Though her mother had been pronounced dead, her family never gave up hope.
- Posted on Jul 18, 2013
November 11, 2012, is a day Belinda Leal will never forget: the day her mother, Evangelina Garza, died. What happened next has left the doctors and nurses at McAllen Medical Center in south Texas baffled. But to Belinda and Evangelina—now very much alive—the explanation for the events that unfolded is quite clear...
Evangelina: The first thing I heard that day was Onesimo’s voice. “Do you want to go out to breakfast?” my husband asked from the foot of the bed. I sat up and rubbed my eyes. I’m 71, and have diabetes, and I don’t get moving as fast as I used to.
“Give me a little time,” I said, yawning. The morning sun was peeking through the blinds. I remembered that it was Veterans Day. My daughter Belinda and granddaughters Alex and Amy would be visiting us later. If only all of my five children and their families could live so close!
My girls and I had such good times together. Not long ago they took me to see Il Divo, Belinda’s favorite singing group, in concert. I loved it!
What was that song of theirs I liked so much? “Hallelujah.” I hummed it while I showered and got dressed. Hallelujah! The word ran through my mind, but suddenly my mind seemed to run away.
I sat on the bed. A red, shiny apple sat on my nightstand—in case my blood sugar got low. It was the last thing I saw before everything went dark.
Belinda: That morning, Alex and I pulled up at Amy’s house. Dad’s car was there. Odd. I didn’t expect to see my parents until later. Dad stood on the lawn. He looked pale. Frightened. Amy ran outside. “Thank God you’re here,” she said.
“Where’s Grandma?” I asked.
“ She collapsed,” Amy said. “Grandpa found her and gave her CPR, but she didn’t respond. The EMTs are rushing her to the hospital. Grandpa’s a wreck.”
“Let’s go,” I said, my voice quavering. “I’ll drive us to the hospital.”
Evangelina: Dark. Everything dark, silent. I felt a sensation. Like floating, but also like being pulled. As if I was being picked up and taken somewhere not in this world. Then a light, a golden light. It filled the space below my feet, glowed all around, lifting me up. It was like nothing I had experienced before, nothing at all, yet I wasn’t scared.
Belinda: I will not be afraid, I thought, speeding down the freeway. I will trust in God. I left the car near the emergency room and we hurried inside. A group of doctors and nurses were waiting.
“Evangelina Garza, how is she?” I sputtered. The doctors looked somber. “We did everything we could,” one said, “but she’s passed away.”
I couldn’t breathe. I thought I would faint. Finally a cry escaped my throat. “How can it be?” She can’t be dead. She can’t. In a daze I followed the doctor into the trauma room. He pulled back a curtain. Mom. She was so pale, so white, she seemed to vanish into the crisp hospital sheets.
Wires and tubes came from her arms and chest. The ventilator was still on, but the monitor beside her showed flat lines, no heartbeat, no brain activity. I’d seen enough medical shows to know what that meant.
But how could my mother be dead? How could she just be gone from this earth? She’d been dancing and singing at a concert just a while back. How? How?
“When she got here, she was already gone,” the doctor said.
Evangelina: I wasn’t alone, in this golden place. There was a man, maybe in his forties. He was with a woman, a little younger than him. Dad? Mom? They’d both died many years ago, Dad at age 74 and Mom at 78. But here they were, Dad so strong, so handsome. And Mom so beautiful.
“How can I be seeing you, when you’ve been dead all these years?” I asked. My parents said nothing. No, not nothing. Their faces were filled with love, with that golden light. I tried to touch them, to hold them, but a wind kicked up, fast and strong, swirling all around.
Belinda: I never got to say goodbye. I was sobbing uncontrollably. I staggered down the hall, leaning on the wall, past the gurneys and wheelchairs and carts. She was so pale.... I found a desk and chair, sat down and closed my eyes.
