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The day I met an Angel

I’ve never doubted that angels exist. I’m a deeply spiritual person and so this concept isn’t foreign to me. We see all throughout scriptures the appearances of angels in various situations and with different messages and apparel. I am reminded of what Hebrews 13:2 states, “…Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares…” This came to pass in my life in 2016. It was only after some reflection and interesting news that my suspicion was confirmed. I want to tell you about the day I met an Angel.

Large female angel with wings over a city.

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The day started out really exciting. I’m a school teacher and we were nearing the end of another long year. I had gotten myself dressed a little “extra” nice today because there was an award ceremony for our children. The kiddos accepted their awards for excellence and grades and later that evening we all decided to go out to eat in celebration.

A mother with three children holding academic trophies.
Awards day at school

We had just sat down at the local Mexican restaurant and ordered our food when the phone call came. What was odd was that as soon as I answered the phone, one of my children vomited. They had not been sick all day. There was no warning or anything. I know, as a parent, that this isn’t totally out of the ordinary. I have learned with three children that raising kids has and will always be… unpredictable. What struck me oddly about this particular “out of the blue” sickness was that the phone call was bad news.

It was almost like the dread, anxiety, sadness, and fear was in the room when that phone rang and my child responded.

It was the call that I was not expecting this soon. You see, my step-dad, Bud, had been battling cancer for three years. He had multiple myeloma. It was an awful and painful disease that slowly deteriorated the most precious person in my life. The diagnosis three years prior was devastating. He had fought so hard but it was impossible to stay ahead of this raging monster that was eating away his bones.

I lived about six hours from them because my mom had moved to a much larger city for a job and for treatment for Bud. I also worked full time as a high school Spanish teacher and was very active in my church, so driving out there was quite challenging. Visits were planned for Holidays and weekends where my breaks were longer because the drive itself with three kids was just exhausting. I was so anxious for school to get out that year because I was headed to spend at least a few weeks at the beginning of my summer with Bud. I was longing for some time with him without the nagging reminder that I had to return back to work. In the summer I could just stay and visit for as long as I wanted.

I answered the phone and it was my mom. Her words were sad and heavy.

“Bud’s only got a few days. If you want to see him, you better get out here now.”

My heart sank. Just a few moments earlier we were all singing and excited to celebrate my children’s accomplishments and now I was sitting in a booth, cleaning up vomit, and receiving the worst phone call of my life. Things had changed so quickly.

A glamour shot of a man and woman.
Mom and Bud

I looked at my husband and told him that I needed to leave. We got the food to go and rushed home so that I could throw some clothes into a suitcase and get on the road. The kids stayed with him because I didn’t know how capable I was going to be of taking care of them in a hospice unit while my step-dad was dying. I didn’t think I could handle it.

A woman in a car crying in her hands.

That six hour drive was filled with tears and conversations with God. I had a lot of time for us to discuss what was about to happen and all the specifics. A phone call was also made on that drive. I needed to discuss what was happening inside my head because I was completely devastated. I made a request in that car that I was hoping God would grant. Without an answer from him, I just didn’t think I could live through this if He didn’t.

That request is just too personal to talk about but I will say that two days later in that hospital room God performed what I asked.

It was late when I arrived to the hospital. I got lost once on the winding roads of the big city. It was probably because I was already so grief stricken that I couldn’t think straight much less navigate unfamiliar territory at midnight.

A large city at nightime.

I walked in the room quietly not wanting to wake him up, walked over to his bed and laid my forehead on his and began to cry. His eyes opened up and I managed to whisper a “hey”. His first question was, “Where are the kids?” I felt awful for not even realizing that this would be the last time that they would see each other. I responded, “I left them with Chris at home.”

The look of disappointment on his face ripped me to pieces.

How could I be so stupid as to not realize that they would have wanted to see each other? But I didn’t know how to take care of them in this moment. I was so hyper focused on what was happening with Bud that I knew I would not want to leave the room to eat or entertain three children who would inevitably get bored of a hospital scene for a week. It was the only choice I had.

Mom had just asked him if he wanted some coffee to drink and he had answered yes to that question so off she went to fulfill that request. Bud and I were left alone for just a brief moment. He tried to tell me something but mom returned too quickly and that conversation stopped abruptly. Me and mom eventually settled into chairs for sleeping and drifted off to sleep from sheer exhaustion.

The next day was filled with an intimate conversation with the doctor that I won’t share and a visit from family. Bud’s brother and his brother’s daughter had driven up. That visit was a breath of fresh air. Uncle Herman is so kind and comforting and for a few moments he kept our minds off of the inevitable. Not by pretending that it wasn’t happening, but of simply telling stories of their past and taking us down memory lane in happier times. He would stay with us this week while his daughter would return home.

