This Christmas Angel Became a Source of Peace and Comfort

The heaven-sent voice let them know that God was with their young adult son as he passed away.  

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Posted in , Dec 27, 2021

An illustration of The Three Kings; Illustration by Eva Vazquez

On January 6, 2020, as always, I carefully lifted the Nativity angel from the nail at the peak of the wooden stable and held her in my hands. Just as my parents and grandparents had done before me, I waited for this day to take down the crèche. Today was the feast of the Three Kings, or Epiphany, which commemorates the Magi’s visit to the newborn Jesus. They came bearing gifts, and while I wrapped and boxed each Nativity piece for the next year, I thought about the many gifts given throughout the Christmas story. The angel was first. As I took special care to protect her wings for storage, I recalled the angel’s annunciation to the shepherds and the heavenly host who joined in to proclaim “peace on earth.” On an unforgettable Three Kings Day, nearly 40 years ago, I had learned that the angels’ promise held a very personal gift for me.

Those many years ago, the ringing phone jolted me from a sound sleep. Who could be calling in the middle of the night? I shook my husband, Jerry, beside me. “Honey, the phone.” He rolled over and reached for the receiver on his bedside table.

“Hello?” he mumbled.

I looked at the clock on my side: 3:56 A.M., Thursday, January 6. The feast of the Three Kings, I thought automatically. We would take down the Christmas tree in the living room, put away the crèche for next year. A busy day ahead.

I turned back to Jerry, sitting upright, his free hand switching on the light. “When?” he said into the phone.

His tone frightened me. “What’s wrong?” The children were my first thought. Our daughters, Cheryl, 19, and Janette, 13, were here at home, asleep. Jerry Jr., 21, was a senior at Michigan State University. Jeffrey, 20, was a junior at the University of Michigan. Both had gone back to school two days before. “Is it one of the boys?”

Jerry raised his hand to quiet me. “We’ll be there as fast as we can,” he said. “It will take about an hour and a half, depending on the weather.” He hung up the phone and turned to me, his face grave. “It’s Jeffrey. That was an ER nurse at the University of Michigan Hospital. He’s unconscious. Jeff was complaining of a terrible headache and then passed out. A friend called an ambulance. That’s all they know.”

I jumped out of bed and pulled on some clothes. Jerry did the same. We wrote a note for the girls, in case they woke up before we got back.

In the car, Jerry and I barely spoke. The roads from our home north of Detroit to the hospital in Ann Arbor were snow-covered and slippery, and the drive was taking longer than we thought. Jerry gripped the steering wheel so tightly I could see the white of his knuckles. His face pale, lined with worry, never turned from the road ahead. I could feel his fear and that scared me all the more. Jerry was the optimist, a voice of assurance I depended on. His silence over the last hour and a half spoke volumes. The thought of losing Jeffrey was too much for either of us to bear. A parent’s worst nightmare. How would we ever handle it if that was what was to be?

As we neared the hospital, I hugged myself, desperately seeking comfort. The drive had been agonizing in our state of unknowing, yet I dreaded the answers that might await us in the next few minutes. I prayed aloud now, “Dear Lord, let Jeffrey be all right.”

Out of nowhere, a sense of peace washed over me. A flood of warmth held me, soothed me, until my fear was completely lifted from me, and peace filled its space. I felt an incredible assurance that God was in charge, just as he was that night Jesus was born. The feeling was as wondrous as it was inexplicable. I looked at Jerry, speechless. This is what the angels meant when they proclaimed, “Peace on earth,” I thought. A peace that passes all understanding. The moment I gave myself over completely to it, I felt Jeffrey’s presence. In my mind’s eye, I was aware of the being who accompanied my son, a being surrounded by a glorious radiance of pure white light. An angel. And then a voice: “Everything is going to be all right.” I believed it with all my heart. I wanted to mark the experience in time, and checked the clock on the dash: 6:03 A.M.

The whole world seemed different now. For me. But I looked at Jerry. I knew he was still in the depths of the pain we’d been living in since we’d left the house. I had to tell him. I had to try to make him understand, to feel what I had felt.

“Honey,” I whispered, “I just had the most incredible experience.” I described it in detail, the best I could. I could see that Jerry was hanging on every word. When I finished, he slowed the car and turned to look at me for the first time since we’d started out. “I just had the exact same experience,” he said. “As if Jeffrey was right here with us.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. At least we had shared that comfort. Maybe Jerry would be able to accept what I was about to tell him next. Something I found even harder to put into words. “I think it’s possible that Jeffrey won’t make it,” I said. “But he isn’t alone. God is with him.”

“I know,” Jerry said. “That’s what I understood too.”

God’s loving comfort had embraced us both, and that was how we handled what was to be. Our son had suffered a cerebral brain hemorrhage. The doctors at the hospital hadn’t been able to save him. Jeffrey had died peacefully at 6:03 A.M.

That year, my sisters took down the tree and the crèche for us while we made funeral arrangements. But in the years since, when I wrap the angel in newspaper and return her to the storage box for another Christmas season, I hold tight to her gift of peace. I can feel peace on this earth while I await a reunion with our son in heaven. January 6 remains one of my favorite days of the Christmas calendar, a day for remembering all our many gifts as precious as those of the Magi to baby Jesus.

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