Elizabeth dabbed at the tears with her last tissue. Her tears had flowed freely and now she was in danger of being without anything to dry them with. Standing in the hospital hallway, she started to dig through her purse when Marie walked into the hallway. Older by fifteen months, Marie sensed her sister needed something and had come out to check on her. Marie offered a tissue to the distracted Elizabeth who started to say something about finding one in her purse, but then once more was reduced to tears.
“I don’t want daddy to go, but I know I can’t keep him here.” she said through sobs as Marie embraced her only sister.
“I know. Daddy’s tired. He’s ready to go home.” Marie replied in her best reassuring voice.
Douglas stepped into the hallway. The oldest of the three sibling and only boy, Douglas was his father’s doppelganger. Like his father in almost every way, Douglas was trying to be a rock in this troubling situation. He gathered both of his sisters in a large embrace from his long arms.
“It’s our turn to be strong for dad. Ninety-three years is a long time.” Douglas looked at each sister. He gave them a small smile. “Dad said he has one final battle to face.”
Daniel lay in the hospital bed with an oxygen mask over his face. He had indeed reached ninety-three years of age. From his great-grandfather to him, each patriarch of the family had lived into their nineties. Daniel had lived to see his great-grandchildren born, but had buried his sister too many years before. His wife of fifty-two years, Katrina, sat by his bedside and held his hand. She sat daily reading to him from the Bible and describing what was happening outside with the birds, trees and animals that played in the courtyard below. They talked much of heaven and what it would be like. They talked of Jesus and how they had both wished to see His return to make all things new before they had to part.
Daniel felt something change and he felt it deep into his bones. He squeezed Katrina’s hand and she turned her attention back to him from the book she was reading while he dozed.
“Someone is coming” he said.
“Who, babe?” Katrina adjusted his mask and wiped the excess condensation from his face.
“Someone is coming.”
Katrina called out to Douglas to come back in to the room. Douglas returned holding a cup of coffee his brother-in-law, Mark had brought to him. Mark was Elizabeth’s husband and a secret favorite to Daniel. Mark had been an Air Force pilot and gave Daniel a dream flight in an F-38 SeaHawk.
“Doug, is someone coming down the hall? Are we expecting anyone else? Katrina asked.
“No, there’s no one in the hall beside the girls, Mark and AJ” he replied.
AJ was Marie’s husband. He led worship at their non-denominational church and had walked away from a career in Nashville for the sake of a girl. Marie had fallen for AJ, much like Katrina had fallen for Daniel. She loved a man who sang from his heart for an audience of One. Orphaned at an early age, AJ loved being around family and gave it greater value than fame could ever give him.
AJ had sat most nights in the hospital playing his acoustic guitar and singing old “Chris Tomlin” and “Mercy Me” tunes to his father-in-law. Daniel would listen with eyes shut and tears rolling down his face. When the tears stopped, AJ would stop. That’s how he knew Daniel had finally fallen asleep.
With the no one else in the hall, Katrina turned back to Daniel and said, “There’s no one else out there, Babe. Who do you think is coming?”
Daniel knew who was coming. It was Death. He had heard hoof beats.
During his lucid times Daniel would talk of heaven and also of facing death. Katrina would read the verse over and over to him from Hosea 13:14:
“I will deliver this people from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. Where, O death, are your plagues? Where, O grave, is your destruction?”
The hoof beats echoed through the halls. A cold wind seemed to blow inside the hospital. Covered by many blankets, Daniel felt the cold and Katrina could feel the goose bumps on his skin.
“Babe, what’s wrong?” she asked.
“Someone is coming” he replied.
This was the final battle.
The hoof beats stopped and the sound of a rider dismounting, though with some difficulty, filled Daniel’s ears. Shuffling steps with what sounded like a walking stick hitting the marble floor seemed to echo through the whole building. Shrouded in a tattered black robe and cowl, Death walked into the room.
“You…” Daniel said, “I know who you are.”
Death stopped at the window and seemed to block out the sun. The colors of the room seemed to run into blacks, whites and grays. Hope seemed to have been banished in an instant, and Death was pleased.