Two men and a woman standing together smiling.
Uncle Herman, Bud, and Aunt Teet

At this point I don’t remember Bud being able to talk anymore. He wasn’t awake anymore either. Whenever they stopped giving him medicine for his cancer, it didn’t take long for certain things to start taking place. One of the main ones is that he went unconscious or asleep after certain levels built up in his system.

I can’t remember clearly if we moved from that hospital room and into the hospice unit later that evening or if it was the next day. But what I do remember is how I felt.

I was angry.

I knew that by moving from the part of the hospital that tries to save lives to the part that tries to make it more comfortable to die, that we were inching closer to an event that I wanted to avoid altogether. It’s such a strange feeling.

I remember describing it like this, “Most of the time when you are waiting in anticipation, it’s for good things. This was exactly the opposite and I didn’t know what to do with it. It was like being on a train that I never wanted to board and each milestone was like a stop on the tracks. Rolling towards a destination that I didn’t want to reach. But I had no ability or power to get off of the train or to stop it. It would move forward with full steam no matter how I felt and so I sat powerless in its seat.”

Nighttime at a train station.

The hospice unit was nice and so were the people that worked in it. But I didn’t care to get to know them “too much”. They were there to do a job and that job was to tell me when Bud took his last breath and that’s all that I could see.

My body tensed up every time the hospice nurse walked in.

I didn’t want her to confirm anything. I didn’t want her to talk. Her words would be filled with news that my heart couldn’t take. She would come in, check vitals, ask us if we needed anything, and quietly slip out. It pained me to think that she would never know how great this man was that she was taking care of in his final moments. She had no idea, she was just the nurse.

A collage of pictures including a baby, wedding, graduation, and vacation.
Bud holding my baby girl, my college graduation, my wedding, Bud at the house, and finally Bud helping my brother and myself on vacation.

This was how the next day and a half would play out. In the meantime, more family had showed up and the stories of the “good ‘ole days” were flowing freely. There was actually some laughter in that room. There was some light shining in the darkness with every moment recalled of this wonderful man’s life.

After everyone that was visiting had left for their hotel rooms that evening, the nurse walked in with some news. “My shift is coming to an end. I just wanted to introduce you to the next shift nurse. This is Lety. She is going to take care of y’all for the next two days and then I’ll be back.”

All of a sudden I was angry again.

I was already uncomfortable with the process of what we were going through and having a stranger come in and out of the room when my emotions were raw was hard to stomach, but I had slowly let my guard down with this ONE nurse and now she was leaving! Betrayal is what I felt. I had finally developed a level of comfort with her, enough that I thought I could bear the most tragic news from her and ANOTHER stranger was about to take her place. My heart sank.

I looked at Lety. A Hispanic woman in her late thirties maybe early forties. She had a kind face but I didn’t care. I felt betrayed by the leaving of the other nurse. I asked myself “Why do you care so much Jessie? It doesn’t matter. You will never see these people again. They are here to do their job.” And with that, I simply moved into the next phase of the journey. This was just another stop on the train.

The hospice unit wasn’t really full at this time, which was a relief. Our family was all that was there at the moment and that meant that the sitting areas, snack room, and hallways were empty and we could have places to retreat when the inevitable got to be more than we could bear. My mom had not really had any decent rest because in Bud’s room there was always a nurse coming in to check things, lights were turned on, and things beeped. So, Lety suggested that mom go lie down in the bed in the room next door so that she could rest. My mom must have been very tired because she obliged without any hesitation. That left me and uncle Herman in the room together with Bud to sleep. I couldn’t leave the room.

I would almost NEVER leave that room.

A bed made from the couch was where I was sleeping and Uncle Herman sat in a chair to sleep. We talked for a little while about different things and then we both drifted off.

The next morning I woke up and uncle Herman was gone. It was just me in that room and Lety was doing something over beside Bud’s bed. I walked over to talk to him, even though he was still asleep, but it was very hard for me to get any words out. Ever since we had moved to the Hospice unit, I had quit talking. It probably wasn’t very noticeable because there was more family in the room and they were telling stories while I just listened. I just listened. I didn’t speak. It was also because I found it too difficult to speak. Remember my train analogy? Well, all I wanted to say was “STOP the train! I want to get off!” and so in my moments of powerlessness I went silent.

I managed to whisper to him that he didn’t have to worry about mom.

That I would take care of her. I didn’t want him to hang on just because he was afraid of what would happen to her. Then Lety appeared again. I wanted to talk to her. I needed to talk to her. A piece of me was dying on the inside. Since all of the family had arrived, I had no private time with Bud. There was no longer a space for intimate conversation. There was always someone in the room, but this morning it was just me, Bud, and Lety.

