A registered nurse who worked in ICU for years and later went into hospice work has logged fascinating deathbed accounts, including glimpses of hell and Heaven and a vision of Jesus that is among the most compelling we have read in this realm of alleged mystical encounters.
The nurse, Kelley Jankowski, a mother of six who lives in Maryland, kept a journal and took meticulous notes after listening to what those dying were telling her and has recorded them in a splendidly written, vivid, and credible book, An Army in Heaven -- consoling indeed!
There are stories of the simple process of dying. There are the accounts of tremendous heavenly vistas. There are the sobering accounts of hell -- the most detailed we have seen; quite a job of amanuensis.
As in other cases, a number of those at the threshold of death detailed the consoling presence of deceased loved ones. For our discernment. We are always cautious about any such spirits.
But at the least, the immediate fruit was just that: a removal of fear from the dying, and for those looking on, consolation.
For instance: there was a 79-year-old man named James who had a long history of hypertension and diabetes. His kidneys were now damaged from it. As he approached death, Kelley found him lying peacefully in his room and after completing her physical assessment and taking vital signs, she heard him say, "Boy, what are you doin' here?"
"I looked over at James," writes Kelley, "and he was smiling and looking at the foot of the bed.
"'Who are you talking to James?' I asked, since I saw no one sitting at the foot of the bed.
"He looked up at me with a puzzled and impatient look on his face and said, 'What, you blind, woman? I'm talking to Benny right there!'
"He pointed to the foot of the bed.
"'Oh, sorry, Benny, I didn't see you slip in [I said]. Well: you two have a nice visit, and here's your call bell -- you call me if you need anything at all.'"
Once back at the nurses' station, Kelley says she watched as James had a pleasant, animated conversation with "Benny" for an hour and a half. Other nurses likewise watched. "Maybe Benny's dead," suggested one of them.
When Kelley returned to the room, James said, "Benny's done and gone now. It sure was good seeing that boy again, so good. It's been a long time since I've seen him." When, after James himself passed on, Kelley asked the family if there was a "Benny," there was shock. "What?" they all asked, almost in unison.
Benny, it turns out, was a grandchild who had been close to James and was killed four years before in a terrible motorcycle accident.
Such deathbed "visitations" are common fare among nurses who work, as did Kelley, in ICU units, never mind [a Catholic] hospice -- so common that a major nursing website has an entire blog with hundreds and hundreds of such spiritual encounters (not always pleasant ones).
The experiences match many near-death experiences in which people who glimpse the other side frequently report being met -- upon departure from their bodies -- by close relatives. "Dear, it's time for me to go," another told his wife as death closed in. "Mom and dad are here," he said, pointing -- in this case to the left side of the room, near a window. "They're telling me that it's time. I asked them to please let me tell you good-bye, and they said okay."
As death approaches, we learn from these accounts, the veil thins. Perhaps you have similar accounts in your families. Intriguing indeed -- electrical -- was the account of Simon, a tall, large-bellied, 64-year-old economics professor who had been rushed to the emergency room after a severe heart attack.
"It was beyond anything any mortal mind could remotely comprehend, and it was specific only to me," he told the nurse of his afterlife glimpse -- explaining that our abodes in Heaven are each unique and based on our lives on earth, especially compassion and service to others. During his close encounter with death, Simon told Jankowski about (allegedly) meeting Jesus.
"When I turned to look at Him, He had the most spectacular smile," said the dying man. "He was like a father surprising a son on his birthday. He beamed with such incredible happiness, like a father watching a child open a tremendous present. I felt immediately how pleased He was at everything I had done for Him during my life. He placed His arms around me and pulled me close to Him and into my soul I heard Him say, 'I love you.'
"I melted at His embrace and was so overwhelmed with love for Him that my soul rejoiced in complete and utter praise.
"Incredible, spontaneous adoration sprang from my heart, so much so that I could have easily praised and adored Him for eternity," said the economics professor. "It was all so overwhelming and exhilarating that there are simply no words to express what overtook my heart in His embrace and His Presence.
"The love that emanates from Him is simply indescribable and so complete that nothing -- absolutely nothing in my life that I have ever experienced -- comes remotely close to it."
Can such detailed be verified?
Added the man:
"Despite feeling so immensely overwhelmed, I was absolutely and completely happy, for nothing was lacking while I was there. You know, my wife, all my friends, my home, and everything I worked for here in this life? None of it mattered. I was completely at ease in leaving it all behind without even looking back.
"And my [wife] Annie, whom I love more than anyone -- I was completely content to leave her behind because I was finally home, and I was absolutely fulfilled and completely happy... completely happy."
Heaven is our real home. This is related again and again in such episodes.
Meanwhile, the Lord?
He "radiated absolute love, holiness, and absolute and perfect purity. But above all," said the professor, "He exudes such regal majesty that you are compelled to worship, to adore, and to love Him, as He is overwhelming and stunning in His magnificence and beauty.
"He is tall and completely and perfectly masculine and so wonderfully handsome," said Simon. "He had brown hair and the most engaging deep, beautiful eyes. I could have looked at Him and nothing else for all of eternity... But He looks nothing like any artistic rendering I have ever seen on earth, as so many are effeminate looking. He was incredible!" The description goes into much detail. But we get the point.
No hurrying it, but something to look forward to, passage to the eternal, when we are with Jesus.
For in Christ, and with Christ, death indeed loses its sting.
Despite His incredible, ineffable splendor, Jesus looked, the man told Kelley, intriguingly, "like you, like me, like that woman over there, that doctor there. It's really difficult to explain, but looking at you, I see Him. I see Him in everyone, and He's very much a part of everyone because we were created in His image, you see."
As for the title of this compelling book, the most touching, well-written, and informative book we've read in a while, Kelley explains:
"I cared for a little lady who asked me if she could do anything for me. I thought this a sweet request given that she was bed-bound and unable to care for herself. I asked her that when she got to the other side and met God face to Face, to please pray for me. My brother Patrick asked if that was a common request I made of my patients, and it is.
"He commented that if all my patients over the years remembered that request, then surely I had an army in Heaven praying for me."