Tuesday was a quiet day. My wife, Wanda, and I returned the day before from a weekend trip to Ohio. While we were gone, our daughter Kathy, and her daughter Sara, had arrived at our home from Texas for a two-week visit.
Since we werent home yet on Monday afternoon, Kathy and Sara visited Wandas 84 year old Aunt Thelma at the nursing home. They had a real good visit. She had been real close to all of us over the years. In fact she, two other aunts, and Wandas mother had lived next door to us most of Kathys youth. The others had passed on, and even though Aunt Thelma lived close by, her health was too poor to live alone. She chose the nursing home rather than coming to live with us last February.
Wanda grew up under the same roof with her mother and these three aunts. You might say she had four mothers. Then as each one became old, it was Wandas turn to care for them. Moving them into the house next door 35 years ago was just what we needed to make that care a little easier than if they had stayed a couple miles away. Our kids (Kathy, David, and Roger) went next door often to see "the ladies".
On Tuesday morning Wanda called Aunt Thelma and made arrangements to bring her out to the house on Wednesday to spend the day with all of us. Aunt Thelma was feeling well and they were excited that it would be a day filled with happiness.
Shortly after dinner on Tuesday evening, the nursing home called to inform Wanda that it appeared Thelma was having a stroke. They were sending her to the hospital in an ambulance and we agreed to meet them there. Aunt Thelma had a bad heart, and there had been numerous emergency visits to the hospital. But this time it was different. They said she was paralyzed on her left side.
We got to the hospital ahead of the ambulance, and waited anxiously for those flashing lights to come around the corner. When they carried Aunt Thelma into the emergency room it was very evident that we had trouble; big time. Her tiny body was going through a major crisis.
Those who were caring for Aunt Thelma were different than we had experienced the many times before. They were tender and compassionate with everything they did. There werent the long delays for the tests they did. Technicians stayed with her, and talked with her in such a caring way. They explained to us what was going on, and what to expect. After confirming that there was a very large hemorrhage in the brain the doctor said he didnt expect her to last the night. They then moved her to a private room on the sixth floor where we found another team of nurses and technicians who administered unusually tender care.
This may sound a bit strange, but I believe those who were caring for Aunt Thelma were nothing less than angels sent by God. Oh, they didnt have wings. There werent halos over their heads. They appeared as ordinary human beings like you and me. The scriptures tell us that angels are sent to serve our needs, and they may appear in human form.
Hebr 1:14 (NIV) Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?
Hebr 13:2 (NIV) Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.
Theres more. Aunt Thelma lasted longer than the doctor had thought. Although her bodily functions were clearly shutting down, the nurses assured us she wasnt suffering any pain; just labored breathing. From the beginning of this episode she hadnt been able to communicate with us verbally. While in the emergency room Wanda asked her to squeeze her hand if she could hear; and she did. Later on, even that form of communication was gone.
The night was long and difficult for us. We watched Aunt Thelma struggle for each breath, but there was nothing we could do to help. Wanda had ministered to the needs of all four of "the ladies" for many years, but this one she couldnt do.
As with the many prior hospital stays, we were very careful with what we said in front of Aunt Thelma. It was evident that this was the final episode. Since there was a chance she could hear us, we felt it would not be in her best interest to talk about death.
There were several visitors on Wednesday morning. A friend brought us something to eat and three ministers were in to comfort and to pray with us. Rogers mother-in-law, Mamie, came in also. She was very supportive, and helped keep the vigil on the positive side.
Early Wednesday afternoon a nurse came into the room to check on Aunt Thelmas condition. While there she told us:
"You know, she can hear what you say. She knows whats happening, and its OK with her. She wants you to be able to let her go. You need to talk to her about it. Say those things you would like to say before she departs."
Then the nurse turned to her patient and said "Thelma, the time has come for you to stand before Jesus. If you havent accepted him as your savior, its not too late." We had great comfort in knowing that Aunt Thelma had accepted Jesus as her savior many years ago.
From this point on, the atmosphere changed. We were talking to Aunt Thelma as we would with someone preparing to depart on a long trip. We were assuring her that it wouldnt be long until she looks on Jesus face. There would soon be a happy reunion with her sisters and brother who were already there. That we would follow her when God is ready to take us home.
We watched as the breathing became less labored. The time between breaths seemed to be getting longer, but it continued without the struggle for each breath.
Suddenly the song "Jesus is Calling" came to my mind. Aunt Thelma had always enjoyed it when I would sing at church or around home, so I started singing that song to her. The others joined in, and we sang several treasured hymns to her.
As we sang, I noticed a look of peace on Aunt Thelmas face. The breathing was much more relaxed, and a tear flowed from her eye. Then, each breath was slower than the one before. Kathy and Sara came into the room as she was drawing her last breath. This was a precious moment as each one of us bid her farewell.
God has promised to never leave us without support (Hebrews 13:5). On watching the tender loving way Aunt Thelma was being lead from this life to be with Jesus, I had no doubt as to whether our Lord was fulfilling that promise through those caring people.
Could it be that they were truly angels sent by God, or just plain caring people influenced by the Holy Spirit to act the way they did? Does it really matter? The important thing is that God kept His promise to Aunt Thelma and those of us who love her so much. He made the release from this life a most beautiful experience of the soul.
It makes no difference whether God sends an angel to occupy my physical existence or simply guides the Holy Spirit within me. Hopefully you will say with me, "I will serve the Lord in whatever way He would lead me, and seek to reflect His awesome love that others will wonder whether they have been attended by angels."