Nola Swart is spending a weekend with her daughter Kelly while her husband Fred and his best friend are fishing at their lake cottage. They are baking cookies when the phone rings.
Nola wipes the flour off her hands before picking up her cell phone. The caller ID tells her it’s Fred, but when she answers the phone, it’s not his voice on the other end, and the words she hears destroy her.
«Nola?» She recognized James’ voice on the other end of the line. «Nola, it’s James. I’m so sorry, but Fred… Something’s happened to Fred…»
«James?» Nola gasped and felt an immense force squeeze her heart. «What happened? Is Fred hurt?»
«No, honey,» Fred’s best friend says softly. «I’m sorry, Nola, honey, you have to be brave…. Fred is dead.»
«No!» Nola screamed. «Stop it, James! This is a BAD joke! Stop it! Stop it!»
But deep down, Nola knew it wasn’t a joke, and the big, strong James, who had been Fred’s best friend since first grade, was crying like a baby.
«I’m sorry Nola… I’m so sorry… He was next to me and then he just… He was gone, gone…»
In a strange numb fog, Nola called her mother and asked her to come sit with Kelly. Then Nola drove two hours to the mountains to meet James at the office in the small town near which they had their cottage.
With James’ arm around her shoulders, Nola stood like a statue as the medical examiner pulled back the white sheet to expose Fred’s still face. Nola feels hot tears rolling down her cheeks.
«As far as I can tell, Mr. Swart had a heart attack and died instantly,» the medical examiner said. «However, I recommend that you have a pathologist perform an autopsy…».
«Never,» cried Nola. «No one is going to cut up my Fred. Let him rest in peace!»
The coroner sighed.
«Mrs. Swart, I understand. I will issue a death certificate, so you can proceed with the burial.»
«The funeral… Fred always said he wanted to be cremated. I want everything to be the way he would have wanted it.»
James helped Nola arrange for Fred’s body to be transported home, and the next day their family and many friends came to pay their last respects to the energetic and fun-loving young man they had loved.
Nola had asked the funeral director to leave the coffin open so that they could all say their last goodbyes. One by one, the mourners approached the coffin, whispered a last message, said their prayers.
The priest spoke of Fred with emotion.
«Even as our hearts ache, even as we mourn our loss, let us always remember that Fred has left this world for a better place and is now in the loving hands of our Father. Life is not permanent, and all we can rely on is our faith.»
Nola listened and felt anger flood her heart. She whispered harshly to her mother:
«My God! If there was a God, Fred would be home right now, not lying in that box. God! God left my baby without a father!»
The priest looked at Nola, a few people stared at her, and her mother tried to keep her quiet. Nola pushed her mother’s hands away. She shouted in a louder voice.
«Are you all praying to God? Ask Him what I’m going to tell my baby! Why don’t you ask him that!»
Nola’s mother put her arms around her and tried to comfort her, and the funeral director stepped forward with his assistant to take Fred’s coffin to the crematorium, but she pulled away from her mother.
«Wait!» she yelled. «Please wait! I need to say goodbye!»
Nola walked over to the coffin and bent down to caress Fred’s face with trembling fingers.
«I love you…» She whispered, then gently kissed his lips — the last kiss she shared with the man she wanted to grow old with.
Looking at Fred, Nola saw something amazing. Fred blinked. I’m crazy, Nola thought, I want him back so badly that I’m hallucinating…
But Fred’s eyelids began to flutter again and Nola shouted:
«He’s alive! Oh my God! Call 911!»
The funeral director, who thought Nola was imagining all this in her grief, stepped forward and saw Freds’s eyes open, then close again.
He turns to his assistant and orders him to call 911, find a doctor, whatever helps! Fred is transferred from his coffin to the ambulance and taken to the hospital with Nola at his side.
The doctor confirms that Fred is alive, but that something has put him in a deep coma, so the inexperienced small-town medical examiner thinks he is dead.
After several tests, doctors reveal that Fred was stung by a bee and had a violent allergic reaction to the venom — so violent that he appeared to have died.
Fortunately for Fred, Nola had refused an autopsy or a traditional funeral for which he would have been subjected to an embalming process. Under medical supervision, Fred recovered from this horrific experience.
He returned home within days, more alert than ever, but Nola never forgot her anguish and horror at seeing him lying in his coffin. For Nola, it was a miracle, a second chance given to their family by a compassionate God.