I began to talk to Lety… in Spanish. I know that it might sound odd but it was all that would come out. In my twenty years of studying language there is one thing I remembered. We are not as emotionally attached to words in languages that are not our native tongue. So, I knew that I could express my thoughts, emotions, and what was going on in a better way in Spanish because I was less attached to the words themselves. I could use this language and not break down sobbing because I would have to think in order to get my thoughts out. That would serve as a distraction to my feelings and let me say what I wanted to say.

And then Lety began to talk to me.

I genuinely cannot remember what I said to her at this point. I remember being embarrassed that I was talking to Bud when he was clearly “out of it” but I wanted to talk to him and alone time with him wasn’t going to happen again. So Lety begins telling me a story of one of her previous patients. It was about a girl that had overdosed. She was in the hospice unit with her grandmother and in a coma state like Bud. Everyday Lety would come in and talk to her. Lety would just talk to her about all kinds of things. She would tell the girl about her favorite ice cream flavors and then ask what the girls favorite ice cream flavor was and etc… Everyday a new conversation about everyday life and things that Lety liked with a follow up question to the girl.

Young girl in a hospitl bed.

The grandmother became quite irritated with Lety and told her to stop talking to the girl when she clearly couldn’t hear her or respond.

She actually demanded that Lety quit.

It made her uncomfortable and angry. So, Lety obeyed when the grandmother was around but when she was alone with the girl she would continue their daily conversations.

One morning Lety came into work and walked into the girls room only to find it empty and cleaned. She broke down and cried at the bed. During the night while she was off the girl must have died and she was crushed. Then another nurse walked in and said, “Lety, someone wants to see you in a different wing in the hospital.” Lety responded with, “Not now.” She had not finished saying her tear filled goodbyes in that empty room yet. The nurse insisted, “Lety, you need to go see this person” and gave her the room number. Lety got up slowly and made her way to the adjoining hospital and searched for the room. When she walked in, sitting up in the bed was the girl. Lety immediately said her name and the girl responded,

“I know your favorite ice cream flavor!”

She had miraculously made a full recovery from the hospice unit and was now getting better in the regular hospital. They began to talk as the girl gave Lety all the answers to the questions that she had posed. The grandmother watched in awe and cried at the revelation that Lety was right. Even though they can’t respond, they can most certainly hear you.

I didn’t feel so stupid anymore for talking to Bud because I had just received confirmation that he could hear me. In that moment I realized that Lety was different. I didn’t know how, but she was definitely different. The previous nurse had been “nice” enough, but Lety was compassionate. Lety was very gentle when she did anything to Bud. Checking vitals was done carefully. She would talk to him like she knew him. And because she realized that I was his daughter, she lovingly began to call Bud “Papi”. “Papi” is a everyday term for “daddy” in Spanish. It rolled off her tongue effortlessly. She would ask him questions. She treated him like he was listening and alive… because he was.

Lety also told me of another family that she had “ministered” to.

A woman had lost her husband and he had died under Lety’s care. The woman wasn’t coping well and had received Lety’s phone number before she left the hospital. One day, that woman called Lety. She was so grief stricken that she had not been able to cook, eat, bathe, etc…

Woman on couch.

Lety and her husband got into their vehicle, drove to her house, and took care of her for a few days. She told me of how she would let the lady sleep laying on the couch with her head in her lap and then she would get up early to cook her breakfast and straighten up the house. They stayed for as many days as it took for the woman to get back to herself.

Lety was simply extraordinary.

She also revealed to me that she had been reprimanded by hospital administration for getting “too close” to families. They had reminded her that she was there to do a job and that she shouldn’t have contact with the families outside of her duties and especially not after they left. Lety stated that she didn’t care. She simply loved people and couldn’t just NOT help.

In walked mom and she informed me that it wouldn’t be long before family would be returning back to the hospital and so we needed to eat breakfast. I wasn’t hungry. When I’m upset, the last thing I want to do is eat. Lety brought in two trays for mom and myself and we sat down on the couch to pancakes, sausage, eggs, and juice. I opened the tray and tried to stomach some of the food because I didn’t want to make my mom feel worse. She was starving and had finally gotten some rest and was eating.

As we were nearing the end of our breakfast mom had gotten a few phone calls. All of them were from family that were headed up the hospital but were delayed for various reasons. They wouldn’t arrive for another hour or so. I didn’t think much of it then, but I know now that it was God that had orchestrated those delays.

This is where things were about to change.

Lety came up to us and said, “My ministry is baths.” I sat speechless, dumbfounded really. I had no clue what she was talking about. “My ministry is to give baths. A lot of times patients pass away while I’m giving them this bath. So, I always offer family members the opportunity to stay during the bath.” Again, I stared at her in disbelief. What in the world is this woman talking about? Ministry? In bathing? I told her that I didn’t want to see the bath because I didn’t want to see my step-dad without clothes on. And she replied, “No, you won’t. I will keep him covered the entire time. I think you should stay.”

