love him.
We had a great deal in common. He was a musician and played the guitar, while I liked to sketch and write. Our artistic natures gelled beautifully, and if we hadn’t been so young when we first met (I was only fifteen), we might have ended up together, married and living in the suburbs with a house full of children. But life at that age is unpredictable. It’s not how things turned out.
When Kirk left Augusta to attend college in Michigan and I stayed behind to finish my last year of high school, we drifted apart. We remained friends and kept in touch for a while, but eventually he began dating another girl, and she was upset by the once-a-month letters we continued to write to each other.
We both knew it was time to cut the cord, so we did. For a long stretch I missed him – he was such a big part of my life – but I knew it was the right thing to do. Whenever I was tempted to call him, I resisted.
I went on to study English and Philosophy at NYU, which is where I met Michael Whitman.
Michael Whitman. The name alone had a sigh attached to it…
He was handsome, charming and witty, the most perfect man I had ever seen. Every time he walked into a room, I lost my breath, as did every other hot-blooded female within a fifty-yard radius.
If only I knew then, when I was nineteen, that he would be my future husband. I probably wouldn’t have believed it, but there’s a lot I wouldn’t have believed about the extraordinary events of my life. I doubt you’ll believe them either, but I’m going to tell them to you anyway.
I’ll leave it up to you to decide if they’re real.
Michael was nothing like Kirk or any of the boys I had known in high school. His parents owned a corn farm in Iowa, but he looked as if he’d been raised by aristocrats in an English country house and had just stepped off the cover of GQ magazine.
Well-dressed and devastatingly handsome – with dark, wavy hair, pale blue eyes, and a muscular build – he had a way of making you feel as if you were the most attractive, witty, charismatic person on earth. And it wasn’t just women who worshipped him. He was a man’s man, too, with a number of close, loyal friends. His professors respected him. He was an A student and the class valedictorian at graduation. And then – big surprise – he went off to Harvard Law School on scholarship.
He was your basic “dreamboat,” and though he spoke to me now and then on campus, like everyone else, I mostly admired him from afar.
It wasn’t until four years after graduation, when I was interning in the publicity department at C.W. Fraser – a major publisher of non-fiction books and celebrity tell-alls – that I became the envy of every single young woman in Manhattan and beyond.
It was June 16, 1996. I was twenty-six years old, and had helped to organize a book launch party that Michael attended.
We saw each other from across the room and waved. Later that night, we went out to dinner, and when he escorted me home, I invited him inside. We stayed up all night, just talking on the sofa, listening to music, and we kissed when the sun came up.
It was the most magical, romantic night of my life.
One year later, we were married.
During our honeymoon in Barbados, Michael confessed something to me that he’d never been able to talk about before, not with anyone.
When he was twelve years old, his older brother Dean had died in a tractor accident. The vehicle slid down a muddy embankment, rolled over and landed on top of Dean, killing him instantly. Michael was the one who found him.
His voice shook as he described Dean’s lifeless body, trapped beneath the heavy tractor.
I hadn’t known about the accident when we attended university together. I don’t think anyone did. Michael had always seemed so strong and dynamic. It seemed as if nothing bad could ever touch him.
As soon as I heard this, I understood that we shared something very profound – a common experience that left us both broken in unseen places, for I had lost my mother when I was fourteen.
I was still angry with her for leaving us.
Because that’s what she did. She made a choice, and she left us.
I, too, shared these things with Michael, and we grew even closer.
When I mentioned earlier that I had once led a charmed life, I was referring to this stretch of time, which began on my wedding day and lasted for ten wonderful years.
Michael and I were crazy in love as newlyweds. He rose quickly at the law firm, and we both knew it was only a matter of time before he became a partner.
Things were going well for me, too. Six months after we began dating, I was offered a full-time, permanent position in the publicity department at C.W. Fraser, and with Michael’s encouragement, I pursued my first love – writing – and began submitting stories to magazines. We dined out often and connected with all the right people. Before long, I was leaving my job in publicity to write for the New Yorker.
Everything seemed perfect, and it was. We made love almost every night of the week. Sometimes Michael came home from work with a Victoria’s Secret box containing something lacy, wrapped in pink tissue paper, and we’d make love during Letterman.
Other times, he brought ingredients for chocolate martinis and we’d go out dancing until midnight.
We were as close as two people could be, and just when I thought life couldn’t get any better, the most amazing thing happened. I found out I was pregnant.
How effortless it all seemed.
Looking back, I sometimes wonder if it was all a dream. I suppose it was, because eventually I did wake from it. In fact, I sat straight up in bed, gasping my lungs out.
But let’s not talk about that yet. There are still a few miracles to explore.
So let’s talk about the baby.
Here’s the thing about motherhood. It exhausts you and thrills you. It kicks you in the butt, and the very next second makes you feel like a superstar. Most of all, it teaches you to be selfless.
Let me rephrase that. It doesn’t really teach you this. It creates a new selflessness within you, which grabs hold of your heart when you first take your child into your arms. In that profound moment of extraordinary love and discovery, your own needs and desires become secondary. Nothing is as important as the well-being of your beautiful child. You would sacrifice anything for her. Even your own life. You would do it in a heartbeat. God wouldn’t need to ask twice.
Our beautiful baby Megan was born on July 17, 2000. It was a difficult labor that lasted nineteen hours before ending in an emergency C-section, but I wouldn’t change a single second of it. If that’s what was required to bring Megan into the world, I would have done it ten times over.
For the next five days, while recovering from my surgery, I spent countless hours in the hospital holding her in my arms, fascinated by her movements and expressions. Her sweet, chubby face and tiny pink feet enchanted me. I was infatuated beyond comprehension by her soft black hair and puffy eyes, her sweet knees and plump belly, and her miniature little fingertips and nails. She was the most exquisite creature I had ever beheld, and my heart swelled with inexpressible love every time she squeaked or flexed her hands.
How clearly I remember lying on my side next to her in the hospital bed with my cheek resting on a hand, believing that I could lie there forever and never grow bored watching her. There was such truth in the simplicity of those moments.
Michael, too, was captivated by our new daughter. He went to work during the days, but spent the nights with us in our private room, sleeping in the upholstered chair.
When we finally brought Megan home, I came to realize that Michael was not only the perfect husband, but the perfect father as well.
He was nothing like my own father, who had always maintained an emotional distance. No… Michael changed diapers and couldn’t seem to get enough of our baby girl. He carried Megan around the house in his arms. He read books to her and sang songs. A few times a week, he took her for long walks in the park so I could nap or have some time to myself, simply to shower or cook a meal. I felt like the luckiest woman alive.
Later, when Megan was out of diapers and had finally given up drinking from a bottle at the age of two, I began to feel that I was ready to start writing again.
Michael – always so generous and supportive – suggested that he take Megan to Connecticut every Sunday afternoon to visit his sister, Margery.
It worked out well. Margery was thrilled to spend time with them, and those happy day trips out of the city created an even stronger bond between Michael and Megan.
It wasn’t long before I was submitting feature stories to a number of national parenting magazines. Always, in the back of my mind, however, was the dream of returning to the New Yorker, perhaps when Megan was older.
Sometimes I wonder if I would have done anything differently in those blissful days of new motherhood if I had known about the bomb that was about to drop onto our world. I believe I will always wonder that, and there will be no escaping the regrets, rational or otherwise.
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