But if angels guard you, they do so because they have been summoned by your prayers.
- St. Ambrose
Today's guest blogger is motivational speaker and author Nancy B. Gibbs, of Cordele, Georgia.
The man I had called Papa for almost 37 years was about to receive his final reward: heaven.
Papa was my father-in-law. He lived a full life for 89 years. Even though I didn’t know him during the early years of his life, I had heard many heroic things about him.
Papa grew up on a farm. He didn’t finish school but was as smart as any man I had ever met. As a young man he served in the Army and fought in World War II. After returning home to the farm, he never traveled great distances, yet his life was full of adventure.
He had become ill only a few days earlier, but things progressed quickly. The pneumonia filling his lungs refused to respond to antibiotics. Papa was afraid and didn’t want to be alone. So early that day I assured him that I would be by his side and that if I left the room for even a few minutes I would wait until someone else was there with him.
I watched the monitor while he dozed. I watched his oxygen and respiration levels. I knew where the danger zone was. Other than his breathing and the beeps coming from the machines, the room was quiet. It was a great place to talk to God, lifting up my requests for Papa’s healing or a peaceful passing, whichever was within God’s will.
We had been there for three days, so I was tired. I nodded, using my hands for a pillow. It seemed every time I closed my eyes I would hear a faint whisper from the bed. “Nancy.”
“I’m here, Papa. I’m not going to leave you.”
He had two questions. “Do they think I’m going to die?” and “What are my numbers?” I realize that he knew where the danger zone was as well. While I was as honest as I could be, I continued to offer hope. I believed then and still do today that as long as there is breath, there’s hope.
It was a long day. Visitors came and went. I was camped out by his side, determined to keep my promise. When Papa’s oxygen levels fell, the nurses would come in with a breathing machine. Papa hated that machine. But he knew that it helped him breathe better so he agreed to use it for as long as he could stand it.
We reminisced about the past. I’ll always cherish those conversations. Papa talked about how he taught our twin sons how to drive and about the times he took our daughter fishing. He even smiled on that last day. He was about to meet his great-grandson–his namesake. The baby was five months old, but Papa had never had the opportunity to hold him. I kept telling him to hold on, that the baby was on his way.
One by one everyone arrived. My daughter came into the room so I could leave briefly. I had only been away from the room for a few minutes when a text came: “Get up here now. Papa wants you.”
I rushed back to the room and for a few seconds Papa stared at me. He was hesitant to tell me that it was almost his time to leave. He said he no longer wanted any breathing treatments or the machine. He told me they were coming to get him. He never said who “they” were, but by the calmness of his voice and his peaceful expression I knew he was seeing angels. He was no longer afraid.
Then he told me that he saw “the gates” and explained that they were open. He reached out with his aged hands and showed me how they opened. A few minutes later, he said, “I think I’m about to go through them.” Both my daughter and I heard about the angels and the gates. While it was hard, it was also a relief to know that his suffering was almost over.
Just past midnight, Papa spoke his final words, “I love you all.” When the machine was quiet and his breathing stopped, I closed my eyes and imagined a great celebration in heaven. Papa’s last day alive is one that I will never forget.
There will be a last day for each and every one of us. I pray that when my time comes, I will be surrounded by the ones I love and that the angels will come through the gates to take me home, as well. I’m convinced that Papa’s last day here on Earth was the best day of his life. He knew he was loved. He didn’t spend it alone. And Jesus was waiting on the other side.
Colleen Hughes is the editor-in-chief of Angels on Earth. She's been at Guideposts for 20 plus years, and lives in a Hudson River town with her two daughters and two cats.