LISTEN WITH THE AUDIOBOOK VERSION:
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020, assisted living homes implemented strict visitation protocols that prohibited family members from seeing their loved ones. However, despite these restrictions, my wife Peggy and I were given special permission to visit my mother who was close to dying. It was a difficult time, but we were grateful for the opportunity to be with her in her final moments.
Upon arrival at the front desk, we signed in, had our temperatures taken, and were given masks to wear. “91.7,” the receptionist said. “You’re good to go.”
Peggy and I saw no other visitors as we got on the elevator and rode it to Mom’s floor. When we arrived, we heard the elevator bell ding and announce… “third floor.”
We exited, then buzzed ourselves through the automatic doors to the Alzheimer’s wing. There was not a soul to be seen. The hallways were empty as all residents were restricted to their rooms, creating an eerie stillness.
Mom’s room was just around the corner.
A photo of a much younger woman was hanging on the door to her room. How beautiful she was, I thought. But what matters most “is not your outer appearance—the styling of your hair, the jewelry you wear, the cut of your clothes—but your inner disposition. Cultivate inner beauty, the gentle, gracious kind God delights in.”Mom was still beautiful, despite her age. She was ninety-five.
The door was slightly ajar, so Peggy and I pushed it open and quietly entered. The room seemed dark and lifeless as Mom gently slept. Only her soft breathing could we detect. It was the same room we had always visited in the past, only it seemed different this time. She did not greet us. There was no “Hello, Dear. How wonderful to see you!” Instead, Mom lay with the covers pulled up to her neck; a stuffed toy animal nestled against her cheek. Her face appeared drawn and sallow, her body thin and frail. It was difficult seeing someone you love die, although thankfully, it did not seem that she was suffering.
As I looked around the room at the many family pictures hanging on the walls and her dresser, one picture stood out to me – it was of the house I spent my childhood. It was a beautiful tutor-style home, originally stained in a dark “chocolate” brown, which was now beige. However, the picture seemed incomplete without the tall oak tree Dad planted when we first moved to 223 Mountain Way. I vividly remember watching that tree grow from a sapling to maturity before a storm uprooted it. The backyard now looked empty without it. How profound, I thought. Just as the tree was a memory, Mom would be too, and so would our life be empty without her as well. Ecclesiastes 3:1-3 says, “There is a season for everything, and a time for every event under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to uproot what was planted.”
As I stood by Mom’s bedside and Peggy sat, we took turns gently rubbing Mom’s arm and squeezing her hand. Mom squeezed back. She was grateful for our presence.
It had been several weeks since Peggy and I saw Mom last due to COVID-19 regulations. When we finally got to visit her, we were only allowed to stay in her room. Despite this, we still cherished our memories of taking Mom for strolls outdoors or down a long corridor with big windows. We would sit there, talk, reminisce and I would play my flute for her.
Mom used to enjoy listening to me play my flute, as did the patients and visitors who passed by. They often stopped to make song requests, which I always obliged. It felt like a mini concert! Mom just loved, loved, loved it! Sometimes I would bring the flute my mother had bought me in high school – a 1968 golden-era professional Haynes flute. To my surprise, Mom remembered it, even though dementia had erased much of her memory. I would ask her, “Mom, what would you like me to play for you?” and suggest some songs. She would always respond joyfully, “Oh, yes dear, that would be wonderful.”
As always, I played my mother one of her favorite songs, “Over the Rainbow.” I never thought much about the lyrics before, but they seemed to have greater meaning now. The Bible describes such a place as an eternal place of splendor and paradise, much like the one described in the song. Can you imagine a place such as this where “troubles melt like lemon drops,” where over the rainbow bluebirds fly? A place where every tear is wiped from your eyes and “Death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore.” The thought of it is wonderful, yet sad to see Mom leave us.
As I played my flute for her, I struggled to hold my emotions together, knowing that Mom’s dream of somewhere over the rainbow would soon be a reality. My lips began to quiver, and tears welled up in my eyes. I realized this would be the last time I could ever serenade her.
The notes seemed to waft in the air as if on doves’ wings, bringing an angelic atmosphere to the room. She lay peaceful and calm, her breathing shallow. Yet, a small smile appeared in the corners of her lips as I played for her.
DON’T YOU SEE THEM?
