Signs

AUDIO VERSION

 

One day shortly after our niece Ashley went home for Christmas, Priscilla asked me, “Is the oxygen compressor on?” She was wearing a cannula that was connected to the compressor by a hose, but she didn’t feel as if she was getting any oxygen through it.  But the compressor was on, and oxygen was flowing through the hose.  It’s just that her lungs had become so weak that even with oxygen flowing freely to them, she felt as if she were breathing stale air.

She was awakened several times during the next few nights by the awareness that she was out of air, even though she was using the VPAP.  She had to breathe as deeply as she could to get back to sleep.  On one of those nights, I had a dream in which I looked out the window and told her, “There’s a dark limousine waiting for you.” “I know,” she replied. “Wait,” I said, “it’s going away.” “There will be another,” she responded. In retrospect, I wonder whether I sensed subconsciously, even in my sleep, that she was having these near-death experiences.

But then I started having new kinds of dreams. For some time I’d been having ones like the one about the limousine, in which the two of us were together but a separation was imminent. Now I started having dreams in which we were already apart. In one of them, we were at a picnic, but Priscilla was at a different table, bathed in light.  She was smiling, and she was surrounded by friends from different parts of our lives. For her part, Priscilla told me about a dream she had in which she was walking around among people whose garments glowed with iridescent colors.  “I’ve never dreamed anything like that before!” she said excitedly.

One morning after I’d transferred her out of bed, she had to lean back in the wheelchair for quite some time to catch her breath. I was watching her cautiously to make sure she was all right, and suddenly it struck me that I’d never seen her look quite so beautiful before. She’d always been considered a beautiful woman. One of her “Williams kids” wrote her a letter of support and appreciation when he learned of her illness.  In it, he recalled her beauty and shared what he thought was its secret: “You had a glow about you that seemed to be not just physical but spiritual.” That was even more true now. Though she was barely still alive, she was glowing with a celestial radiance.

A friend had written her a letter a little before this in which she’d compared her to the autumn leaves that were “most radiant, breath-taking, and inspiring just before they leave the tree.” She told her, “You look stunningly beautiful in your final phase of life here on earth.”  I’d already been struck by something similar myself, but everything I’d seen to this point was just a glimmer compared with what appeared on this late December morning. The heavenly glory was breaking through.

Certainly when seen in retrospect, all of these things—the critical breathing problems, the dreams, the unearthly beauty—were signs that the end was near. But the end of my strength was also near. I’d started pleading, “Lord, please don’t let my strength fail before Priscilla goes home.” It wasn’t at all clear which one of us would last longer.

Another of the photos of autumn leaves that friends sent us.
Another of the photos of autumn leaves that friends sent us, this one with a turning in the road.

Author: endlessmercies

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is a writer and biblical scholar who is also an ordained minister and served local churches as a pastor for nearly twenty years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the Scriptures that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He has an A.B. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School. Dr. Smith answers questions about the Bible, particularly those that arise from the use of his study guides, at goodquestionblog.com.

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