Stephanie Nielson, a popular blogger and mother of five, and her husband Christian were in a horrific plane crash in 2008. She was on the brink of death, with burns covering more than 80 percent of her body and 30 percent of his. Nielson writes in her new memoir, "Heaven is Here," how she beat the odds and recovered from the emotional and physical scars.
A voice whispered, “Roll.”
I fell to the ground and crushed the brilliant flames that licked at my clothes, my skin, my hair. The mangled wreck of our airplane blazed nearby.
I lay at the base of a tree on my back looking at the clouds moving across the sky. Through my tears, I noticed the leaves that fluttered in the breeze, bright green against the blue sky, far above the chaos.
A stranger rushed toward me and knelt at my side. He cradled my head in both of his hands and put it in his lap. “It’s going to be all right,” he said, a hint of doubt in his eyes.
The fire roared in my ears. An oppressive wall of heat pulsed against me. The air was sour — a sickening mixture of fuel, singed hair, and burning flesh. That smell is me. I am burning. How did this happen?
Where is my husband? Just minutes ago, I was in the backseat of the Cessna, admiring how capable he looked staring out the window of the cockpit as we taxied down the runway. Where is he now?
I had pizza dough rising on the counter at home and four young children to feed. Christian and I had planned to pick them up from my in-laws in an hour and a half. I felt an irrational desire for someone to just pick me up, brush me off, and send me on my way. If I didn’t get home, who would make Claire’s butter and honey sandwiches for her first-grade lunch box next week?
Who would know to get Jane off the kindergarten bus in the middle of the day? I pictured her little red head climbing off the bus to an empty porch—no mother to hug her home from school, no little brothers playing in the yard. I imagined the bus pulling away, Jane locked out of the house.
People rushed in and out of my line of vision with a sense of urgency. Some of them wore work clothes, as if they’d been mowing their lawns or working in the garden until the moment our airplane crashed on their street and they’d been called to duty. I felt guilty for interrupting their Saturday. Like me, they all had other things to do.
“Thank you for being here,” I said to the man who held my head. “You don’t have to stay.”
“I’m going to stay,” he said. “I’m going to be right here.”
Other people hovered around me a few minutes at a time. They tried to reassure me, but it seemed they needed convincing as much as I did. Their lips mouthed words of comfort, but their faces betrayed them.
They are scared, I realized. When they look at me, they are scared.
Until then, some miraculous dam of adrenaline or heavenly help had held back the agony of my injuries. But the faces around me were crowded with worry, and the dam buckled. Suddenly, pain spilled over, crashing relentlessly against me, wave after stinging wave. Every inch of my body throbbed, overloaded with agony.
“It’s going to blow!” someone yelled. “Get the hose!” The burning airplane popped and crackled dangerously near a propane tank and neighbors-turned-rescue workers yelled back and forth above the noise. I braced myself for another explosion, but the roar of the fire held steady.
My jeans kept the heat tight against my legs. I rubbed my hands against them, trying to pull them off, but my hands didn’t seem to be working. I lifted them to see why. Flaps of skin hung from my wrists. My hands themselves were gray and bloody. I saw my bones. I dropped my arms to the ground and willed away the image.
“Hey, you’re going to be OK,” the stranger said with believable conviction. The doubt in his eyes was gone. “You’re going to be all right.”
Above him, the leaf fluttered, alive and healthy. A feeling swept over me and took root in my heart.
I am going to be all right.
The dark smoke billowed around us, and blackened the sky, the tree, and my leaf.
Excerpted from “Heaven is Here” by Stephanie Nielson. Copyright © 2012 Auroramark Enterprises LLC. Published by Hyperion. Available wherever books are sold. All Rights Reserved.
© 2012 MSNBC Interactive