2016-06-30
My mother was a no-nonsense Southern lady who wore hats and gloves to church and social events long after the fashion protocol was relaxed. Every Sunday my sister and I had to give up our gum before going into God’s house because she thought that chewing gum was impolite, not to mention unladylike! Although my mother devoutly believed in God, she never discussed her religious principles in public. If she knew someone in distress she would politely say to that person: "I’ll be thinking of you."

This was her way of letting them know that she was praying without flaunting her spirituality. She believed that prayers were to be offered up privately and her religion was unadorned with mystical fantasies. I say this because any account of personal experience is only as valid as the good sense and honesty of the person relating it. Her world did not encourage the weird meanderings of a deranged mind.

"This must be distinctly understood or nothing wonderful can come of the story that I am about to relate," as Charles Dickens wrote in A Christmas Carol.

In 1995 my mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and soon after that she took a hard fall in the middle of the night, breaking her hip and wrist. From that point on, her health took a dive and she was unable to walk again. We tried everything! First a pricey in-patient rehabilitation center, then an endless stream of physical therapists and home health nurses, all with special exercises and apparatuses to get Mother back on her feet. Nothing worked! She was devastated by her own powerlessness and I suffered from total exhaustion. The only remaining option was a skilled nursing facility where she could receive 24-hour medical care.

'I Have Been Seeing Angels....'

One crisp afternoon in late autumn we visited the courtyard of the nursing facility simply because neither of us could endure staying inside on such a beautiful day. Wrapped warmly in sweaters and hats, we shared sandwiches and coffee that I brought from home while chatting sporadically with immense gaps of satisfying silence between our sentences. This was a day when we were both feeling happy and peaceful by the sheer delight of life and the rustling acoustics of leaves that drifted out of their neat stacks to land on the scrubbed sidewalks that bordered the courtyard. I remarked that some of the falling leaves reminded me of angel wings. Little did I know that my simple observation would open up an entirely new dimension in our relationship!

"You mustn’t tell anyone about this," she began softly, “but I have been seeing angels lately. Two of them are babies and they are with me in my bed every night." She leaned forward slightly to place her hand on mine. “Sometimes, when I awake, one of them is hovering over me, almost like a little hummingbird. I can actually feel the fanning of wings across my face.”

For a moment I was unable to speak. A butterfly winged its way around our table and settled momentarily on my thermos of coffee as though to maintain the enchantment of the moment.

"Cherubim?" I asked.

"Maybe," she said wistfully. "I only know that I am greatly comforted by their presence. And I am not dreaming," she added, in a tone that was above reproach.

My mother knew that the study of angels had captivated me for many years, yet until this moment she had never acknowledged them as anything more than a lovely addition to a Christmas card. I knew from extensive research that cherubim were considered elect beings for the purpose of protection at the throne of God. The cherubim are one of the highest ranks in the hierarchy of angels and in Genesis 3:24 they are described as guardians of Eden.

"So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the Garden of Eden cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life." (Genesis 3:24)

In Solomon’s temple, cherubim were embroidered on the curtains of the tabernacle and they guarded the Ark of the Covenant. At an earlier time period when Yahweh was still making personal appearances on earth it is said that cherubim formed his living chariot.

"And he rode upon a cherub and did fly: and he was seen upon the wings of the wind " (Psalms 18:10-2 Samuel 22:11)

“You said there are others?” I asked, now firmly perched on the edge of my seat and eager for more information.

My mother then proceeded to tell me that two people came to her room each day to take her into a cathedral where there was music and an altar and lovely stained glass windows. In this room she was able to get out of her chair and walk, float (like an astronaut, she said), and admire the artistry of her surroundings.

“What did these two people look like?” I asked, eager to hear all about wings and flowing robes.

“They looked like medical personnel, but I never actually saw their faces” she said, pausing to take a sip of her coffee. “One of them pushes me down the hall while the other one walks at my side. On their first visit they asked if I liked my new chair." (She could no longer sit up straight in a regular chair so her doctor had ordered a new recliner-type wheelchair to allow her more dignity and visual perspective.) “I told them I did like my new chair very much and that it was far more comfortable than a regular wheelchair. My answer about the chair seemed to please them,” she smiled. “It was as though they had arranged for me to have the chair, but I knew that my doctor had actually ordered it!”

