The Angel in My Hospital Room

My kids’ teacher sent home a notice that they need to create a Nativity scene by December 5. It’s to be entirely homemade and a “family” project. I begged the rest of the family to let me make the angels. I love angels: angel figurines, angel tree toppers, stories about angels, anything angels.

Are angels real? Some people say they’ve seen angels. Some claim they’ve even taken pictures of angels. My “angelic” experience was different.

Thirteen years ago almost to the day, my life was literally in others’ hands. I was very young, very ill, and very unaware. At the same time, my grandmother in Iowa was also in others’ hands. She was very old, very ill, and also very unaware. We seemed to be on a parallel journey. As I teetered on the edge of life from a deadly E. coli and bone infection, my grandmother teetered on the edge of life after a decade of dementia. Suddenly, she worsened by the day, and so did I. From my mother’s perspective, her daughter and her mother were both edging toward death at the same time, with only days remaining.

And then Grandma Carmen died. After so many years of lying in a bed completely dependent on others and not obviously aware of her surroundings, her eyes opened wide. She looked at my grandpa, my mom, and my uncle, meeting their eyes in turn. And then she passed.

In the same hour of Grandma’s death, in the middle of the night, my now husband (we had just gotten engaged) discussed with the doctor on call to put me into intensive care, at that point they didn’t really know what was wrong or what else to do. There, a new infectious disease doctor took the case. I stabilized and, finally, with a clear diagnosis and new medications, began to improve.

According to a survey by the Pew Forum, 68 percent of you will get chills from this story. Was it a coincidence? Or in true angelic form, did Grandma die to save my life? Are you open to the possibility that there’s some force working in your life?

Whether you believe in them or not, angels sure are prolific. They sit atop Christmas trees, shimmer in stained-glass church windows, and make appearances in plays, books, and movies. CBS News reporter Tracy Smith asked Colleen Hughes, editor of Guideposts magazine, a bimonthly publication devoted to angels,  “Why is it the majority of Americans believe in angels?”

“Because too much stuff happens to us that we can’t explain,” said Hughes. “There are coincidences that we’re willing to chalk up to coincidence, and there’s too much that we aren’t, because we have this feeling that it was something else.”

Now we’re talking! If you’ve ever taken the Myers-Briggs personality test, you might relate to this concept of intuition. I am an INTJ. Very strong N (intuition) and very strong J (judgment). I trust my gut, and it’s always right, despite how often I actively try to persuade it otherwise with my T (thinking) tendencies. There is a time for I, and there is a time for T.

Angels are also culturally or religiously “neutral.” That’s another reason I like them. According to Ines Powell at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan, angels exist in many cultures. “There are angels in Judaism and Islam, and winged figures in Buddhism and Hinduism.” One angel image in the Met came from a ninth-century palace in what is now Iraq.

The very word angel comes from the Greek word for messenger. Artists often depict Eros, the Greek god of love, as an angel. “Eros is also a little person who moves from heaven to earth, who kind of brings down to earth his mother’s wishes,” Powell said. “So this little figure is sometimes very good, brings love between people.”

But I have to say, (look out, here comes the T!) who cares about my E. coli infection? Where are angels when a child is beaten, abused, or otherwise mistreated? Where are angels for the 100,000 people dying of starvation in Somalia, while America continues to top the charts in obesity rates?

Why angels and not some other mystical figures? What about fairies? Gnomes? The Tooth Fairy? Santa? All make believe, of course. But we’re not so sure about angels—or demons, for that matter (after all, something good can’t exist without its opposite).

Robert Lawrence Kuhn from Science and Religion Today spoke with law professor Walter Sinnott-Armstong. According to Sinnott-Armstrong, naturalists reject the idea that angels and demons are real, citing personal illusion, mass delusion, and “cultural viruses”(or memes) as underlying causes.

Among his physical, psychological, and cultural explanations for why a false belief in angels and demons would arise in so many disparate human cultures, Sinnott-Armstrong blames people’s proclivity to use demons as scapegoats. Psychologists may say that because people do not want to believe that evil is perpetrated by themselves, their family, and their friends, they conjure up (fictitious) demons that (supposedly) lead humans astray. With demons as causative agents in the world, people can feel better about themselves.

“As I see it,” said Kuhn, “A starting fact is that, yes indeed, most human beings believe in angels and demons. Across diverse cultures, nonphysical beings, in great numbers and variety, fly freely in collective myth and individual imaginations. How to explain such robust, broad-based belief? It depends on your worldview.”

Well, I don’t claim to understand anyone else’s worldview. I just know my own. Was there some guardian angel force at work the night my Grandma Carmen died? Did she give her life for mine? I don’t know the answer for a fact. But it was an immediate, sure, sustained feeling I still can’t explain. So I’m going to stick with it.


Smith, Tracy. “Do Angels Exists?” CBS Sunday Morning (Feb. 11, 2009).

Kuhn, Robert Lawrence. “Do Angels and Demons Exists?” Science and Religion Today (April 8, 2010).