A black butterfly startled me as I stepped onto my front porch. It was large and beautiful with royal blue splashes of color on each wing. It fluttered to the porch railing, then to the edge of the wagon-shaped flowerbed full of soft pink columbine in my small flowerbed nestled between the porch and the front sidewalk. For some reason, I instantly thought of my mother who we had buried the afternoon before. For several days we had had fierce thunderstorms in the night. The night before was no exception. I was trying to pretend it didn’t bother me that my mother’s body was laying in a coffin in a water-logged cemetery a few miles away, but I was only kidding myself. The thought was upper-most in my mind as I laid tossing and turning the better part of the night while rain and hail pounded on the roof of the house, and howling wind brushed tree-limbs against the living-room window.
Now a gorgeous butterfly gently soared back to momentarily rest on my front porch railing in lemon-yellow sunshine. The Native American Indian blood than runs thinly through my veins took it as a sign, be it from my mother or from the ‘Good Father’ above, that my mother’s soul was free at last from the pain-wracked body she had lived in for the last few years, even though my rational mind already knew that. This butterfly dancing through my flowers was simply a gift to brighten my morning, and it did, very much.
If my mother feels light and airy like a butterfly in heaven, it’s a freedom she well deserves. Three years ago she was in a bad car wreck, a rear-end collision on the highway. She was trapped in the back passenger seat of the car, and had to be cut out with the jaws-of-life. As hospital personnel worked on her in ER, we knew she was seriously injured, a broken arm, a broken leg, a cracked sternum, several broken ribs, and a bad case of whiplash, along with some internal bruising.
She had a long convalescence, first a long hospital stay and then an extended period in a nursing home. This was a woman with congestive heart failure who, several years earlier, had already had a stent during an angiogram, and then a quadruple by-pass. Her stay in the nursing home turned into a miserable experience for her. The roommate they assigned her didn’t want a roommate. She was rude and foul-mouthed, and several times a day, made it clear she wanted mom out of there. My good-natured mother, who was capable of liking anybody, given half a chance, soon came to dislike this woman in the worst way.
The room was like a sauna, the bed like a sway-backed horse, and the woman in the other bed like an old crone intent on making mom’s life miserable. Eventually, my mom would get up and walk to the common room and sleep in a recliner all night to get away from it all for awhile. One night, staff personnel moved mom’s bed out into the hallway, and she slept there. She had made numerous requests for another bed, made numerous requests to be moved to another room. It all seemed to fall on deaf ears. Finally, she called my dad about 1:00 P.M. on a Wednesday afternoon and said, “Either you come get me, or I’m getting up out of this bed, getting dressed and walking home.”
Dad went to pick her up. Meanwhile, the staff had contacted her doctor, and he wisely decided to release her from the nursing home. Mom continued physical therapy as an outpatient and continued to improve. However, all of this strain took a serious toll on her heart.
In February of the following year, she contacted a bad case of the flu. Marjie called me on a Thursday night and said they were taking Mom to ER. I met them out there. Mom was sitting in a wheelchair in the lobby, barely able to hold her head up. Mom, Marjie, Marion and I were directed to this treatment room, a tiny cubicle barely large enough to hold the four of us, and a nurse entered the room with a tray of paraphernalia she used to attempt to start an IV on Mom. She wasn’t having a lot of luck. Mom looked miserable, laying there on that treatment bed, and I remember I was thinking, ‘I bet she wishes she had never agreed to come out here this evening.’ I started praying that God would send a guardian angel to help guide the nurse’s hand as she inserted the needle into mom’s arm. I opened my eyes, and there standing right behind the nurse’s shoulder was a transluscent figure. I sat there just long enough to watch the nurse locate a vein in my mother’s arm, and I bolted out of the room like I’d been shot out of a cannon.
I’ve heard many Christians say, “Pray, expecting an answer.” Well, I was praying the nurse would hit a vein so she wouldn’t have to poke Mom anymore, so I was definitely expecting an answer. What I wasn’t prepared for was to actually see something that looked like an ethereal figure standing there in the room with us. So I ran, and I didn’t stop running until I arrived at home fifteen minutes later. Then, I thought what a coward I had been. Perhaps I had just had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a spiritual being, and I hadn’t had the courage to stand my ground and fully appreciate the experience.
What I did do, though, was spend the better part of the next several days thinking about it until I recorded the memory in a poem.
Kneeling before me,
‘Angels’ of the Night
“Oh, ye of little faith!” I prayed, but
the apparition startled me, translucent,
in a long white robe, standing behind
the ER nurse as she guided the IV needle
into my mother’s arm. Angel or ghost,
small of stature, perhaps a cherub or a child?
Coward that I am, I fled the room as if
pursued by the ‘Hounds of Hades’, then
mocked my fear with an uncertain chuckle.
I had prayed for that nurse to hit her mark,
and voila, she had. No easy task when
the patient’s veins had collapsed. Yet,
like Peter, I asked for divine intervention,
then doubted. But, now as I walk the empty
hallways in the middle of the night, I feel
their ghostly presence, these angels of the
night who glide through this place of life
and death, ready to assist these human
‘angels of mercy’ as they wage their
battles to hold onto life and breath.
I’m guessing there have been people who have read the poem since who thought it was some sort of poetic metaphor, rather than a literal experience, so I want to set the record straight. It happened!
When I finally got up the nerve to tell my dad about it, I expected him to react as if I had a few screws loose. I wasn’t even remotely prepared for the story he shared with me instead.
“I’m not going to say you didn’t see anything,” he began, “because the night Margaret died I had a similar experience.”
Margaret is his sister-in-law and my aunt, who was critically injured in a car wreck when I was a little girl, probably three or four years old. It was bizarre, really. Bob, her husband, was pulling up to a stop-sign on a trip home from the grocery store, and Margaret turned to reach for something in the backseat of the car, Bob thought to pick up a bag of groceries that had fallen over, when another car rear-ended them. The glove compartment was open, and the force of the collision threw Margaret up against the open door of the glove compartment and lacerated her liver. She was about six weeks pregnant the night the accident happened. Over a period of several months, she had surgery and more than a hundred blood transfusions, but she continued to suffer blood loss from the damaged liver.
Dad said, “I had brought Bobbie and Linda to the hospital because Margaret wanted to see her children one last time. I was walking down the hall to Margaret’s hospital room, and I saw an angel standing outside of her door.” I looked at my father, virtually stunned speechless as he continued. “I already knew by then she wasn’t going to make it, but I realized then she would probably not make it through the night. She passed away a short time after Bobbie and Linda’s visit with her. I always figured that angel was there to take her home.”
For almost sixty years, he’d never mentioned this to anybody, and now he casually told it to me the way he might tell me where he parked the car in the hospital parking lot. I shook my head in amazement. My dad is a pretty down to earth, matter-of-fact person. He’s most definitely not fanciful in any way. He believes in what he can experience with his five senses, and he lives by principals like trustworthiness, loyalty and hard work. Yet he had just admitted to me he’d seen an angel the night Margaret passed away.
So it ran in the family, this gift for seeing beyond the veil, I thought, and paused to consider what I knew about the roots on both sides of my family tree. It was thanks to a seventh grade Home EC teacher that I knew anything. One of my six week assignments that year was to interview my family members and to assemble as much of my own family tree as I was able to hand in for a grade at the end of that six weeks. What began as a short-term assignment became a life-long pursuit and interest. While both of my parents are ‘honest’ to a fault, I suspect it also opened a Pandora’s box of family secrets that my parents would probably have rather kept closed.