January 25, 2021

Angels Unaware

Chagall, Three Angels Visit Abraham

By Chaplain Mike

The hospice chaplain walked into the room, finally seeing the patient he had put off visiting all day.

It is not that he had been hesitant. The patient, Mr. Gibbs, was scheduled to be transferred to a bed in the hospice unit, but earlier in the day, he heard that they were still waiting for it to happen. That was around 1pm. Since he knew that moving a patient can be an ordeal and not always conducive to subsequent conversation, he left the hospital for awhile to see some folks at home. When he returned, it was after six.

He went to the hospice unit, certain that the patient would be settled in his new bed by then. But when he arrived, the unit secretary was in a tizzy.

“Have you heard anything about the new patient we’re supposed to get?” she asked him, exasperation in her voice. “He was supposed to be here hours ago, but we haven’t seen him. I talked to the floor when I first came in, and they told me they were transferring him, but I haven’t seen or heard anything since. I’ve got to leave here shortly. Do you know what’s going on?”

He didn’t. But he told her he’d be glad to find out. After getting his paperwork in order, he walked up to the floor and into the patient’s room. A young man was by the bed, putting on his coat. “Oh hi,” he said. “I was just getting ready to leave. I’m Dane, Mr. Gibbs’s son.”

“Hello, Dane, I’m Mike, the chaplain from hospice. You and I have spoken on the phone, haven’t we? I won’t stay long; I see you’re getting ready to go, but if it’s OK, I’d love to talk with you for just a few moments.” The son agreed, sat down by his father, and the chaplain pulled up a chair and sat on the other side of the bed.

Chagall, Abraham Prostrated Himself in Front of Three Angels

Mr. Gibbs was clearly close to death. His breathing was shallow and irregular, his color ashen. His hands were cold to the touch and there was no response when the chaplain spoke his name or put a hand on his shoulder. It was obvious now why they hadn’t moved him downstairs.

“Tell me about your dad,” he asked the son.

And so he heard the story—eighty-two years old, veteran of World War II, married his high school sweetheart when he survived and returned from the Philippines. He worked hard the rest of his life in a car plant on the east side of town. Together they raised a great family, with four kids who all grew up to be fine Christians with good families of their own and decent careers. Salt of the earth. Heart of the heartland. The man who now lay dying had been a quiet hero, a true American success story.

“Hey Dane, I don’t want to keep you. Thanks so much for telling me about your dad and your family. How are you doing with all this?”

The son fought back tears, smiled bravely, and said how he only wanted his father to be at peace.

“Would it be all right if I offered prayer for him?”

“Sure, that would be great.”

And so the chaplain prayed for peace, God’s peace, peace forever.

He gave Dane a hug and took his leave. It wasn’t twenty minutes later when he received the call. The chaplain rushed back up to the room. The son stood by the lifeless body of his father. He stood with him through a few moments of silence, and then there was another hug, another prayer, help with some practical details and a few phone calls. He bid the son a final goodbye.

He stopped by the funeral home a few days later. He found Dane in a corner of the crowded room.

“You know, you were God’s angel the night my dad died,” the son said.

The chaplain asked what he meant.

“Well, before we talked that night I was going to leave,” Dane explained. “I was getting ready to go home when you came to dad’s room. But then you came and I stayed. And I felt like your prayer gave him permission to let go and find peace. It wasn’t ten minutes after you left that I was sitting there, and dad opened his eyes, looked at me, and then took his last breath. If you hadn’t come, I wouldn’t have been with my dad when he passed. He would have died alone. Thank you for being God’s messenger that night.”

It made him think. Could that be why the patient had never been transferred to the hospice unit, why the chaplain had decided not to go see him earlier in the afternoon, and why he had returned at the end of the day to make Mr. Gibbs his last visit? Was there more to this than meets the eye?

He hadn’t planned a second of it. He’d had no idea. It may have been coincidental, but it surely seemed providential.

The Bible tells us to practice hospitality, for we never know when we might entertain angels, unaware of their true identity. Could it be that some of those very angels who accept hospitality might also be unaware of what’s really going on?

Ask the chaplain, he might have a story or two to tell.


  1. We may all be in the son’s shoes someday.

    We will all be in the father’s shoes (bed) someday.

    I thank God for all those who care for the sick and dying and their loved ones.

    Thank you, Chaplain Mike.

    And thanks be to God that He is not content to leave us there, alone. He loves to raise the dead to a new and everlasting life.