He smiled a toothy grin. Missing some teeth, Death’s jaw looked as it had been broken and not repaired. He bore a scar across his face that had not healed all the way. Death did not walk with purpose, but with a limp. He indeed had his scythe, but he did not bear it in a menacing way. The once-powerful scythe was more of a walking stick to hold him upright. His right leg seemed to drag behind and he could not walk with much speed. Ever since the incident at the garden tomb, Death had not been the same. Gabriel had come to move the stone. Death objected and Gabriel began the assault by moving the stone covering the tomb and Death with it. Death had tried holding the stone in place against the might of the Arch Angel. After moving the stone, Gabriel had turned his attention to Death and the one-sided fight was on. It was an awful beating for Death. Jesus had won the day and Death could not keep him buried. Death had lost most of his power and was no longer feared by many Christians.
“You know me?” Death mused. “You don’t know me that well or you would be begging me to go away.”
Daniel started breathing a little faster. His heart monitor sped up a bit, which caused the girls and their husbands to enter the room. Sadie walked in last. Douglas’ wife and a nurse, she walked over and put her hand on Daniel’s exposed foot.
“Danny boy” she said, “You need to slow that thing down.” Her moist eyes twinkled at her father-in-law. “Kat doesn’t like you making all this noise.”
To everyone else, Daniel pointed at no one, but summoning his remaining strength he raised an index finger towards Death and said, “You are not in charge!”
The siblings looked at each other. Confused they started to ask each other who their dad was pointing at.
Katrina held his hand tighter, leaned over and whispered in Daniel’s ear, “You put him in his place, babe. Jesus will be here soon.”
The first footstep sounded like a wooly mammoth had been unleashed inside the hospital building. It shook Daniel and the foundation of the building. Daniel held his finger in place, pointing at Death and smirked when the first deafening footstep hit. Death lost his smile in realization that he was indeed, not in charge.
The massive footsteps pounded their way up hallway and stopped outside Daniel’s door. What walked through the door was astounding. Nearly eight feet tall with muscles looking like he had laid waste to the weight machines at a local gym, the angel walked through the door that flexed wide enough to accommodate his frame. His hair seemed translucent, but glowed a faint bluish hue. He had no eyes, but in the eye sockets there glowed a white light that lit the room wherever he looked. The grieves on his forearms and gauntlets on his shins were made of bronze with inlaid jewels of unknown origin; the angel had crossing leather straps over his massive chest. The straps held dual swords behind him, with hilts sticking up over each shoulder. His boots were golden, but looked like they could have been leather. He wore battle dress similar to an old Roman soldier, with a dagger sheathed on his belt. His shield was hung outside the crossed blades on his back. The angel moved past the gathered family who could not see him, and went over to the window side of Daniel’s hospital bed, and stood between Death and Daniel. The angel folded his arms and fixed his unblinking gaze on Death. Death shrank at the light coming from the angel’s eyes.
Death began to blubber about what was his. Gathering all of the courage he could muster, Death finally shouted, “Out of my way! I will not be denied my prey! This day his life is required of him and I have come to collect!”
Death had screamed out his demand and then began to hurl insults at the un-moving angel. The angel’s translucent hair had glowed blue, but now it seemed as if his whole body began to glow the same blue color.
Daniel lowered his hand to his side. His breathing slowed and so did his heart rate.
“Babe?” Katrina pushed back his white hair.
His eyes met hers. He smirked again. “I do love you, you know.”
Daniel closed his eyes as Katrina continued to stroke his head.
Elizabeth began to fight the tears. She went over and kissed Daniel’s forehead like he had done so many times to her. “I love you, daddy.” Her tears turned into sobs and Mark gathered her into his arms.
Mark reached down and squeezed Daniel’s left hand. “Love you, old man. No need for a scramjet fighter tonight.”
As they moved away, Marie and AJ moved in to Daniel’s side. Marie pressed her cheek to Daniel’s forehead and said, “I love you, daddy. Why don’t you go rest now? We’re ok. AJ will look after me.”
AJ also reached down to hug his father-in-law one last time. “It’s time to go sing with the saints. Go find grandpa and sing with him.”
