Karen Baldonado-Hensley had loved Ronnie for fifteen years even though he had hemophilia and life was difficult. "His life had been racked with illness and operations," Karen says, "and he was HIV positive too. In 2000 he got extremely ill and we knew that the end was not far away."
In January of 2001, Ronnie entered Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, North Carolina for what everyone suspected would be the last time. Family members gathered, taking turns visiting Ronnie in the Intensive Care Unit. At one point Karen left his side, walked down to the waiting room and said good-bye to his brother and sister-in-law who both left on a brief break. There was only one other person in the waiting room, an African-American man dressed as a minister. Their eyes met--Karen's worried; the minister's serene. "I see that you are a very religious person," the minister said to her.
Karen had always tried to be religious. Now, of course, she felt abandoned, but that didn't mean that God had forgotten her. "Yes," she told the minister, wondering how he knew, "I am religious."
"I didn't mean to eavesdrop," he went on, "but I heard you say that your loved one is dying. Would you allow me to come into his room and pray for him?"
"Oh, yes," Karen answered. "I would very much like you to do that."
The two walked back to Ronnie's room where the minister took out a small bottle of oil and made the sign of the cross with on Ronnie's forehead. Then he placed his hand on Ronnie's head, reached across to take Karen's hand, and began to pray in a different language.
Karen had been exposed to many languages while in the army and she recognized quite a few. But she had never heard the minister's language. It seemed beautiful, almost heavenly. When the prayer ended, the minister prayed another in English. Karen hardly absorbed the comforting words, but she felt a heavenly peace settle over her, all around her. Her sorrow seemed to have receded in some way. She felt joy in the room.
The minister ended his prayer and then smiled at Karen. "You know, I don't have anyone here in the hospital," he said. "I was just looking for a place of peace and quiet, somewhere to rest today." He smiled at Karen, and then quietly left the room.
"Thank you," she whispered to him. His simple prayer had given her the courage and peace she had longed to feel.
When Ronnie's brother and sister-in-law, Frances, returned to the waiting area later, Karen told them how much the minister's prayer meant to her. "What man?" Frances asked.
"The black gentleman who was sitting on the sofa in the waiting area when you left. You must have seen him."
"Karen, there wasn't anyone in there but me and Ricky," Frances said. "You know I would have noticed a black man." ("We are predominantly a white family," Karen explains, "but Frances is black and probably would have noticed someone of her own race in the room.")
"Yes there was…" Karen insisted, but her brother-in-law Ricky broke in. "I was here too, Karen," he pointed out. "And there was no one in the waiting room but us."
Today Karen believes that the minister was an angel sent from God to let her know that Ronnie was going to heaven. (Perhaps the beautiful prayer was spoken in tongue, God's heavenly language.) "For several years after Ronnie passed on, I would have 'dreams' where he spoke to me," Karen says. "I don't think they were dreams at all--I think he was contacting me to let me that I could move on with my life and quit grieving." Eventually she was able to do that. "I miss Ronnie very much and always will," she says. But, with the help of a special angel, Karen is doing just fine.