  2. Thanks, so much for this story. I sometimes wonder why I’m in a place with people; sometimes I can’t see if I’m helping or making things more complicated; should I stay or should I leave? Guess just showing up is what we need to do; God does the rest.

  3. I think every pastor has probably had a similar experience sometime or another during their time serving the Lord.

    Mine happened when I visited a woman in a coma for about a month before her death. She never responded. She never gave any indication that she aware. But, I would come in for about five to ten minutes and read her some Psalms and tell her each visit in simple terms that God loved her and Jesus wanted her to turn to him.

    Her condition was decaying. Her son had faithfully been visiting, but the time finally came when it was time for him to tell his sisters that they needed to travel to that town and to the hospital for the death watch.

    I went over one time and found them there. So, I excused myself and said that I would return later. They insisted that I stay and do what I had been doing each time that I visited their mother. So, I greeted her, sat down, and began to read one of the Psalms. All of a sudden one of the women told me to look and to take her hand, that it was a miracle. Puzzled, I looked down to see that she had extended her hand to me, still with her eyes closed. I was shocked to say the least.

    So, I took her hand and continued reading the Psalm. At the end, I told her again that God loved her and Jesus wanted her to turn to him. Then I prayed, talked with the family and left. Five minutes later my cell phone rang with the expected news of her death. But, unexpectedly, they told me excitedly that she had suddenly sat up, looked at each one of them, and then flopped back dead. It was a great relief for them and brought them great joy. My private hope is that this means that she will be waiting for me when my turn comes.

    God does love to do the unexpected.

  4. I have experienced times like this as a hospice nurse, and also in my own life. For most of my life, I was a time driven perfectionist, and changes of plan freaked me out….the PLAN had CHANGED…it was the end of the world!!!

    Now, at least most of the time, if I have to take an alternative route, if a meeting is postponed ( or arises suddenly), if a visit doesn’t pan out…..whenever there are changes, large or small….I focus on God’s plans instead. I figure I am where I am needed, even if it was not in my Day-Planner.

    It is still not easy for me, but I focus on the road the Lord puts in front of me….even if it is just a chance to hold the door and give a smile to a man in a wheelchair, or to let a harried Mommy go in front of me at the grocery store. Somehow, I choose to see the hand of the Lord in these tiny, unplanned moments in my day….rather than being annoyed or anxious that my “to-do” list was altered or out of order.

  5. David Cornwell says

    Chaplain Mike, reading your story I realized that it is alive in many facets. Listening to people with an attentive ear is like listening to God, for this is one of the ways God speaks to us. Heading the little nudges of circumstances, and realizing later that in reality it may be God’s providential care. Offering simple prayers that give “permission” to the dying person (I’ve seen this happen within our own family on numerous occasions, and also in other persons). And more (Angels Unaware for one). The facets blend together to form a beautiful whole, the working of God in our midst on the occasion of suffering and death.

    This is true pastoral work.

  6. The last Sunday of November 2009, I got a call from the hospital in Woodland, CA. My mom had been admitted after being found unconscious in her apartment. She had had a stroke sometime Friday evening or Saturday morning, they thought.

    My wife, kids and I had just spent Thanksgiving with her in that same apartment, as we did every year. She already knew her time on Earth was short, as her doctors had given up plans for a quintuple bypass and an operation on an aneurysm in her brain once they’d discovered the liver cancer. After the meal, she had discussed with me some of the ideas she had for her will and her memorial service.

    I drove the 70 miles to Woodland that Sunday and stayed with her for a couple of hours, during which she was totally unresponsive. All I could find in my heart to do was pray for a final peace for her; nothing else was left but that she not linger, suffering like that.

    A few hours after I got home, I got the call that she was gone to Heaven. I’m glad I had those last few moments, that God didn’t leave her in that state long, and (most of all) it won’t be the last time I see her. If I was an angel, I was certainly unaware of it (still am), but I’m thankful for those angels I know were there, including many people she’d worked with (Mom had been a nurse for 40 years before retiring; she probably knew most of the hospital staff). And for other angels like our own CM in other places. Don’t grow weary in the well-doing, dude.

  7. This is precisely what happened the morning my Dad passed away. This time, it was two angels–friends of my parents who showed up just as my Mom was preparing to leave to go to the house for a while. They stayed only about five minutes. After their departure, Mom and I were left standing there in the room with my Dad, who within about two minutes took his last breath.

    Had their sweet friends not stopped by, Mom would have missed that holy moment.

    Angels? Absolutely. They attended the memorial service as well, and have kept up with Mom in the days since.

  8. Pam Burns says

    I call such events as this Godincidences.

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