Suddenly, Mom became alert and began pointing. Her hand slowly moved upward toward the corner of the room, then to the left, and then to the right. As her gaze roved back and forth, her hand followed. She wanted us to see what she was seeing. I felt a chill go up and down my spine. “Mom, what are you seeing?” Even though she did not speak, I could imagine her asking with her eyes wide, “Don’t you see them?” What she was looking at, I instinctively knew, was incredibly beautiful. It is common for angels to visit people preparing to crossover to the other side of eternity.
But then, moments later, her demeanor changed from one of elation to one of terror. She pulled her blanket tightly around her neck. We followed her gaze but didn’t see anything. Interestingly, this incident reminded me of a vision my father had one week before he died.
It was 1962, a couple of weeks before Christmas, that Mom was startled out of her sleep when my father suddenly awakened in a cold sweat, frozen in terror. He was pointing at an ominous, black-cloaked, hooded, featureless figure standing in the corner of their bedroom at the end of their bed. As I was young and impressionable, hearing this scared the bejeebers out of me! Had I not already been afraid of going into our basement at night or walking up the stairs to the attic where a life-size doll named “Peter Doll” greeted me and whose eyelids blinked, compounded what I was already predisposed to, fearing the unknown and what could be lurking in the dark. Was the visitation foreboding of something bad to happen or something else? Mom said that Dad believed for quite a while that he was going to die prematurely. Dad died at the early age of 37 a week later.
DECEMBER 19, 1962
It was Christmastime in our neighborhood, a quiet tree-lined street of Sycamores in a small suburb of New Jersey just outside of New York City where, from my bedroom window, I could see the Empire State Building, the tallest building in the world. Houses across the street were decorated with brightly colored lights. Occasionally you could hear carolers singing. As in past years, Christmas was all about making memories, love, laughter, and happiness. It was to be a joyous time with family and friends. The Christmas tree was adorned with glistening balls and lights, and we were looking forward to opening gifts, and enjoying homemade cookies and milk by the fireplace. This year should have been no different, but tragedy struck 6-days before Christmas.
It was a cold and wintry night in December when suddenly our quiet neighborhood was startled out of the warmth and comfort of their homes by sirens, flashing lights, and emergency vehicles, while I sat in the seclusion of my basement watching Dragnet, a police drama on our small RCA wood grain veneer black and white console television set with rabbit ears for an antenna. I was so engrossed in the show that I didn’t even notice the loud, high-pitched sirens of police and ambulance vehicles outside. They were drowned out by the “Waaaaaahhhhhhh” of police sirens on the TV inside.
Earlier in the day, Dad visited our family doctor with my brother Bob, both with flu-like symptoms. However, instead of Dad going home to bed afterward, and because of his unwavering devotion to his students, he returned to conduct the high school Christmas band concert that evening. By the concert’s end, he was feeling much worse and left immediately without speaking to anyone. I didn’t hear him come home that night.
A sudden rush of cold air hit me when I came up from the basement. The front door was wide open, and to my horror, police and ambulance workers were scrambling in and out of our house. A gurney was being brought up our front steps through our front door, and although the sirens had all but stopped, a single red beacon light that sat on the top of each emergency vehicle continued to flash. The red domed light, sometimes called a gumball light because it resembles the dome top of a gumball machine, flashed ominously.
People in the neighborhood were starting to gather outside. “Mom, Dad!” I cried out. But there was no answer from either of them. Our next-door neighbor came running through the front door, half-dressed with just a towel around his waist, having just gotten out of the shower.
I was 11 years old and scared beyond words. I froze momentarily, but not from the frigid air. Terror permeated every part of my being as I looked up in disbelief at my mom standing at the top of our hallway stairs outside their bedroom. “What’s happening?” I cried out, fearing something awful. Our eyes met, and then, instinctively, I knew something terrible had happened. She didn’t have to say a word; I knew my dad was gone.
It was a reaction to penicillin that claimed my father’s life—a sudden and severe anaphylactic response that left his vocal cords constricted, obstructing the passage of air to his lungs until he could no longer breathe.
My Aunt Sis had just arrived. She ran to me, placing an arm around my shoulder; she quickly took me aside, out of the way of the emergency responders. Aunt Sis got my coat. “Let’s go for a walk,” she said. My Dad’s sister wasn’t crying, although I could sense her sadness. As we walked around the block, she kindly and gently explained to me that my dad had passed away and gone to a better place. Tears filled my eyes and streamed down my face. The pain I felt was unbearable. I was devastated and heartbroken. I asked once more, “Where’s Daddy, Aunt Sis?” She replied softly, “He’s in heaven.” I looked up at the sky, full of stars on this cold wintry night, and wondered if my father was looking down on me from above.