Sadie was next. She took the blood pressure cuff off of his arm and turned off the heart monitor. She put her hand on his face and fought back the tears. “Danny boy, time to go home.” She kissed his cheek and backed away into Douglas’ arms. He squeezed her then went to his dad.
“Dad, you said you always wanted to go sit on the Father’s lap, lay your head against His chest, feel His heartbeat, and rest. You go ahead. It’s time for you to rest. We’ll be along soon.”
Katrina still stroked his head and looked at his face for a long time. Tears rolled down her face. She wanted one last look into Daniel’s eyes. One last recognition. One last moment of goodbye.
The cold had left the room, as if forced out by a change in the barometric pressure. The angel hadn’t moved. Death was finishing his first burst of threats when the atmosphere changed.
Flowers in the room began to bloom out and turn towards the door. Clouds that had started to gather outside changed direction. Light seemed to come from everywhere. Darkness scattered and shadows in the room vanished. A white-robed figure with long, dark curly hair, dark beard and olive skin strode into the room. Daniel’s eyes shot open and looked immediately at the One who had seen eternity.
Looking directly at Death, Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Fatherʼs hand. I and the Father are one.”
Turning and looking at Daniel, Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die;” [ii] Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.[iii] Hey, Daniel, what say we get out of here?”
Daniel focused his gaze back to Katrina one last time. “I just love you.”
“I love you, too, Babe. Thanks.”
Daniel closed his eyes and his breathing slowed even further.
Jesus looked at Death and said, “This one is mine! You can have what’s left.” He took Daniel’s hand. “Now, I say to you, get up!”
Daniel breathed out one last time and his heart beat stopped. His family wept and began to mourn. The family patriarch and spiritual leader was now gone. Frail and broken his body finally gave out.
Daniel jumped out of the bed. He looked at his hands and feet. His skin was like that of the angel; translucent. It was smooth. No wrinkles. He lifted his arm and felt his bicep flex. Daniel could feel the strength of a hundred men in his arm. He looked around the room at his weeping family and said, “I’m ok! Jesus is here! I’m ok!”
They couldn’t hear him.
Jesus smiled and said, “It’s not their time. It’s yours. I promised that I would make all things new. I’ve made you new. Now, we have someplace to go!”
The two stepped outside of the hospital room and were instantly walking along a path of a green field. Bluebonnets lined the path. Blackfoot daisy’s and rainbow cactus were scattered along the path. “A far greener country than I could ever dream.” Daniel said. Ahead he saw the gleaming City of God.
As they walked along, Jesus and Daniel talked about many things. Daniel’s mind was opened up to many mysteries of life and of God. The “why’s” of life’s challenges and trials. The reasons became clear. The mysterious ways of God’s plan became clear.
Back at the hospital, Sadie pulled the sheet over Daniel’s head after Katrina had kissed him one last time. Marie and Elizabeth leaned on each other and cried as they walked out of the room. AJ and Mark followed them out. Sadie helped Katrina to her feet as she softly began to cry. Her mother-in-law was her champion, pushing her to complete her nursing degree. It was Sadie’s turn now to be the safe place for Katrina to lean.
Douglas stood at the end of the bed. He picked up his dad’s Bible and flipped over to the book of Luke. He scanned down and found the words that had come to mind. Swallowing hard and wiping away tears he read out loud the words of Simeon, giving them a slight personal emphasis:
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For his eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”[iv]
“Goodbye, dad. I love you. Always have, always will.” Holding the Bible close to his chest, the only part of his dad’s estate that mattered to him and his sisters, Douglas wiped more tears as he turned to leave.
Death picked himself up off the floor. With the pronouncement that Daniel belonged to the Master, the angel grabbed Death by the front of his cloak with his left hand. With his right he hammered Death on the crown of the head with a blow that made Death buckle at the knees and hit the floor. Death looked at the bed. All that was left was an empty shell made of dust and clay. He had no trophy.
John 10:27-30, NIV
[ii] John 11:25, NIV
[iii] Revelation 1:17-18, NIV
[iv] Luke 2:29-32, NIV
Copyright (c) 2017, David Eric Shelton, ASCAP, All Rights reserved. May not be transmitted, published or resubmitted without permission.