Near-death experience leads woman to finding purpose

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Mielke and William Heard at Mielke’s book signing in December 2014 in Tupelo, Mississippi. (Submitted photo)
By JASON REYNOLDS
Tennessee Christian News

A native of Shelbyville, Tennessee, has written a memoir that details her near-death experience that happened 23 years ago.

Suzanne Coffey Mielke is the author of “Providence Road: A woman’s search for purpose after a near death experience.” She grew up in Shelbyville but has lived out of state for years. However, many members of her family continue to live in Shelbyville, a community that she said rallied around her family at the time.

Going into the light

Mielke was vacationing with her family in Charleston, South Carolina, just a few days after Christmas 1991 when she became deathly ill and was diagnosed with viral pneumonia. She nearly died at one point, and she reported going into a white light on that day. She believes the light was Jesus. Mielke told her family of her meeting her late grandfather — whom she had never seen — during the experience.

Her description of her grandfather deeply impacted the family’s faith, her brother David Coffey of Shelbyville said.

“This re-affirmed our belief that heaven does exist,” he said. “He died when my dad had just graduated college, so there was no way she could have described him so vividly. We were actually given the unique blessing of seeing through my sister’s eyes.”

Mielke said the experience brought her family into a personal relationship with Christ.

“It changed our lives forever,” she said.

David accompanied Mielke (who was in a coma) on a medical flight to transfer her to Duke University’s hospital for specialized care. Without going into the complicated problems on the flight, I will say, from David’s account, that Mielke could have died because both lungs collapsed.

“The good Lord was there,” David said. “It was a miracle she survived that flight. I chalk that up to divine providence.”

Local reaction

The book tells how people in Shelbyville helped her family, which included starting prayer chains. Her parents’ neighbor, Betty Fox, came to open and close the drapes and do other things to make their home look lived-in. The Times-Gazette provided regular updates on Mielke’s condition.

Her mother, Mai Coffey, said the family was deeply touched by the community’s support.

“Everyone was so nice and kind and helpful,” she said.

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Finding purpose

As the subtitle suggests, the book also details periods of Mielke’s life where she searches for purpose. That search led her to a man who is now a great friend. That friend is William Flewellen Heard, a quadriplegic artist who is well-known in his hometown of Tupelo, Mississippi. With his help, Mielke learned to find joy no matter how life is going. That was a long-needed realization as Mielke dealt with divorce and several job changes, as well as her children moving off to college, leaving her with an empty nest.

Mielke is friends with her ex-husband, who helps her do yard work and would “walk over hot coals to help” her.

Writing the book was a journey in itself, Mielke said.

“Writing was a spiritual journey for me; it was healing,” she said. “I have a tendency to throw little pity parties. When I went over my life … I went, ‘Oh my gosh, I am so blessed.'”

About the author

Suzanne Coffey Mielke lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. She has two grown children and a grandchild. Her past careers include owning a catering company, working in radio sales and working as an executive television producer.

The book is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble’s website and West Bow Press’ website.

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