I asked her: “Do you think there is a heaven?” She tilted her head forward, and smiled. “Yes” she answered without any hesitation. “At one time I didn’t think so… but now I am sure of it”.
Silence hung in the room. I still couldn’t believe I was having this conversation; that I was witnessing the last days of my friend’s life. The room in the hospice was filled with flowers and the desk in the room was crammed with framed pictures of her beloved family. Surrounded by love, color and beauty I was still reeling in a haze of disbelief. It had all happened so quickly. Her diagnosis and moving into hospice, followed by a phone call to me that led to booking flights and a couple hours after writing my final exam, I boarded a plane to be with her. In the following days we talked, laughed and cried as we remembered, grieved together and even talked of plans for the future of her young children. Now it was time to talk about spiritual things because once the body and its place in the physical world draws to an end, the reality of the divine becomes even more poignant.
“How about angels… have you seen any?” I asked. She smiled again, and with encumbered movement she nodded her head and concentrated so she could talk. “I’ve been seeing them for a while.” “What?!” I gasped. “You’ve been seeing angels and you’ve waited until now to tell me?” This was my friend who I had shared many secrets with during high school. She had witnessed every stage of my life even living in South Africa with my family, and I had lived with her family. Throughout the years we kept in touch, sometimes closely and other times not hearing from each other for longer periods of time. In these past couple of years she had also returned to university, and we even shared this experience. I could talk with her about any stage of life, and she would know what I was talking about. In some ways she was closer to me than a sister. But the fact that she never told me about the angels, that was hard to believe.
“Well, tell me about them. What do they look like?” I knew I was pushing her, but I also realized that she was having a mentally clear moment, and I wanted to make the most of our dwindling time together. After a contemplative respite she responded slowly and carefully. “Doris, it is really hard to describe. They are… well… they just are. They’re here, there and all around.” A few more moments past, and I have to admit I was looking over my shoulder and around the room hoping that I could catch a glimpse of what was so familiar to her. She continued on and with her eyes closed she gave me the best description she could. “They are like lights, or bodies of energy. I see them out of the corner of my eye; its like if I look straight at them, I can’t see them.” She smiled again, and opening her eyes she continued. “They looked liked crushed ice and they are all kinds of colors. There is blue, yellow, green, orange and…” Her voice trailed off as her hand motioned around the room as if to point them out to me.
Closing her eyes again she leaned her head back against her pillow while I tried to imagine what she was seeing. As the moments passed I even began wondering if maybe the hospice drugs were messing with her brain, giving her ‘angel’ moments. I broke the silence and started talking with my friend, even though I thought she had once again fallen asleep. “I can’t believe you haven’t talked about the angel until now!” I rambled on for a bit, and then was completely surprised when she opened her eyes, and struggled to sit up in bed. It was clear that our conversation wasn’t over.
“It’s not about the angels,” she said with an urgency that surprised me. “Sure, they are beautiful, but what amazes me is the perfection. Everything feels perfect.” Her words came clearer and stronger than ever as she continued. “Everything is perfect. There is so many things that I meant to do, that I didn’t get done, but none of those things matter now.” I could tell that she was completely cognizant as she listed off a bunch of things that I knew she had wanted to accomplish. After her brief list, she went on. “Even though I didn’t do these things, and there are many other things I should have done, it doesn’t matter. I don’t feel like I am going to be reprimanded; I’m not going to get scolded. I feel like everything is perfect. Everything is… perfect.” She took a deep breath and as she once again laid her head back against her pillow she concluded our talk. “The angels are beautiful, but what I am amazed at is the feeling of perfection”.
This was my last clear conversation with my friend. A couple of days later she passed away. In looking back at our conversation I realize that not only was she truly seeing angels, I believe that she was also walking with Jesus. Her emphasis on the feeling of perfection reminded me of 1 John 3
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! … Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
I wonder if Jesus had already appeared to her, and because as she saw him, she became like him. Jesus was the only one who made it through life being perfect. He was perfection. And through his death on the cross, he is able to give us perfection. When God looks at me, he looks at me through his son Jesus Christ’s atonement, and as a result he sees perfection. That is the splendor of being a child of God.
I am sad that my friend died; she was too young and it is heart rendering that her children will grow up without her presence. She will be missed. But I am amazed that she ended her life not only seeing angels, but also in the presence of Jesus and feeling the reality of his perfection.