Up until this morning, Bud had been receiving a sponge bath by the previously mentioned nurse. We were always asked to leave the room and I thought nothing of it. Sponge baths are certainly no where near a real bath but given the present circumstances that is what you get.

I slowly walked towards the bed where Bud was laying and stood. I looked at him peacefully resting. His breathing had become quite labored but other than that he seemed content.

His hair was oily and disheveled and he was wearing the same hospital gown that he had been admitted in.

The sponge baths were certainly not a treat.

Lety began to work. She started by filling up large pans with really warm water. She then began to open up bottles of soap and shampoo that smelled amazing and poured it into the steaming pots of water. I watched unable to fully process what was really happening. When she had finally prepped all of the towels, sweet smelling “bath” water, and wash cloths, she was ready to begin.

That’s when she did the most interesting thing. She began to pour this perfumed warm water over his body. It ran down the sheets, down the bed, and onto the floor. And after he had been soaked she began to slowly wash every inch of his body with a clean cloth. She would hold up the sheet with one hand to guard my eyes when she had to wash the most intimate parts. This allowed me to stay present during this sacred moment and it respected Bud, who was very modest. It was during this bath that Bud would open his eyes for the last time and smile.

I wept beside that bed knowing that I was seeing something straight from heaven and feeling unworthy to be present.

She then began washing his hair and finally brushing his teeth. Bud had dentures and no one had ever thought to remove them and clean his mouth. It was terrible. Lety gently removed his dentures and carefully washed his gums, mouth, lips, and took care of his teeth. All while talking to “Papi”. Finally she combed his freshly washed hair, rubbed his entire body with scented lotion, changed his gown and sheets, and cleaned up the flood of water that had ran down the bed. And it was over.

There was a knock on the door almost immediately. It was the delayed family members. I went back to my silent seat on the sofa as they came in and began commenting on how great he looked and smelled. Bud’s sweet, perfumed body filled the entire room.

Conversation quickly started to flow again as Lety made her rounds with other patients. I sat on that sofa trying to process what I had just seen and felt. Then it hit me.

Lety was preparing Bud’s body for burial.

I know that sounds weird, but let me explain. In society today, getting a body ready for burial would typically mean washing and possibly embalming. But, in Jesus’ day, the body was washed and anointed with expensive perfumes, like nard, myrrh, and aloes. That’s when I first realized that Lety could be an angel.

It was a little while later that we all noticed that it had been a minute or so since we heard Bud breathe. His breathing was loud and labored and it didn’t take long to miss it. Someone went to get Lety and my stomach started to hurt. She calmly walked in, checked his vitals, and confirmed our suspicions. Bud had passed away. She then turned to my mom and wrapped her in the warmest hug as they cried. I stood up sobbing wanting to run away but having no where to turn. Lety then came to me. She embraced me as a mother holds a child as I began to say in Spanish,

“Quiero salir!” (I want to go!)

“Quiero salir con el!” (I want to go with him.)

“Por favor, me permite morir! (Please, let me die.)

“Me Permite salir con el!” (Let me go with him!)

Lety began calming me down and whispering in my ear, “Jessie, you have to stay. You have to take care of your momma. She needs you Jessie. She needs you to be strong.” I look back at this moment at times and realize just how concerned and gracious God really is. I needed the ability to express my private thoughts in a room full of people where privacy didn’t exist.

God gave me a Spanish speaking angel just for that reason.

As Lety and I began to converse, people began leaving the room. I guess they couldn’t take it. Without knowing the content of my words and being mixed with devastation proved too much for some, but I didn’t care. I had found my safe place and had fallen into the arms of compassion without caution.

The rest of the day was a blur as people began to say their goodbyes in the room with Bud one at a time. Others came to the hospital right before they took his body. My siblings arrived and with each arrival we relived his last moments again. So peaceful yet so painful.

when all was said and done I went to find Lety. I wanted a picture with her. I didn’t want to forget what she looked like. With time, our memories lose things and I didn’t want her to be one of them. We talked for a few moments and I made a request. “Find me, wherever I am, when it’s my time to die and take care of me in my final moments.” And she told me something that I’ve never forgotten. “Jessie, I’ll keep you in my heart and I’ll not charge rent.” And with that, we parted ways.

My mom is a funeral director in that large city and she works for a mortuary service and visits that hospital frequently. She had never seen Lety before that day and when she has returned to that hospital numerous times since, to retrieve people who have passed away in that hospice unit, she has never laid eyes on Lety again.

That was the day I met an angel, and one day, I am sure of it, Lety and I will meet again!

Lety and Me

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Multiple Myeloma

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