It’s a story about family, tragedy, challenges, survival, and triumph. It’s a story about love. Love that lasts forever. It’s the story about separation and reunion. It’s the story of Stephanie and Christian Nielson and their five children: Claire, Jane, Oliver, Nicholas, and baby Charlotte. The love described in their home is not about a holiday; it’s a lifestyle of celebration!
Stephanie has a message to share and a promise to keep. She promised to share her story and she encourages others to share their stories because “we are all survivors of something.” From the time that Stephanie could remember she wanted to be a mother and she describes it as her “dream job.”
In 2005, Stephanie and Christian were living in New Jersey away from family. Besides caring for their children and teaching yoga, she began blogging the NieNie Dialogue as a way to keep family informed. As she continued to write, she found that complete strangers began to follow her blog. They even followed her family’s move to Arizona.
After the move to Arizona, Christian began flight lessons. It was his dream to fly. He progressed in his flight training, and on August 16, 2008, Stephanie accompanied Christian and an experienced pilot and flight instructor, Doug Kinneard, on a cross-country flight, but the plane went down in St. Johns, Arizona and ignited into flames. The flight instructor died the next day of the injuries he sustained in the accident. Christian suffered burns over 30 percent of his body and was placed in a medically induced coma for 5 weeks. Stephanie suffered burns over 80 percent of her body and was placed in a medically induced coma for three months. During this time their 18 siblings, along with their parents, cared for their four children. One sister continued to maintain Stephanie’s blog to plead for prayers and to keep readers updated on Stephanie and her family.
During her remarks at RootsTech 2014, Stephanie recounted that the family was told that marriages usually do not survive through such situations and to expect the worst. But, this family was committed. Stephanie says that they “lived for one another.” She said that at times she felt that her dream was disappearing, and “it was as equally humiliating as it was frustrating and disappointing.” As horrible as it was, she wanted her job back and determined that one day she was going to teach her children to ski.
Upon her return home, Stephanie had to relearn many skills, such as learning to tie shoes with her son, Oliver. Stephanie continued to blog to demonstrate to her children that she was coming back. She says that “no pain could stop me from being a mom.” Although recovery was challenging and painful, she hiked a mountain on the anniversary of the accident.
“I don’t think my children see my scars anymore,” Stephanie added, sharing a story about her kindergarten son “Ollie” to illustrate the point. She said that one day Ollie forgot his lunch so she decided to walk down to the school to deliver it. He was at recess so she called out to him and he came with friends following him. She gave him his lunch and turned to walk away. One of Ollie’s friends said, “What’s wrong with your mom?” Stephanie’s thoughts were “Oh no, here we go,” but Ollie said, “Haven’t you ever seen a pregnant mommy before?”
Stephanie says that she continues to blog so that their posterity will find strength from these stories to sustain them in their trials, and that although hard times come, “it’s how we finish that matters.” Stephanie’s story is about a series of miracles from learning to seal a zip-lock bag of carrots to the birth of their fifth child, Charlotte. Stephanie delivered baby Charlotte and her memoir, Heaven is Here, was released on the same day, no small accomplishment.
Stephanie acknowledged that those participating in RootsTech are doing so because they love their families. She encouraged each person to document their life and document their family’s experiences. She said to “be proud of your life and your accomplishments … You are here because you love your family.” Her message is clear: “We are all survivors of something.”
Lynn Broderick (https://thesingleleaf.wordpress.com/) is a writer by birth, a teacher by profession, and a researcher by passion. She enjoys researching individuals of the past in the context of family, community, and social history. Known as the Single Leaf, she combined her childhood memories of football and genealogy to create genealogy football and works with her team to win their family history bowl each year. She loves to coach people on how to enjoy pursuing their family history and has done so for over 25 years.