Barbara Walters Can You Hear Me? Is Heaven For Real?
Barbara Walters was closer to me than my own family or any of my friends. Our relationship deepened from the day we met, and for almost thirty years we spent hours together talking on our daily walks through Central Park.
Barbara became my mentor and my closest friend, far beyond my original role as her exercise coach. We talked about so many subjects, from babies being born to the question of life after death – the question, “Is heaven for real?”
I promised her that I would tell the true, inspiring story of “My Barbara”, so I am now writing a memoir of my time with her, to fulfill that promise. Barbara died last year after a long illness, at age 93.
My memoir, to be titled “By Your Side: A Walk In The Park with Barbara Walters”, is the beautiful inner story known by only one person. A person in whom she confided for so many days and hours for nearly three decades. That person was me.
Even today, as I walk in the park alone, I reflect on all the stories and lessons I learned from her, one of the world’s most legendary journalists, someone with enough courage and talent to blaze a path to the top for other women.
One question she and I returned to again and again was: “Is heaven for real?” And, if we believe in this idea, how can we truly believe in it?
Barbara was fascinated by the question. She even explored the idea during an interview with his holiness the Dali Lama. And while she created a beautiful TV special with the Tibetan spiritual leader, in truth, she didn’t budge in her beliefs about the whether heaven is real.
In our frequent, private debates, I always answered YES and she answered, NO! So we agreed on a collaborative plan: ”Whoever first passed through the pearly gates would show a relevant sign by helping the other with their purpose-driven work.”
Barbara admired and, I say humbly, loved the fact that I was her young mentee full of hope and belief. And she often told me to not let aging and disappointments stop me from being my best self, or from serving humanity. She openly showed her pride in me and in my work as a therapist in a child cancer ward. Once, she was interviewed by NY1 for a story about my integrative therapy work with child cancer patients at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital.
“Christine Grimaldi is a saint. She is always the one there to help out others in need without asking for anything in return,” Barbara said in the TV news segment.
“She works with these children who have cancer, giving them quality to their lives, making their limbs move, hugging them, talking to them, reading to them,” she said.
“That’s so important. These children, many of them dying, she’s the one who’s there consoling them. She’s just an amazing person.”
Now, we’re only weeks from Barbara’s first anniversary. In heaven — this, I believe. And the holiday season is near; a season when Barbara was always ready with her “gift closet”, stuffed with delightful presents for the kids in the cancer ward. The children could choose what they wanted.
Barbara also used to ask me to deliver a different variety of gifts — gold-laced chocolates — to her celebrity friends. “I know what you’re thinking, Christine… in fact, I could feed the homeless in New York City for the holidays.“ And I would always answer her, “Correct.”
And then she’d give me a handful of cash to feed the patients in the hospital, where I would spend the holidays.
Afterward, when I joined her for our private holiday dinner at her Fifth Avenue residence, she’d ask me as soon as I walked through the door, “How did all the patients do?” I always replied, “Great, thanks to you and The Gift Room.”
The whole event became an ongoing funny conversation for the two of us, each and every holiday. This is the kind of shared memory – between me and Barbara – that is at the heart of the memoir I’m writing about her. And I decided to bring Barbara’s tradition into the wider world, so I decided to create a small charity, giftroomfoundation.org.
As the years passed, she often confided in me, “I am worried about who is going to be your patron when I am gone, for all your good deeds.”
I would answer, “ Well if heaven is for real, then you will lead them to me.” I added, “I just need a few of your rare books and that mummy in the hallway [upon which I always hung my hat, to get a sneer and a chuckle from her] to support my future purpose-driven endeavors.”
Barbara’s true dedication was to help children find their way, to help animals in need and to foster women’s leadership.
These days, as I recall those years with Barbara, I walk in a park upstate as the leaves change color, and I remember all our seasons together, all the changes we went through to serve people in need.
I remember a conversation Barbara and I once had, as I brushed her hair one day. I told her, “I will leave you the legacy you truly deserve by writing a true memoir about your kindness that people do not see.”
I went on to creat centers dedicated to her causes. I’ve even created gift rooms “in honor of Barbara Walters” to buy items, then donate money to people in need of services.
The memoir I’m writing, titled By Your Side, is based on a promise I made years ago when she was hospitalized. As I cared for her, she talked to me about her fear of dying and her worries about how she would be remembered. Then she’d say, “I could care less about my name being on another hospital wing.”
I told her my memoir would be “the one interview about you that the audience has yet to hear.” She laughed and replied, “ Well that would certainly be something great to read while I am in heaven, as you always told me I should believe in.”
It’s been a rough year since Barbara passed away. And since my baby sister, Cat, also passed away unexpectedly from cancer at age 40, leaving behind four children. Though I had so much professional experience of the mortal impact of cancer, I still found myself thinking, “How could this happen?”
Amid my losses, of my sister and my mentor, I have been looking for a new patron to take on her role with me and support me in my projects of love and devotion, for which I’m using every resource I have.
I’m working hard to sustain Autisticana, an online media site inspired by Barbara’s love for her sister, Jackie, who was born with an intellectual disability, and who always wanted to be seen as a whole person in an often-uncaring society.
And I’m working to create a new program, “Project Younicorn”, also to help out mental illness in our youth, and to promote empowerment programs using equine, nature and purpose driven work. It’s to be based at 13 Hands Equine Rescue, in upstate Clinton Corners. This project is dedicated to Barbara, and to my sister Cat.
One day recently, I began to feel Barbara’s presence by my side – she always wanted me to keep track of current events. I decided to read the news. And I learned that Barbara’s estate would soon go up for auction. Her art, jewelry and other possessions.
I began to have an insight – now is the time for a sign that heaven is real. The words came to me. “Can you show me, Barbara Walters? I need to ask you for that sign now to keep my great work going.”
So, today is the day I ask Barbara, “ Is heaven for real and can this auction help out my charity in your name?
“I know you are proud of me and have seen the struggle over the past couple of years. I also know you have seen my continual open heart and commitment to helping animals and humans.
“So I ask you now in heaven, Miss Barbara, Can you help me through this auction with ‘My gift room project’, to help our youth today launch into a better life?” So many children are suffering from the devastation of grief, loss and this ever changing uncertain world.
“Please hear me, Barbara, and show me that heaven is indeed for real, and that you are watching over me as always promised.
“Please hold my baby sister Cat for me, as I know she will be in your good hands as I was always in yours. I know the reality and the truth of where you want your inheritance and gifts to go.
“I’m shouting it out loud and clear to you my dear friend Barbara , and to you Jacqueline Dena Guber to hear my wishes as Barbara always did.”
With love and blessings, in faith and godspeed, you will now show me.
Dr. Christine Grimaldi