A sudden urge gripped me. Talk to God. She’s the rock, the glue that binds this family, my soul cried out. God, please, don’t take her. She’s not done yet.
Evangelina: It was a whirlwind, made of flowers—all kinds and colors: red roses, yellow daisies, orange tulips, purple violets....Too many to count. A rainbow of blooms, spinning in the air, swirling so fast that everything blended together. More beautiful than anything I could ever imagine on earth.
“God, where am I?” I said aloud. No answer. All at once the golden light, the light I understood to be the pure essence of love, dissolved below me. I saw myself in a hospital bed, my eyes closed.
Belinda: A voice cut through my shock and disbelief. Was that Alex calling me down the hall? Her words made no sense. “Mom, come quick! Grandma is moving!” I ran back to Mom’s room, that terrible, stark room.
“Look,” Amy said. Mom moved her right foot. My eyes shot to the monitor. The lines, were they moving too?
I pulled the doctor in. “Muscle spasms are normal immediately after death,” he muttered. He held Mom’s wrist like an afterthought. “It doesn’t mean...” He suddenly got real quiet. Switched hands. Frowned at the monitor. “There is something,” he said, clearing his throat. “It’s a very faint pulse.”
I was too confused to cry, too stunned for joy, caught between relief and fear. My sisters Thelma and Leslie and my brother, Homer, arrived, and the whole family huddled close while the doctors consulted. They monitored Mom for six hours, then they took her to the ICU.
“I must warn you,” the neurologist said, “she went at least thirty minutes without a heartbeat and oxygen. The brain starts to die after just a few minutes of oxygen deprivation. She’s technically alive, but whether she ever wakes up is another matter.”
Evangelina: Seeing my body in the bed...now I knew. God, how do I get back? I asked. I was being pulled again, up, away from my body, the whirlwind of blooms picking up speed. No, I wasn’t ready to go! My daughters. My son. Onesimo. How could I get back? Which way was home?
Belinda: Please, Mom, come back, I prayed. For three days, my father, my daughters, my siblings and I stayed by Mom’s side. She was on heavy sedation while the doctors ran tests. The wait was too much. I needed answers. I needed to know if Mom was still Mom.
“Please,” I begged the doctor, “tell me, what do you know?”
“I don’t know anything,” he responded. “At least, I can’t explain it.” They had found no damage to Mom’s brain. No damage to her heart or other organs. No signs of a stroke or an aneurysm. Everything was normal. She was even able to breathe on her own now, so they had taken her off the ventilator.
“It’s hard for me to say, but it’s a miracle.” Then why wasn’t she awake?
Alex approached the bed. She placed her iPhone on her grandmother’s shoulder. What on earth is she doing? I wondered.
Evangelina: This time the swirling was in my ears, somewhere far away. It became a sound, a melody. I knew that song! Spanish lyrics I could just make out. “Un desamparado se salvó, / Por causa de una buena acción, / Y hoy nadie lo repudia, Aleluya. / Aleluya, Aleluya....”
Il Divo’s “Hallelujah.” I struggled to move toward the sound, somehow.
Belinda: Aleluya, Aleluya... “Remember, Grandma, when you saw the concert?” Alex whispered. “Please, wake up.” I wiped away my tears. Mom had been so happy that day. Her grandchildren gave her so much joy. Would she ever see them again? We listened together until the music faded out.
“Mom, look!” Alex gasped. Her grandmother’s eyelids fluttered, then flew open. We all converged on her bedside, too stunned to speak. Mom broke the silence. “Gold...” she murmured. “You’re all covered in gold. Like heaven.”
Evangelina: Onesimo brought me home on November 16. We finally shared that breakfast he’d suggested. I told him all that I had seen. He nodded and held my hand tight.
I know it’s hard to believe. I can hardly believe it myself. But I know God sees us and blesses us every day. And the hospital’s trauma room report is clear. On the first page, written in a doctor’s hand and signed with his name, is the word Deceased and the exact time of my death.
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