Have you ever been close to losing a loved one? Freelance video producer Katie Rutter almost lost her father, Dave Breidenbach, after he had a heart attack seven years ago. It was a scary experience for Katie, but for Dave, it was life-changing.
When describing his experience, Dave shares, “It was just so…a beautiful calm. And I used the word ‘welcoming,’ and I still feel that’s the best word. It was so welcoming.”
Katie: That day is etched into my memory forever. My schedule was packed, so I stepped into a cafe to hold a late phone meeting, but instead it was my sister on the phone. “Get home now. Dad had a heart attack.”
Not Now: A Grotto Short Film by Katie Rutter
Katie: Wait, wait, wait, wait.
Dave: I’m too low.
Katie: There it is.
That’s me. And that’s my dad. As you can see he’s fine now — that is, aside from being on camera. He’s only sharing his story in this way because I asked him to, he really is a salt-of-the-earth kind of guy. Cradle Catholic, machine shop worker, small time rental owner. But that day, his heart stopped and he saw the afterlife. He was in an ambulance being rushed to the hospital.
Dave: It was just so loud. All the metal drawers, all the way down both sides. And they were all kind of loose and banging around and jarring. And the last thing I remember them saying is, “We got to go hot.” But that’s when it became so peaceful. The peacefulness, the calmness, the warmness. I was cold. They had blankets over me and stuff, but I was cold. And that all went away. It was just a beautiful calm. And I used the word ‘welcoming’ — I still feel that’s the best word. It was so welcoming.
I noticed things, my life going past me. It was the flashing of things that I had experienced. There was places — I think the most vivid was the places, I could see the places where I had visited. Things that I had experienced. I could see those things, and it flashed by me quickly. But what struck me as this is different is the calmness and the comfortableness. You see a video and you see the flickering of different scenes. It creates tension and anxiety. You’re trying to produce that speed kind of a feeling. But that’s not what it was. It was two opposite things I’ve experienced at the same time. Yes, I was seeing things flash by me, but I was very comfortable with it. That warm, welcoming, feeling, never left. It was beautiful. It was just a wonderful feeling.
And then that’s when that voice came to me and was talking to me. It’s not like I saw somebody. It was just a voice. And you know when a voice is talking to you, commands your attention and it did. This voice commanded my attention and told me, “Not now, you have more work to do.” And it was so formal, and I like formalness. I don’t like slang. And I replied back, “I accept.” It was kind of, I don’t talk like that, but I was very comfortable — and again, that comfortable feeling never left — but the acceptance of that. And that’s when I woke up at the hospital.
(Katie sits at the dinner table with her dad and family)
Katie: Oh yeah, I got it first. I thought those were uncooked carrots.
My dad confided his story to my mom as soon as he could. He was still in the hospital.
Cheri: I did believe him. Absolutely. Because he goes, “I’ve got something I need to share with you.” And so he started telling me, and it was just like you’re kind of dumbfounded. Wow. But I didn’t think that he was not telling me the truth.
Cheri: I believed him. No, no. I believed him because he doesn’t horse around about stuff like that. Now if it was some of my other people that I know, they could tell me that and I’d go, yeah, right. But not him. Not him. You could tell it was real.
Katie: My dad also confided in our pastor, Father Joe. A few months later, Father Joe asked him to speak about his experience. Dad was definitely reluctant, but he knew he had work to do.
Dave: One of the things that I had talked in my prayer life, I had told God, “Anybody that wants to hear my story, I will tell this story to.” And then when he came forward, it was like, “Oh, I didn’t plan on that.”
Katie: And then…
Dave: And then you came along and asked, “Can I film it?” And I was reluctant on that.
Katie: I posted the video online expecting a few hundred views.
Dave: We have 3,000 — I’m sorry, 399,925 views.
Katie: Wow. Did you ever think it was going to go like this?
Dave: I had no idea. No.
Katie: Why do you think people are so kind of attracted to your story or interested in talking about it?
Dave: People want to know what’s on the other side. And I feel that there’s so much of a fear of dying. I don’t have that fear. I read some of those Bible stories about how brave these guys were, the Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stories and just how… I never felt that I could be that brave. How could they be so brave in life to accept death? Well, I feel I have that answer now. They know what’s on the other side. They are accepting of that, and they’re accepting what their life is here and are able to not be afraid. And not that I want to be challenged. Believe me, I don’t. But I am not afraid to die. I really want to go to heaven.
Everything that I had learned with my faith and with Jesus and this communion of saints and all the prayers, the Bible stories — they’re all true. God is real. God is a holy God. God is a beautiful God. Look at the majesty of this world. Look at the colors, the depth, the scope, and that pales to what heaven’s like. The colors were so much more vivid in heaven. The sounds, the life. It’s real. Be ready for death. Be prepared, don’t be surprised. We have all the warnings out there. Be ready. But it’s beautiful. You can’t imagine how much better heaven will be and it’s worth it.
Katie: I’m so glad we talked about this because how often do you get to talk so in depth, right? Where you’re not talking about the weather or…even though I believe what you believe, and I feel like you’ve taught me everything I know about the faith, we haven’t talked about this.
Dave: Correct. It’s the bridge. You don’t, in the normal everyday life, you’re talking about car problems or work problems or…We are bound by life. And until you step back, you can’t see that vantage point. I believe it’s a wonderful gift God gave me.
Katie: And everyone else who’s gotten to talk to you.
Dave: If I don’t scare them away. It’s easy to do.