It's not often that such an inspirational book comes along and I'm so pleased to welcome Ally Breedlove to The Reading Frenzy to talk about her book When Will The Heaven Begin, about her brother Ben and what he meant to her and the world.
An inspirational and heartrending memoir about Ben Breedlove, whose videos about his near-death experiences and visions of heaven went viral in 2012, written by his sister, Ally Breedlove.
On Christmas Day 2011, Ben Breedlove’s soul went to heaven. But it wasn’t his first time there. Ben suffered from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), a heart condition that posed a constant risk of sudden death. His condition, a thickening of the heart muscle, worsened over time, leaving him weak and fatigued. It also led Ben to some close calls medically, in particular cardiac arrest on four separate occasions, during which he felt the presence of angels and experienced the perfect peace of heaven.
I’m so pleased to welcome to The Reading Frenzy Ally Breedlove.
Ally welcome tell to The Reading Frenzy. Tell the readers a little about the book When Will The Heaven Begin.I believe that life is a gift, and my brother, Ben, taught me to live with that in mind every day. Ben passed away on Christmas day of 2011 from a cardiac arrest. The night he died, I discovered a YouTube video Ben had created unbeknownst to my family, titled, “This Is My Story, Part 1 and 2.” That night, the video began to go viral.
In the video, Ben had written on notecards and held them up one-by-one to the camera to tell his story. He told of how he had been born with an incurable heart condition, and how he had cheated death three times. He also described his near-death experiences with angels and peace of heaven. In the end, Ben held up a notecard that asked the question, “Do you believe in Angels or God?” He held up one last notecard that read, “I Do.”
Within days of Ben’s passing, the video had reached millions of people from all over the world; it was even translated into several different languages. My family was bombarded with Facebook messages, letters, and media interests all throughout the week, and that’s when we decided to televise Ben’s memorial service. At that point, it was not about my family, or even Ben himself—it was about sharing the peace, hope, and truth in Ben’s message with the world.
This is the same reason that I have decided to write a memoir of my brother’s life. Ben was born with his heart condition, he had his first near-death experience when he was four, and he lived almost his entire lifetime leading up to the creation of the video. And he adventured through all of it with an enormous smile on his face and an immense amount of joy in his heart, even through most of his lowest moments. There’s so much more to Ben’s life than the glimpse people saw in the video, and I hope people can gain an even greater sense of peace and hope by reading Ben’s story in its (almost) entirety.
Tell us a bit about you. How old are you? What are your plans for the future?Ben and I were only a year and a half apart in age, and we were best friends growing up. At the time of his death, Ben was eighteen and I was nineteen. After completing the book, I am now twenty-one, and I am so honored to have been given the opportunity to share Ben’s story. After I’m not traveling anymore for the marketing of WHEN WILL THE HEAVEN BEGIN?, my future is wide open. A lot of opportunities have presented themselves over the last two years, and I have a few secret projects in the works that might take a few years to complete.
Was writing the book cathartic to you?Writing the book was a very therapeutic experience. I felt like I was able to release all of my heartache and confusion, and relive the best moments with Ben at the same time. I cried my way through parts of the manuscript, and laughed until my stomach hurt at others.
Ally what were your and your family’s first thoughts when you learned of the videos Ben made?What did you think of them going viral?At first, we were overwhelmed with emotion at seeing Ben alive and smiling again on the screen. We had just watched Ben pass away the day before, and I can’t describe the feeling we had from seeing him alive again. It was a profound reminder for me to focus on Ben’s life, and not his death. He was on screen telling us that where he was now—surrounded by the incomprehensible peace of heaven—was exactly where he wanted to be. It was a gift. When the video went viral, we knew that this story was becoming much bigger than anything Ben could have created. We loved Ben, but he was just a normal kid who was willing to share his story. He had made this simple video, in simple language full of typos, that had somehow changed the lives of millions. Ben created the video, but God used it to speak to people’s hearts.
When you remember Ben what’s the first thing that comes to your mind?His smile! It was HUGE. And I really miss him being around to pester me. Whenever I let myself get too stressed out about something I was working on, he would distract me to remind me that the most important things in life are relationships. He brought a lot of levity to my life.
Ally Ben was very small when he first told your family about seeing the bright light and the angel. What was your and your family’s reaction to his claim?Ben was always very quiet about the serious things in life. That night in the hospital, he told my mom that an angel had been with him, but he rarely spoke about that incident throughout his life. We could tell that it was a very personal experience to him, and we respected that. The only other time I recall hearing about that instance from him was when my Mom encouraged me to read the college essay he had written during his senior year of high school. He wrote, “I get chills just thinking about it, because I know an angel was looking over me, literally. After experiences like these, you view life in a different way.”
What role does faith play in your and your family’s lives?At the tender age of four, Ben told God that he wanted to live in heaven someday, and he wanted Jesus to be with him for life. About a month later, Ben had his first near-death experience during which he was comforted by an angel. At eighteen, Ben attributed this event to changing his perspective on life. He talked to God whenever he was scared about his heart, and he would sit by the lake at night to ask God questions whenever he felt overwhelmed. And after Ben felt the peace of heaven in his vision, he told me, “I think God let me have that vision so I wouldn’t be afraid of dying, and so I would know that heaven is worth it.”My family and I know that God was always there for Ben in his lowest moments on earth, and we truly believe that Ben is living the peace of heaven now. We know his life on earth was lived for a purpose, we know that his message lives on now, and we can’t wait to see him again.
Ally, you’ve mentioned how conflicted you were when Ben shared with you that he wish he’d never woken up from his near-death experience. If a victim of a similar illness sought your advice what would you tell them?
Life is a gift. Every morning that you wake up, you have the power to decide what you want to do with your life, and how you want to live it. You can waste it, or you can decide to make the most of what you have been given, and use it to give back to the world. Ben decided to live every day with joy, focusing on his possibilities in life, rather than his challenges. There was a point when Ben began to question his purpose and wonder why he had to suffer in this life; but he ultimately decided that he believed he was here for a reason, and he continued to make the most of the little time he had left. Had Ben not lived eighteen years with a life-threatening heart condition, and had he not decided to make the most of his last weeks on earth, he never would have created the video that inspired millions. Ben decided to make the most of his story, to share it with the world, and to finish it well. I hope to one day be inspired by the stories of others who decide to do the same.
How do you and your family remember Ben? Are there tributes?The first time we celebrated Ben’s birthday without him, we invited our neighbors and Ben’s friends to our house for a balloon launch. Each person wrote a personal note to Ben on a balloon, and then we released all the balloons into the sky. But we think and talk about Ben every day, and remember him mostly by his unforgettable sense of humor. And sometimes we wonder if he’s still goofing off while working on his new, more important purpose :)
Ally, thank you so much for chatting with me today and for bringing Ben’s story to the world. Is there a memorial fund or charitable organization that you support in Ben’s name?My family and I give to various charities, depending on where are hearts are lead at the time, and we encourage others to do the same. However, at the time of Ben’s passing, we set up the Ben Breedlove Memorial Fund that benefits Africa New Life Ministries. Here is the link: http://www.africanewlife.org/the-ben-breedlove-memorial-fund/