“I am with you always,” Matthew 28:20
This column is about a critically ill woman who is visited by the Lord himself when she dies after a failed organ transplant.
I entered her dark room and found Naomi lying in her hospital bed, her skin an ashen color and a nasal cannula delivering oxygen to her frail body.
I introduced myself as a chaplain from the local archdiocese. Considering her sickly appearance, I was stunned by her quick and, frankly, rather blunt response.
“Ah, yes. Catholic,” she said. “Well, I have been visiting a lot of different churches.”
It was only my second week visiting patients as a pastoral care minister, and, honestly, I was unprepared for her response. I smiled and tried to remain focused. I quickly tried to figure what Naomi might be intending by her dismissive comment. Did she want me out of there, rejecting whatever she might have thought I had to offer?
I reassured myself. As always, I was only visiting patients whose names were on a list, of those who had requested visits from Catholic ministers.
I was a little hesitant to offer prayer at first. I felt called, instead, to just sit quietly, just to “be there.”
I looked at her; she was quiet. I slowly began to understand. Here was someone searching for God, for a relationship that she had not yet been able to find in any church. In a short time, I offered a prayer, and rose toward the door to exit.
Just then, she started talking and stopped me in my tracks. She began telling me her unforgettable, near-death story. Perhaps it was the last opportunity she would have to tell it and perhaps I was the only person whom she thought would understand.
At any rate, she sat up in bed and said, “You know, I died.”
“You died?” I responded.
“Yes,” she nodded slightly, “they gave me a transplant … and it failed … and I died.”
She took a deep breath,
“I died,” Naomi said, “and I saw Jesus. I saw his hands … and His feet, His sandals … and, I heard His voice. He said, ‘It’s not your time.’”
She continued, pretty matter-of-fact now, relating a conversation with God!
“And,” she said, shaking her head, “I told Him, ‘I have been suffering too much.’ And He said, ‘Naomi, it’s not your time.’”
Displeased, she continued, “and … they brought me back.”
How about that! How do you respond to that? I don’t remember what I might have said to her, but hers is a story I have retold many, many times.
I had questions for Naomi, but I could see her energy was running very low. I continued on my way out; she obviously needed her rest.
We read and hear of so many near-death experiences, with people seeing bright lights or the pearly gates or deceased relatives who come to greet them. But not Naomi, here she had JESUS right there with her!
What’s more, she seemed to feel comfortable enough with Him to converse with Him. She disagreed with His plans, and tried to change His mind!
It was the last time I saw Naomi. Sadly, I lost track of her after that encounter. I suspect she may not have lived much longer what with her need for another organ transplant. God may have granted her wish to leave this life, where she had been “suffering too much.”
Her return from death’s door has given me an unforgettable story to share. That is, that God really is there, at every moment of our lives, even to our dying breath.