Aunt Sis and I must have walked for a long time as the ambulance and police cars had already left. The carolers had gone home, and the neighbors had already returned inside to the warmth of their houses. While we were walking, I remembered walks I took with my father when I would ask him questions about God. My father would tell me that God is everywhere, in everything, even in the trees he created.” I looked up at the star-filled sky and thought about heaven being there. “Is that where Daddy is, Aunt Sis?” My aunt nodded affirmatively. I missed him deeply and cried out to him, but there was only silence. I began to shiver, and my Aunt Sis held me closer. “Let’s go home, Billy,” she said.
ANGEL OF DEATH
Some people believe that the Angel of Death, not to be confused with the Angel of Darkness, appears to a person just before they die. This angel is regarded as benevolent and serves as a messenger and servant of God. Its role is to warn people of their imminent death and to urge them to get their affairs in order. I personally believe that my father had an encounter with this angel.
Colossians 2:14 teaches us that God is merciful and desires for no one to perish. Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross allows for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Therefore, Satan has no power over those who have accepted Jesus as their savior. Jesus’s sacrifice has canceled out every transgression and arrest warrant on our record. “Then Jesus made a public spectacle of all the powers and principalities of darkness, stripping away from them every weapon and all their spiritual authority and power to accuse us. And by the power of the cross, Jesus led them around as prisoners in a procession of triumph. He was not their prisoner; they were his!” Christ was victorious over death.”
A STUDY OF SIGNIFICANT EVENTS, DATES AND NUMBERS
A few years ago, I came across my father’s small pocket testament, which had his written confession of faith. It was comforting to know that he had been born again in the Spirit. What struck me the most, however, was that my father’s spiritual birth date and death date were on the same day of the month – December 19, 1937, and December 19, 1962, respectively.
While studying the numbers 25 and 37, I discovered some exciting revelations about and connections between significant life events in my father’s life – his physical birth, spiritual rebirth, and death.
In 1925, which I will refer to as ‘25’ from here on, my father was born. In ‘37, he experienced a spiritual rebirth into the Kingdom of Christ according to his confession of faith. In 1962, he passed away and entered the heavenly embrace of the Father’s arms. He was 37 years old when he died, exactly 25 years after his spiritual rebirth.
It’s interesting to note that when you add 25 and 37, the sum is 62, which happens to be the same year my father passed away. What’s also interesting to note is that this realization came to me in 2024, which is precisely 62 years after his death.
The number 25 also symbolizes “grace upon grace” in the Bible. The number combines 20, meaning redemption, and five, meaning grace or grace multiplied (5 times 5). It’s amazing to see how all these numbers align providentially in my father’s life as if it were meant to be.
“I don’t believe that these dates were a coincidence, and I don’t have an explanation for his untimely death. However, it is not a matter of chance or accident when someone passes away. The Bible clearly tells us that our lives are in God’s hands, and He knows the time of our death, having already appointed it. The Bible says, “Man’s days are determined; God has decreed the number of his months and has set limits he cannot exceed.”2
WE SAID OUR GOODBYES
When Peggy and I sensed Mom’s terror, we instinctively knew what it was. Without hesitation, we called out “In the Name of Jesus” and prayed for the Father’s Love to surround and comfort her. As a result, Mom became peaceful again and her breathing slowed.
As it was getting late, we knew it was time to say goodbye. We squeezed Mom’s hand for one last time and kissed her gently on the cheek; we said our goodbyes. As we closed Mom’s door behind us, we instinctively knew that this was symbolic, not of the end of a story as the world would define the end of life, but rather the continuation of life into the embrace of the Father’s love, a new chapter.
Peggy and I walked silently down the hallway. making our way toward the elevator. No one was seen or heard except for the faint sound of televisions playing from other residents’ rooms. It was a somber moment for me as I knew this would be the last time we would see my mother alive. Later that night, we received the heartbreaking news that she had passed away and gone to be with her heavenly Father.
Copyright 2024 by Bill Hutzel
1. 1 Peter 3:3-4
2. Job 14:5, NIV