This is one of those not-for-the-faint-of-heart posts. Don't read it if brutal details haunt you in difficult ways.
I am also
somewhat extremely hesitant to post this for other reasons, as I know there are people reading this blog who will conclude that my mind and I have finally parted company. But, you know, fools rush in . . .
And where is it that angels tread, exactly?
The first time I was with someone who died was in 1960, when I was in the automobile collision in which my mother was killed instantly. Although I am told that I was conscious when we were discovered, I have no memory of that event.
The next time was in 2005, when I sat with my stepmother as she died after a several-months journey with lung cancer. My father left the hospital immediately, but I stayed with her for about an hour. I was so sure that we were being accompanied by Others that I occasionally looked out the window into the 5:00 a.m. darkness, expecting to see someone.
The next many dozens of time occurred during the summer of 2008, when I was doing my clinical chaplaincy education at The Cleveland Clinic. Sixty actual workdays and nights over a ten-week period. One of my units was a medical intensive care unit, and at a hospital like that, the people in the MICU are desperately ill. When we were on call in the hospital at night (about once a week), we were each the only chaplain for 1000 beds -- all units. I had two days that summer in which no one died. Many days and nights the numbers were two, three, four. I did not have any sense of the physical presence of Others that summer.
A few weeks after that, my son jumped to his death. Some months, maybe a year afterward, the shock beginning to wear off a bit, I began to wonder whether it was possible that the small patch of ground outside his apartment building had been crowded with angels that night. I didn't particularly believe in angels, or not, but I began to wonder. I found that I kind of like to imagine that there is, quite literally, a host of beings of light who rush to lift the broken to God. That they appear on isolated country roads, in high-tech hospital units, in suburban neighborhoods.
Yesterday, sitting by a hospital bed and waiting through the final moments of an elderly woman's life, I closed my eyes and bowed my head and -- yes. Despite the occasional beeping of machinery and the voices of nurses in the hallway, I heard it -- or rather I sensed it. The light brush of Others in the room.
I wondered, later last night, what angels look like. Probably not like us, and probably not wearing white robes and bearing feathery wings. Probably more like columns of light. Think Tanner's Annunication.
I don't suppose it matters what they look like. It matters that they are there.
Image: Lakeview Cemetery, Cleveland OH