It was April of 2020 during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, a time when not even family members were allowed to visit assisted living homes. But by the grace of God, Peggy and I were allowed to see my mother as she had not much longer to live.

When we arrived at the front desk, we signed in, they took our temperatures and handed us masks. “91.7” the person behind the desk said. “You’re okay to go.” 

Peggy and I saw no other visitors as we got on the elevator and pressed the number for floor three. When we arrived, we heard the elevator bell ding and a voice announce … “third floor.” We exited, then buzzed ourselves through the automatic doors to the Alzheimer’s wing. There was not a body in sight. All residents were confined to their rooms. The hallways were empty. It was eerily still.

Mom’s room was just around the corner, third door on the right. Outside her door hung a photo of a much younger woman. How beautiful she was, I thought. What matters most, however, “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 that God delights in.”1   Mom was still beautiful, despite her 95 years of age.

The door was slightly ajar, so Peggy and I pushed it open and quietly entered. The room seemed dark and lifeless as Mom quietly slept. Only her soft breathing could we detect. She was in the same room we had visited in the past, only it seemed different this time. 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 near death, although thankfully, she did not seem to be 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 grew up in. It was a tutor-style home, originally stained a dark chocolate brown; in this photo it was now beige. What was missing from the photo, however, was the tall oak tree dad planted when our family first moved to 223 Mountain Way. I remember watching the tree grow from a sapling to maturity before a storm uprooted it. The backyard looked empty without it. How profound, I thought. Just as the tree was a memory, life without Mom would also be empty. 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 by her side, we took turns gently rubbing mom’s arm and squeezing her hand. She squeezed back. This was Mom’s way of communicating with us. I sensed by her squeeze that she was letting us know she was glad we were there.

It had been several weeks since Peggy and I saw Mom last due to Covid restrictions. Although we were restricted to her room for this final visit, we had fond memories of taking Mom for strolls outdoors or down a long-windowed corridor. The corridor held especially memorable moments because it was there that we would not only talk and reminisce, but I would entertain her with a spontaneous mini concert on my flute. Mom enjoyed listening as did patients and visitors passing by. They often stopped to make song requests, and I was glad to oblige as they encouraged me to play on. Mom just loved, loved, loved it! “Mom, what would you like me to play for you?” If she hesitated, I would help remind her of show tunes she knew. “Oh, yes dear, that would be wonderful.”

One Last Time

As always, I played for her one of her favorite songs, “Over the Rainbow.” I never thought much about the lyrics before, but they had greater meaning now. The Bible describes such a place as an eternal place of splendor, a paradise. Can you imagine a place such as this where “troubles melt like lemon drops,” where over the rainbow bluebirds fly? Imagine every tear will be wiped from your eyes. “Death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore.” How wonderful, yet sad to see Mom leaving us.

As I played, I tried to hold it together, knowing that Mom’s dream of somewhere over the rainbow would soon be a reality. My lips started to quiver, and my eyes started to tear. Instinctively, I knew I would never have another opportunity to serenade her while she was alive.

The notes seemed to waft in the air as if on doves’ wings, bringing with them 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.

Suddenly, Mom began pointing, her hand slowly moving upward in the direction of the corner of the room, then to the left, then to the right. She wanted us to see what she was seeing. As her gaze roved back and forth, her hand followed. A chill went up and down my spine. “Mom, what are you seeing?”  “Don’t you see them?” I could imagine her asking, her eyes wide. I just knew what she was seeing was incredibly beautiful. I have heard it is common for angels and other heavenly spirits to visit people who are preparing to crossover into eternity.

But then moments later her demeanor changed from one of elation to one of terror. She pulled her blanket tighter around her neck. There on the left she pointed towards the ceiling. We followed her gaze but saw nothing.

It reminded me of the story my mom told me and my brothers shortly after the passing of my father, of a premonition he had one week before he died. And because I was young and impressionable, it scared the bejeebers out of me. Had I not already been predisposed as a young boy to fearing the boogeyman, and of going into our basement at night, or walking up the stairs to the attic where a creepy life-size doll named “Peter Doll” greeted me and whose eye lids blinked at the slightest vibration, knowing Dad’s story intensified my fears of the unknown and of what bad things might be lurking in the dark. For years, my mom anxiously worried for us boys and would always, just around the time of my youngest brother’s birthday, remind him to beware lest he also die prematurely like his father.

It was 1963, a couple of weeks before Christmas. Dad awakened startled in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, panicked. He was pointing at an ominous black cloaked and hooded figure standing in the corner of their bedroom beckoning for him to come. One week later, Dad died of an allergic reaction to penicillin. His vocal cords suddenly seized up, blocking the flow of air into his lungs and he suffocated. He died at the early age of thirty-seven. It confirmed what mom had told me, that dad believed he would die prematurely. Was the dark presence that my dad met the same one that scared my mother some 60 years later?

Some would believe the vision was that of the Angel of Death, the Grim Reaper, the one expelled from heaven to bring tidings of death and suffering, to war for one’s soul. However, I believe God a merciful God wishing that no one perish. It says in John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” In a small pocket testament that I found of my father’s was his written confession of faith dated December 19, 1937. It was exactly 25 years later to the day that my father died December 19, 1962. I do not believe this was by chance. When a person dies is not a matter of accident or coincidence; the Bible clearly tells us that our lives are in God’s hands. He knows the time of our death and has even 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

When Peggy and I sensed Mom’s terror, we instinctively knew what it was. A dark presence had entered her room, an angelic evil like my father had met. “In the Name of Jesus” we called out and prayed the Father’s Love into her. Mom lay calm and peaceful again.

We Say Our Goodbyes

Sensing that Mom was at peace now, we squeezed her hand one last time. We kissed her gently on the cheek and said our goodbyes. As we left, shutting her door behind us, we knew that closing the door was symbolic of another door opening into the embrace of God the Father’s love, a New Chapter.

Peggy and I rounded the corner in the hallway and made our way towards the elevator. No one was seen nor heard; only the sound of news casters sharing event coverage and Covid news coming from TVs in resident’s rooms was heard.

It was a long, quiet drive home as I began my grieving process. Later that night we got word that mom passed. She was now in the love of the Father’s arms, no doubt playing “Over the Rainbow” on the piano for the angelic host of heaven.

Copyright 2022 by Bill Hutzel

FOOTNOTE

1. 1 Peter 3:3-4
2. Job 14:5, NIV

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