“Can’t you hear them? They’re singing. It’s so beautiful. Sh, be quite. He’s here. Can’t you see Him?”
“Yes, Lord. Yes, Lord. But I want to go with you. Yes, Lord, I’ll stay.” Her conversation with the unseen guest was actually a little longer, but that was the essence of it.
Shirley and I were sitting on a chest/bench at the window facing the foot of her bed and Mom was seated with Darlene in a chair up near her head. It was a small bedroom and I had grown accustomed to sitting still, passing notes and whispering with Shirley. Mom had picked us up from school and brought us with her to sit with Sister Brown who had recently been sent home from the hospital to die. Sitting with the sick and dying was something neighbors and Christians did back then.
I was a third grader and I puzzled over the reality of what I had witnessed. Was she delusional or was Christ actually there with singing angels who we couldn’t see or hear? A few days later Sister Brown was well and we didn’t go to sit with her again. I have never doubted I witnessed a believer’s encounter with the resurrected Lord.
Fast forward seven years and I’m sitting alone on a bench in the hallway outside the operating room in the Eastlake Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama. My mother is in surgery with a kidney stone. Shirley is downstairs in the waiting room with Darlene. Jimmy and Iris are in route. Dad is on the road, not knowing a thing about what’s going on. The doctors had told us a year earlier the stone would eventually move and with her diseased kidneys she probably would not survive. She was so pale and swollen when they rushed her past me in route to the ICU. I did not recognize her without a second look. Neither did I know she had died on the operating table and was shocked back to life.
Sister Blodchet, a member of our church, was a nurse in the operating room. She later told us how Dr. Duggan had completed the surgery and stated “She’s in God’s hands now.” He went to a corner of the room and prayed. Sometime during the operation Mom went to Heaven, a beautiful walled city with glorious lights radiating above the walls. She heard the most beautiful singing and the Lord came to her and talked. He told her she had more to do and she couldn’t enter the city yet. She remembered wanting to stay with Him.
Fast forward again and we are in South Carolina with Cheryl’s Dad who was dying of congestive heart failure. He struggled to breath and mostly slept. When he was awake he was feeble but coherent. Cheryl and I were sitting with him when he spoke, “Dying is such hard work.”
Feeling he must have some unresolved issues I probed, “Are you afraid to die Sam.”
He raised his head slightly for just a moment looking intently at me with a gaze of incredulity that asked “Are you crazy?” His words were more kind, “No, you can’t be where I am and see what I am seeing and be afraid. There’s nothing there to be afraid of. It’s like I’m standing in a doorway and I just can’t go through.”
I wanted to know what he was seeing but I felt he needed to talk more about the reasons it was difficult to step through the door. By the time we completed that train of thought he was exhausted and I let him sleep. I never got a chance to ask him what he was seeing. But there is no doubt in my mind he was glimpsing into Heaven and the face of God.
The doubtful can search for a host of explanations for these people’s experiences. I was there; I know they were in touch with life beyond this world. In the face of death they were fully alive. They saw Heaven and looked into the face of God. I am thankful for the hope of Heaven, not a place but the face of God. If you look close enough you can see it in the eyes of the saints as they approach death.
March 11, 2010