As he said goodbye to his mother, he found angelic comfort in the colorful afghan she once made for him.
- Posted on Aug 26, 2020
I rolled my carry-on up to the ticket agent. At least our plane was on time. God, please help Ma hang on until we get there. I couldn’t bear to think of losing our mother without seeing her one last time, of being able to hold her hand and tell her I loved her. But my sisters and I were 1,000 miles away, boarding an early morning flight from Boston to Atlanta.
Every winter Ma traveled from her home in the Northeast to spend a few weeks with our brothers in the South. She’d seemed in good health, still in her early seventies, though she’d had heart problems all her life. On this trip, she’d been there only a few days when she’d had a heart attack, then complications from pneumonia.
One of my brothers had called with the grim news. “Ma’s not doing well,” he said. “Come right away.” I’d left my home at midnight to pick up my sisters for the 6 A.M. flight. We found our seats, and I wrestled our luggage into the overhead bins. “I hope we’re not too late,” I said, and settled in.
From the time I was a boy, Ma had told me that her name, Angelina, meant “little angel” in Italian. She’d taught me to pray, to trust in God and that angels watched over us. But now that her death was imminent, doubt and fear consumed me. What did I really know about heaven? The idea of eternal life, of one day being able to enjoy Ma’s presence again, was certainly a comfort. But how could I know it was true?
The plane taxied down the runway. As we lifted off, my mind traveled back in time to an incident I hadn’t thought about in years, maybe the most frightening day of my life.
I was five years old, eating at a diner with my parents. Ma had ordered the fried chicken. She raised a crispy piece to her mouth for a bite when she stopped cold. “I don’t feel so good,” she said. “My fingers are numb.” The chicken slid out of her hands and she collapsed onto the table.
“Somebody call an ambulance,” my dad shouted. The EMTs arrived; it was a heart attack. Ma was pronounced DOA at the hospital, but doctors were able to revive her with defibrillator paddles. She didn’t talk much about such details, not wanting to worry me. When I got a little older I finally got up the courage to ask her exactly what had happened.
I found Ma on the couch, crocheting an afghan as usual, the colorful yarn in a basket by her side. I sat next to her, and she put down her handiwork to give me her full attention.
“I was so afraid that night,” I said.
She took my hands in hers. “Dying is nothing to be afraid of, Paul. Everything I’ve ever taught you is true. You see, when I was at the hospital I was given a glimpse of heaven. I left my body and floated through a bright tunnel until I arrived at an enormous ball of light. It glowed with colors deeper and more vivid than any of these yarns here or any rainbow I’ve ever seen. I felt such peace. Death is sad for those left behind, but you should never be afraid, for me or for anyone else. Heaven is real. I promise.”
Ma gave me a hug and went back to working with her yarns. It was clear now why she gave away her afghans as gifts, as if she were passing along proof of God’s love. Now, sitting on the plane, I looked out above the sunlit clouds, and the memory wrapped around me with all the warmth of the colorful afghan Ma had made for me.
My brother met us at the airport, and Ma’s five children gathered at her bedside. I took her hand in mine, as she’d done on the day she told me of her experience. “Ma, it’s me, Paul. I love you.” A tear rolled down her cheek. She had waited for us to say goodbye and now she could rest. When she passed away a few hours later, I imagined the angels who were with her all her life escorting her into God’s welcoming arms. I knew I’d see her again, and in the meantime my colorful afghan warms me with its promise.
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