I almost laughed out loud by the sudden and uncompromising logic that she had thrown into this heavenly mix, but I managed to stifle my chuckle, allowing her to continue.

“After being in the cathedral room for a while I asked them if I could just stay there instead of going back to my room. I suppose I was still somewhat confused as to whether or not they worked for the facility," she said.

“What was their response?” I asked.

“They said that for now it was a place where I could visit. But when I am there, in that room, I feel no pain,” she went on, her eyes welling up with tears. “In fact, I feel very strong and completely cared for as though I am being held tightly in the arms of God. I know that no such place exists here at the facility and even if it did I wouldn’t be able to walk around and float,” she responded, lowering her voice as a nurse walked by. “The only thing that concerns me is that when you visit, you will not be able to find me,” she sighed.


“Oh Mom," I said, reaching out to take her hand. “Enjoy the cathedral room as often as your angels take you there. I’ll find you when I visit, so please don’t worry.”

“Do you think that I’ve totally lost my mind?” she asked.

“No,” I replied, as I cleared away our picnic and prepared for us to go back inside. “But I do think that you have some good friends in very high places!”

Were the Angels a Part of Mom's Imagination?

Later, after my mother had settled into bed for the night, I decided to hunt down the charge nurse and ask her some questions. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe my mother’s story; her mind was as sound as it had ever been. Still, I wanted to know if there had been a change in her medication or daily schedule. I finally found the nurse in the dispensary, measuring medicines and filling bottles. I knocked gently on the glass door to get her attention and she glanced up, wiped a hand on the front of her lab coat, and graciously put aside her work to answer my questions. Had any new medications been added to my mother’s list--and had anyone taken her out of the facility recently without my knowledge? I asked.

She pulled her chart just to make sure.

“No--nothing new. Can I help you with anything else?” she asked in a curious tone.

“Do you have a church here on the grounds?” I asked, still wondering about the cathedral room that my mother had described. “Some place where the patients and visitors can go and meditate?”

“No, but we do have the visitor’s area here in the facility and a nice courtyard outside. Is everything all right? She asked.

“Yes, of course,” I replied, thanking the nurse and bidding her farewell.

I had promised my mother that I would not say anything and I intended to honor my word. No change in medication or activities. I knew that I was now free to fully ponder the wonder of my mother’s experience. From that moment on my mother and I began to talk to one another on a different level. We conversed about heaven and death and many other things in between. When Christmas arrived that year, she was much happier than I had ever seen her during the holidays. She took a special interest in the angelic décor that was scattered brightly throughout the facility. She appeared radiant and happy when speaking in hushed tones about the visitors who took her each day to the cathedral room.

Then one very early morning, I received the dreaded call. Mother had slipped into a coma from a massive stroke and the end was near. Through several days of unremitting ice and snow I stayed with her, prayed for her. As she hovered between life and death I whispered in her ear that it was okay to cross over into the cathedral room because I would know where to find her.

At her funeral, (the simple graveside service that she requested) I sat with my grieving siblings beneath a canopy that was pounded by a punishing February wind.
The wind was so strong that it threatened to topple our chairs and lift the family wreath off the casket before it could be officially removed. At last, amidst our chattering teeth and frozen tears, the final scriptures were read and Mother was laid to rest in a cold ground. I might have been traumatized had it not been for the knowledge of her new life far and away from our earthly good-bye ritual.

“All the way to heaven is heaven”

Suddenly these words of Catherine of Siena rang out in my mind, cutting through the layers of grief to seize my heart. My mother had been visiting heaven each day for several months and I had no doubt that she was now walking like an “astronaut” in the cathedral room, enjoying her freedom from pain full-time.  Even now, more than eight years later, during contemplative moments, I visit my mother in the cathedral room—just to let her know that I can still find her and that she is not forgotten.

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