My Close Friend Was Dying. His Atheist Wife Furthered a Scam to Calm Him.

As an agnostic, I too was in on the charade for the sake of my friend’s comfort.

This story hit in January of 2015: Boy Says He Didn’t Go To Heaven; Publisher Says It Will Pull Book.

My friend died in April of that year, for perspective’s sake.

When I read January’s news, my first thought was the millions of dollars earned by the family for the child’s story was likely incentive, compounded by the big dollars earned from the subsequent television movie.

I read the book, so to be clear I am not opining from any sort of moral perspective. I thought the boy’s story was simply nothing more than childhood fancy.

From Wikipedia: The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven: A True Story is a best-selling 2010 Christian book that purported to tell the story of Alex Malarkey’s experiences in heaven after a traffic accident in 2004. It was published by Tyndale House Publishers in 2010. Alex’s father Kevin Malarkey is credited as a co-author along with Alex, although Kevin holds sole copyright. The book was a commercial success, selling over a million copies. It was adapted into a television film in March 2010. Since publication, Alex Malarkey and his mother Beth have disavowed the book. Alex commented online in 2011 that it was “1 of the most deceptive books ever,” and wrote an extensive repudiation in an open letter to Christian bookstores in 2015, describing his near-death experience as a fabrication. As a result, Tyndale House removed the book from print, and Christian bookstores removed it from their shelves.

Following the release of the highly-rated television film adaptation of “The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven: A True Story,” one of my closest lifelong friends was diagnosed with head and neck cancer.

His wife, an atheist, purchased the book for him at his request. He had heard an advertisement for it on the radio a few years after its release. It was on its way to becoming a perennial …

Prior to his diagnosis, my buddy held a similar outlook as his wife. He was, as he said, “irreligious,” disbelieving of any deity but not dismissive of certain mysteries of the universe of which man is incapable of understanding.

I share those views … none of which, I stress, has to do with the matter at hand, which is: Would you fool a loved one in their final days if their comfort depended on it?

Once he was diagnosed, Tom (name changed to maintain the privacy of his friends and family), asked his wife to not only purchase the book but have it delivered overnight.

Tom received great comfort from the read. He began asking his wife to reassess her views. She patronized him, but she also privately admitted to me she could barely tolerate him at times.

“He changed so much,” she’d say before breaking down, guilt-ridden that she was being selfish.

“None of this is your fault,” I’d tell her. “You’re doing what you believe you need to.”

Those conversations were frequent, and nearly all the same.

As time went on, Tom lost all color. He became white as a shroud. He could barely walk; the cancer spread to his organs. When he became bedridden, my wife and I would visit him daily.

One day, whispering (which was all he was capable of as the illness tightened its grip), he said to us, tears falling: “I love you.”

I said, “We love you too.”

He replied, “No … no, understand me. No one else has been here for me like you both, except for her (his wife).”

“ I understand,” I said.

“I hope one day we can reunite in heaven,” he said.

I didn’t know what else to say or do so I carefully embraced him, taking great care not to cause further damage.

On more than one evening, Tom’s wife asked me to come over as she needed help. I did. Several times I drove them to the hospital.

Within weeks, Tom insisted on a surgery that would extend his life for perhaps six months, but would terminate his power of speech.

Following the surgery, he would sign and write words on a whiteboard to communicate.

“Soon I’ll be in heaven,” he’d write. “I’m looking forward to meeting God, like young Alex.”

I’d become quietly angry when I read those words, though outwardly I remained supportive.

The last call from Tom’s wife while Tom was alive came at just after three in the morning. “Joel, Tom’s in the hospital. He’s not expected to last the day.”

My wife and I arrived at the hospital 20 minutes later. Tom was barely conscious. I walked over to him, took his hand, and promised him: “I want you to know, I’ll always take care of Amanda (name changed). You won’t have to worry …”

Tom understood. He squeezed my hand.

He passed away not two hours later.

Following Tom’s death, Amanda and I had several conversations about the book Tom had adapted for comfort.

“You know it’s a fake,” she said.

“Look who you’re talking to,” I reminded her.

“No, I mean it came out in the news awhile back. The book was pulled months ago … made the papers but I don’t know if you’re aware. I kept up the charade anyway for his sake …”

What went on from there was my assuring her she did all she could, including giving my friend comfort in any way possible.”

“Would you have done the same if you were in my position?” she asked.

I sincerely did not know the answer. “Of course,” I lied.

It was a difficult question to answer. I only knew that at that very moment my friend’s wife could have begun to question her decision, which was not a crisis I was inclined to trigger.

All that said, would you have lied under such a circumstance to a loved one in days of illness or tragedy?

If a romantic partner or a friend took comfort in something you believed was blatantly false, would you have encouraged that comfort or tried to change their mind and not kid themselves?

I would love to know your answers.

Thank you for reading.

Joel Eisenberg is an award-winning author, screenwriter, and producer. The Oscar in the profile pic isn’t his but he’s scheming. WGA and Pen America member.

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