Heaven Can Wait

THERE ARE SOME AUTHORS WHO, AFTER writing a No. 1 best-seller, would think they had died and gone to heaven. Betty J. Eadie’s claim to literary fame is that she did it the other way around. The Seattle-area mother of seven says that on the night of Nov. 19, 1973, hours after undergoing a hysterectomy, she floated out of her body and passed through a dark tunnel to heaven, where she met Jesus, angels and the spirits of departed friends. Two decades later, Eadie, 51, has delivered a slim, soothingly hallucinatory account of her voyage to ”the glorious life beyond,” Embraced by the Light.

Published last Thanksgiving by tiny Gold Leaf Press, Embraced has lived for near half a war on Tin-New York Times best-seller list—and its pulse seems stronger than ever. “People are in pain. They’ve lost hope, they’re confused and desperately fear death,” says Eadie, who became a devout Christian after her experience. “But after you’ve died, what else is there to fear? No love can compare with the unconditional love I was shown.”

If Embraced seems to make dying easier to contemplate for its readers, its success will make living easier for Eadie. She earn royalties from the huge hardcover sales; paperback rights were sold in May for nearly $2 million and audio rights for $100,000. Eadie, who recently quit her job as a hypnotherapist, is working on an autobiography and considering film offers. But not every one buys her story; critics have called her a nut or a liar, and some Christians who doubt her account of her experiences have urged her to repent. Others also note that Eadie won’t name her doctor or the Seattle-area hospital where she says she was operated on or produce any medical records. She will say only, “The exact length of time that I was dead and whatnot were not documented, so I don’t have those facts.”

Curtis Taylor, Eadie’s editor at Gold Leaf, says he examined some of Eadie’s records indicating a hemorrhage occurred, but maintains that nothing could satisfy disbelievers. “There are people who so violently disagree with the experience itself that no amount of documentation would prove that she didn’t just manufacture this,” he says. Eadie agrees. “I can’t prove it happened,” she says. “But I know it’s true.”

One of 10 children of a Scotch-Irish father and a Sioux mother, Eadie was raised on the Rosebud Resenervation in South Dakota. Her parents separated when she was 4. That year Eadie contracted whooping cough and double pneumonia and had what she considers her first near-death experience. “I was held and rocked by a beautiful man of light,” she recalls. “I played with his beard.” At 11, she saw what she believed was the skyward light of Jesus’ second coming: it tinned out to he a spotlight for a carnival coming to town.

Sent by her family to a harsh Catholic boarding school and later educated by Methodists, Eadie says she had low self-esteem, grew to fear God and never felt “worthy of a relationship with Him.” She left school at 15 and joined her mother in Wyoming, where she married a neighborhood boy and moved with him to Reno. Six years and four children later—a daughter died at 3 months of crib death—they divorced. In 1963 she married Joe Eadie, an Air Force sergeant who was later relocated from Reno to San Antonio. Then in 1967, the Eadies—including her children Donna, now 35, Cheryl, 34, and Glenn, 33—resettled in Seattle, where Joe worked for Boeing as a systems analyst. Along the way, they had three children of their own—Joe Jr., 30, Jeff, 27, Tom, 25—and in 1980 adopted Betty Jean, 14.

Five years after her last and most difficult pregnancy, Eadie took her doctor’s advice and underwent the partial hysterectomy that she says resulted in her visit to the afterlife. She says she spoke with Jesus, who was bathed in a “radiant white light,” and that he told her. “Your death was premature, it is not yet your time.” Heaven was “a glorious world of light and love with mountains, valleys, gardens and waterfalls.”

Reentering her mortal body. Eadie says its “cumbersome weight and coldness were abhorrent” after the serene lightness of the afterlife. She became depressed and reclusive and shared her experience only with family and close friends. But they prodded her to speak out, so during the late ’80s she began to give talks in libraries and churches. A local woman who heard her speak typed up a 16-page synopsis and sent it to friends and family in Salt Lake City who, in turn, sent copies to more friends until one of the synopses reached Taylor, then an editor at Aspen Books. “Her story hit me hard,” he says. “I was a madman for it.” Taylor contacted Eadie, only to find she had made a deal with another regional publisher for a mere $1,000 in advance royalties. Undaunted, he and several colleagues at Aspen cobbled together some $50,000 to purchase the rights to Eadie’s story and publish it under a new imprint, Gold Leaf. The publishing outfit stands to make millions if the 900,000 copies now in print sell out.

Talk shows, book signings and lectures have disrupted the quiet life Eadie expected to have with Joe, who retired in July, and young Betty Jean. “There’s been too much turmoil creating the book’s success to enjoy it,” Eadie says. “We scrimped and sacrificed all these years and put big chunks of money toward our retirement. Then Joe sees his wife write a book in three months that makes more money than he’d ever made in his entire life. Things have been turned all upside down.”

When things calm down, the Eadies plan to leave their nearly empty nest and settle somewhere else in the Pacific Northwest. For now, Joe—who typed his wife’s handwritten manuscript into their home computer—sees his job as keeping her phenomenal success from going to her head. “What I’ve witnessed is truly a miracle,” he says. “But I keep walking behind her and reminding her, ‘You’re just a mortal.’ ” Eadie seems to get the message. “I’m no psychic or cult leader or channeler,” she says. “But I knew this book would go around the world.”

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