“I was praying,” I muttered. My eyes snapped open. Did I just respond to a question? For a moment, I thought I’d spoken aloud when I was dozing off, but I blinked a few times, rubbing my eyes, and looked around. The room was dark, the sun shedding a little light along the horizon outside my bedroom window as it began to descend. A young woman smiled from the rocker by my bed where she sat with her hands on her lap. I sprang up as soon as I realized she was real. I wasn’t dreaming, and I was in my own bedroom with a stranger.
“No need for alarm.” She smiled again, and I felt a strange sort of calm come over me. What apprehension I initially felt dissipated, falling off my body like a wave of water washing the emotion from me and trickling away to nothingness. I sat back on my bed and awaited her next words as though it was common for me to awaken with someone I didn’t know in my bedroom.
“I am what you call a Guardian Angel,” she began. “But I am actually one of your ancestors, una prima de tu abuela—a cousin of your grandmother’s. I am Rosario. You called for me in your oración, and so I came.”
“I was saying my nightly prayers like I always do. I didn’t know I was calling for you.”
“With the Guardian Angel prayer, I always come. Granted, I don’t often materialize, but tonight I sensed una acongojada—an anxiety and a need in you for me, and here we are.” She waved a hand in a casual gesture as though we had known one another for years. Then the thought hit me that perhaps we did: at least, she knew me, and maybe I subconsciously knew her. In fact, the features of her face were familiar the more I thought about it. I was certain there was a picture of her in one of mi Mamá’s old photo albums. And though I may not have known that she came to my room every night when I recited the prayer since I first learned it as a child, I felt comforted by her admission.
I wondered why she said she sensed I needed her, so I began thinking of how to ask when she spoke again. “When I was alive, I didn’t know that when my time to join the Lord came I would join His legions of angels and become a Spirit Guide for my own descendants. You are my fourth since my own passing in 1888. I’ve been watching over you since you emerged from your mother’s womb.”
“I don’t know what to say,” I answered when she spoke no more, and I figured she wanted my reaction to her news. Finally, I settled on gratitude. “Gracias, thank you for watching over me.”
“It has been my pleasure,” she replied. “You have led a quiet life here in the country. You spend the day toiling in your garden, watching over your farm animals, and helping your neighbors when they need you. It has been easy accompanying you through your days and nights.”
“Why are you here though? Why reveal yourself to me today?”
Rosario paused, weighing the pros and cons of how much to tell the middle-aged Natalia Ramirez, her charge for the past thirty-six years. If she were completely honest, she would either cause the woman to have a heart attack, a complete change in attitude and lifestyle, or a loss of her sanity. She opted for a half truth.
“I have been instructed to show myself to you,” she began, “because there will come a time in your own future when you also will serve as a Guardian Spirit for your own descendants.
I have been sent in advance of such a day to prepare you.”
“I’m going to die?” I squawked, my mouth going dry. “¿Cuando? ¿Como? When? How?”
The angelic spirit held up a hand to stop me.
“That I can not share. I do not know the details of how or when you will join me and the many others who came before you.”
“Well, this is just great,” I muttered in sudden desperation, anger coloring my words. Rising from my bed and pacing with consternation, I felt only confusion ruling my thoughts. “You come to deliver bad news, just to make me think about my end coming soon, but not giving me any clue how to stop it, how to avoid it to live longer, how to—“
“I am only allowed to give you consuelo, comfort,” Rosario interrupted, “so that you will know what your future holds. This is good to know, no?”
I stopped pacing and reflected on her words. As a Christian and a true believer in God and the concept of heaven, my guiding dicho was that of “el sol brilla para todos,” meaning we are all equal in the eyes of the Lord. I called upon this proverb when dealing with others, especially those who gave me frustration because I tried to do for them what I wanted done for me. I hoped I still had a long life ahead, but I was prepared for my passing. My conscience was clear, I had no grave sins to confess; in essence, I was ready to die if that was what was coming.
“Yes,” I responded after mulling all this in my mind. “I am comforted by the fact you have confirmed that I will join my Lord when my time comes.”
“Then my coming here tonight was not a mistake.” Rosalia rose and smoothed the silky material of her white gown. She looked up at me with that smile I awoke to, and she faded from my sight. There was no time to protest, to shout NO! She was gone, and I was left to wonder just how long I had…
I didn’t have to wait that long after all. The next month during my routine doctor appointment, the disease was discovered, and it was far enough along that I was gone after six months. When I closed my eyes for the last time, the words of my favorite poet, Emily Dickinson, came into my thoughts, “and then I couldn’t see to see.” My eyes no longer had vision, just as my thoughts no longer wondered.
What I do remember is the Awakening: a soft cloud enveloped me in arms so comforting my worries floated upward and out. I realized I was conscious but no longer in physical form.
I had been a plain middle-aged woman in the life I had left behind, but now I was ethereal like a wisp of fog and could move at will in any direction. Curt instructions came into my thoughts, "Go, perform your duty to whomever calls. Take heart that you will receive and give comfort by your actions." I was still trying to decipher the cryptic paradox when something pulled me, like a cry for help.
In an instant I was there, my eyes filling with tears at what I saw. I recognized my primo Ismael. That’s when I knew I would perform a service of mercy. How I would receive comfort in turn was still to be seen. I had faith that it would come.
When anyone nears the end of his life journey, the last person he sees becomes his Angel of Death. He is witness, or at times participant, to the awful marvel of the departure. In both the witness and in the dying one, the belief in the promise of a better afterlife arises at that moment, if never before, because “the dread of something after death” is less desirable. The compassion and empathy in the witness’s eyes gives the traveler hope and the courage to enter into another realm, which, in the words of Shakespeare, is an “undiscovered country.”
When Ismael approached the dying horse, he didn’t want to look in the creature’s eyes. But he did, and what he saw was the confused despair over its fallen state and a glimmer of hope in the promise of a better afterlife. Ismael felt his soul, his very spirit, was honored by being at the right place and at the right time to be there to bring what comfort he could in the animal’s final moments.
“There, there,” he said to the fallen steed. “You’ll be running in those green pastures, feeling like a potranco, a young colt, before long.” He turned his back for a moment to make sure the pistol was ready, the bullet in the chamber and ready to launch. There was no other choice, no hope for recovery at hand. We all have angels, even God’s creatures, and I had been called to accompany the man in his role as the Angel of Death. Acting as an Angel of Mercy standing watch over his shoulder, I supplied the inner fortitude in my cousin. And he, the unwilling participant in allowing the horse to let this world go, looked into the animal’s eyes one last time and did what he had to. He allowed the creature to embrace the next life in that final moment.
And the man, now sobbing, needed the arms I wrapped around him. The strength and the comfort I radiated into his spirit came back to me tenfold, and I knew I could do this again.