He was afraid of death, fearful of the idea of losing any of his loved ones. But when his mother became terminally ill, he experienced a sight that brought him deep and profound comfort.
My mom and dad had known each other since high school. “We were meant to be together,” Dad said. My father didn’t show his emotions much, but you could see a sparkle in his eyes whenever he talked about Mom.
My older brother, Roland, and sister, Alma, and I always knew how much our parents loved each other. Long after they sent us kids off to bed they lingered at the kitchen table, talking and holding hands, just enjoying their time alone.
We lived in Midland, Texas, where Dad was a full-time CPA, and Mom had her own real estate business. In 1980 they bought 600 acres of land a few miles from town, the fulfillment of my mother’s dream. “I want my grandchildren to run and play on their own land,” she said, “just like I did when I was a girl.”
From a small start the ranch grew to 5,000 acres, and they eventually built up a herd of 200 cattle. Dad hired three ranch hands to help my brother and me run the place. But no matter how busy they were with their jobs and the ranch, my parents had lunch together every day for nearly 45 years—often some creative dish Mom made with ingredients from her vegetable garden.
“Your mother could whip up a meal for fifty people in five minutes,” Dad said.
Even after Roland and Alma had families of their own, we’d gather at our Midland house on Sunday evenings for Mom’s barbecued steak and hand-cut french fries and the best homemade ice cream in the world.
I would come back from the ranch, where I lived in a trailer off and on, and we’d be together around the kitchen table, laughing and enjoying good food, just like always. Mom was the meaning of home for us, especially for my dad.
Then one summer day in 1994 Mom had a stroke. She was rushed to the hospital, and later, while she was recovering, the doctors had even worse news: Mom had cancer. “It can’t be true,” Dad whispered. “She’s the strong one.”
The look in his eyes was so sad I had to turn away. God, help my family, I prayed. I didn’t want to think about anybody dying. Not my mom or my dad, or someday, even me.
For a while I looked after the ranch while Dad took care of Mom at home. But by fall she was back in the hospital, with only an IV keeping her alive. On Wednesday, the second of November, I was in town watching over Mom with Dad and my sister. We’d called Roland to hurry back from the ranch. The situation was serious. I hoped he would make it in time.
Dad brushed Mom’s hair back from her damp forehead, holding her hand and talking to her, just like their nights together at the kitchen table. But she couldn’t answer him anymore. Who would be there for him when she was gone? Who would be there for any of us? Home wouldn’t seem like home anymore. I was overcome with sadness.
Roland joined Alma, Dad and me in Mom’s room. Nobody had to say a word. Mom struggled for each shallow breath. The nurse tried to make her comfortable. I stood beside the bed, touching my mother’s feet. My father was standing next to me, my brother and sister on the other side of the bed.
For some reason I looked at my watch: 9:56 p.m. Why is the room so bright? I wondered. Looking up I saw it wasn’t the fluorescent lamp overhead. Beams of light descended into the room.
The room was filled with light, and two figures emerged from the brightness. They were massive, towering over my father, who was taller than anyone I knew. No one seemed to notice them but me.
Angels! I wanted to shout, but I was afraid to say anything. I knew it would make everyone cry. The figures embraced my dad and looked at my mom. I watched the pain leave her face as she took her last breath. And when I looked at my father I saw that he was being supported by wings of light. The angels were holding him up.
And they will hold up my whole family, I decided. There was strength enough for all of us. I wasn’t sad anymore. As strange as it seems, I couldn’t stop smiling.
I had no more troubling thoughts about death. My mother was at peace, and one day we will know that peace too. One day we’ll all be in our heavenly home, together again with Mom, who gave our earthly home such meaning.
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