Discover more from Taking Off the Armor
An Angel on Earth, An Angel in Heaven
For many years, Josh and I and the kids enjoyed a quiet Christmas at home, but we decided to spend Christmas 2014 with Mom, Dad and Elizabeth (Liz). Liz had been staying at a local care center for several months while she healed from a leg fracture, but she was able to come home for Christmas Day. It was so wonderful to have her home again.
That afternoon I went into Liz’s room, sat down next to her bed and opened up my laptop to work on some family history research. I was on a roll discovering new connections and it was so exciting. Liz has never really liked being second to something or someone else as far as getting attention, so she kept reaching out to hold my hand. I got the hint and put my laptop down so we could just visit. Now that I look back, I wonder if our ancestors were gathering in heaven to welcome Elizabeth, and at the same time were leading me to find them.
That evening I went with Dad to take Liz back to the care center. When we got there, Dad went inside to find her wheelchair, which took him about 20 minutes. While we waited, I stood outside the passenger side of the car with the door open while Liz sat in the seat. I talked with her as I held her hand and sang songs. When I got distracted she would tug on my hand and look up at me with her big hazel eyes. It was like she was saying, “This, Rachel. This is what matters. Love. Connection. This is eternity.” It was a beautiful, tender time, like so many other moments with Liz throughout my life, when it was just me and her, a simple but profound connection of sisters.
At last Dad came out with the wheelchair. We took Liz inside to her group of friends sitting near one of the nurses stations. Dad and I talked to Liz for a few moments, gave her a hug, wished her Merry Christmas, and went home. I had no idea that that night would be the last time I would see her awake.
When it came time for us to go home a few days after Christmas, we were so rushed that I didn’t make time to visit Liz again and I joked that she was going to be really mad at me.
On the morning of New Year’s Eve, I received the call that Liz was unconscious and had suffered a massive stroke on the right side of her brain. My family and I packed our suitcases quickly and drove down to Springfield. I was upset but yet okay. I had such a strange mix of emotions, knowing that Elizabeth’s beautiful, painful, influential mortal life would be soon coming to an end.
The doctor at the hospital said that Elizabeth had major bleeding in the brain, and that they could operate to try to repair some damage, but Mom and Dad did not want Liz to have to endure more suffering. She was taken to a private room on the first floor of McKenzie-Willamette Hospital, and was made comfortable there. The doctor assured us that she was unconscious and not suffering, and gave her medication just in case there was some pain. He was sure that Liz would not live through the night, but she proved during the next 24 hours that her body was as strong as her spirit.
We arrived in Springfield around 11:00 am and I went directly to the hospital. When I entered Liz’s room, she was laying on her back, peacefully sleeping, with Mom, Dad, and her sisters by her side. It was hard to believe she was unconscious. I just wanted her to open her eyes and be awake and say “go car.” One by one, all of my siblings arrived that day to be by Elizabeth’s side. Several of her nieces, nephews, and friends also came to visit Liz, to say goodbye.
It was sweet to see how each of us siblings responded to being there. Joe ran errands and brought in food. Sid told jokes when jokes were needed, and at the same time reverenced the sacred process we were witnessing. Ann was great at asking the nurses and doctors questions, being by Liz’s side and supporting Mom and Dad. My younger sisters were a spiritual support for everyone and protective of Mom and Dad.
I often held Liz’s hand, talked and sang to her. I had never seen someone in the process of dying and it was both tender and excruciating. I broke down a few times - feeling so emotional, exhausted, watching her body die, and knowing I was going to have to say goodbye to my sweet sister.
Mom and Dad stayed by Liz’s side the whole time. Mom held her hand often and talked to her. Dad would stand on the other side of the bed, talking to Liz, laying his head on her shoulder, keeping a cool cloth on Liz’s forehead and wiping away saliva from her mouth.
The next evening, Dad asked Rebecca to say a prayer as we all gathered around. She gave a beautiful, emotional, pleading and grateful prayer. She thanked our Father in Heaven for Elizabeth - that we had the privilege of being surrounded by an angel in this life, and then asked Him to please release Liz from her suffering.
Around 1:00 am, I went with my siblings back into the room to be with Mom and Dad and Liz. Her death was getting closer and it seemed that the veil between this life and the afterlife was growing thin. We were reverently gathered around Elizabeth as she took her last breaths. Soon her beautiful, strong spirit was released from her body and she returned to her heavenly home.
Shortly after her passing, we knelt by Liz’s bedside as Dad offered a prayer. He thanked God over and over again for the blessing and immeasurable influence of Elizabeth in our lives. Each of us said some tearful goodbyes to Liz and hugged each other. I felt a mix of emotions - sadness for Liz being gone, weariness from the previous hours of watching her body shut down, relief that Liz was no longer suffering on this earth, and gratitude to my Father in Heaven for a wonderful family. Those hours of gathering with my family around Elizabeth as she passed was a profound spiritual experience.
Elizabeth’s funeral service was held a week later where we were embraced by many supportive friends and family. It was wonderful to see the chapel full of people who loved and cared about Liz and our family. She truly touched many people. Elizabeth’s nieces and nephews sang “I’m Trying to Be Like Jesus” and “A Child’s Prayer.” My oldest niece read “The Holland Story” powerfully. Ann gave a beautiful eulogy, with memories of Elizabeth’s life and her impact on us. Sid gave an emotional and powerful talk. It was a sweet and tearful service, a celebration of Elizabeth’s life, and a reaffirmation that we will see her again.
At the conclusion of the funeral service, we all drove to Springfield Memorial Gardens for the burial and grave dedication. We gathered around Elizabeth’s casket, decorated with beautiful flowers. Joe gave a sweet and powerful dedication prayer on Elizabeth’s grave, and again expressed our gratitude for her. Soon Elizabeth was laid to rest, wearing a beautiful white dress made by her older sister.
I don’t know exactly what Elizabeth’s earthly mission was, but I do feel that she was here for our family, to teach us of pure love, sacrifice, patience, compassion, faith in God’s plan and the simple joys of life. Considering that I had been feeling spiritual tension for several months, I was grateful to be reminded of the church’s doctrines of life after death, resurrection and eternal families
Thanks for reading Taking Off the Armor! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.