Cecil Murphey and Don Piper

90 Minutes in Heaven

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90 Minutes in Heaven Summary

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90 Minutes in Heaven written by Don Piper with Cecil Murphey is a Christianity-based autobiography. Published in 2004, the book chronicles a life and death situation experienced by Piper in 1989 and spent five years on the New York Times bestseller list selling over six million copies. Piper is a Baptist minister who was on his way home from a gathering in Texas. While crossing a bridge the car he was driving was hit by a tractor-trailer. When emergency crews arrived at the scene of the accident they found no signs of life in Piper who was crushed by the roof of the car and the dashboard as well as being pierced in the chest by the steering wheel. They covered him as they would a dead body and a pastor offered prayers while awaiting the arrival of a medical examiner. Piper who was ordained in 1985 has since shared his experience with thousands of live audiences totaling well over one million people.

As recounted by Piper, at the time of the accident he ascended to heaven and was part of a spiritual series of events. He interacted with deceased members of his family including his great-grandmother. He joined a choir as it passed through the Gates of Heaven. Piper spent ninety minutes, apparently in death, before returning to life in what he can only, by virtue of his faith, describe as a miracle. Piper finds no other way to understand how or why he was given the opportunity to experience firsthand the beautiful serenity of heaven and then be returned to earth, a very different version of the person he had been. The impact of his car hitting the side of the bridge leaves Piper with a shattered leg resulting in several inches of missing bone. He has a severely dislocated arm, pieces of glass covering his body, and suffers a major loss of blood. Remarkably, he incurs no injuries to his head and has no internal injuries. Following the accident, he spends close to a year in a hospital and additional time convalescing in a hospital bed in his home.

A device called an Ilizarov frame that has been largely untested is placed on Piper’s left leg. The apparatus is designed to stretch the bones in his leg with the hope of replacing the majority of the bone that is now missing. Piper finds himself in a state of chronic pain that will likely last for the rest of his life. He can no longer participate in many activities that had to that point been important and enjoyable in his life. His faith as a minister helps him cope with the ordeal and at another level frustrates him as he tries to make sense of what he was given the chance to observe in heaven while he was dead.

Piper found heaven to be awe inspiring during the ninety minutes he spent there. He reports not becoming saddened by being separated from his wife and their three children as his faith left him with no doubt that he would one day be together with them again in heaven. Further, he is confident that God will always provide for their needs on earth. In heaven, he finds himself surrounded by comforting music and beautiful lights. He finds himself feeling fully prepared to step through the Gates of Heaven and experience God face to face. He does not actually see God as he unexpectedly finds himself transported back to Earth.

As he continues to work to regain his health, Piper deals with a serious period of depression as well as ongoing conflicted feelings from being unable to understand why he was sent back to continue living a life that will never be the same as it has been after having seen what being in heaven is like. Through all of this, however, his faith remains steadfast. Eventually, after being challenged by friends about his depression and the negative attitude he has been displaying, Piper comes to realize that he cannot deal with his situation on his own. He begins to reach out to others leading to an ability to become a role model and source of comfort for others dealing with the types of pain he is grappling with. He finds that many people turn to God as a result of his message about the splendor of heaven. As his physical restoration continues to progress, his mental health also improves. He eventually realizes that it is important to seek and accept help and that each step forward, regardless of how small, is to be appreciated.

In examining both the book and its subsequent film version, The Chicago Tribune said of 90 Minutes in Heaven, “It’s certainly a remarkable story about the perseverance of the human spirit, and the lessons that one can learn in a near-death experience.”