It was surreal when my mother told me about the ‘angels’ frequenting her new nursing home. She had been a die-hard atheist all her life and, even as I don’t mind believers, seeing such a drastic change in personality shattered the last of my illusions about her condition.
I visited the nursing home once a week, every Tuesday night as long as I got out of work early enough. But in her room, with my mother sitting in her armchair and looking at me with glassy eyes, I felt uncomfortable. Visiting became a chore, a responsibility, a duty to pay back all that she had done for me.
For the first weeks in the new home she still recognized me, but her condition worsened quickly. First she confused my name with that of old friends and colleagues of hers, then she stopped using names altogether. Like strangers at a party we talked about the weather, clothing, and items in the room. The staff told me she read the news every morning – but in our conversations she never knew about the events of the day. If anything, her memory slowly seemed to recede, as if the later parts of her life were slowly deleted out of her mind.
The only consistent things were the angels. My mother always said how grateful she was for their visits. She liked their white clothing and their bright smiles. She said they always took the pain away.
At first I thought the nightly visitors were staff members – but when I challenged the staff on why they were waking my mother up during the night they said they would never do such a thing. Hallucinations or illusions – that seemed to be the only option.
When I overheard my mother’s room neighbor talking about angels I still didn’t get nervous or worried. I thought it might be a myth, a story going around the nursing home and repeated so often that it stuck with even those patients that didn’t seem to remember whether or not they had eaten lunch.
A few months ago, while entering my mother’s room, I heard her speaking to a nurse about the angels. She said that they were coming every night, massaged her, and helped her fall asleep.
I took the nurse aside and asked her about the ‘angels.’ The nurse seemed as clueless as me, but she said that my mother wasn’t the only patient talking about angels. Most of the patients in the dementia wing of the nursing home had begun talking about the angels. The nurse said that the night guards were advised to regularly patrol the corridor and that they had watched nightly security tape recordings – but nobody entered or left the corridor.
The nurse tried to convince me that it was all just a matter of imagination. She said not to believe in those things and that the stories about angels would end as quickly as they had begun.
I believed the nurse. I felt uneasy, but the staff members seemed competent and were obviously doing their best to make sure that their patients were safe. In any case, all the patients were clearly saying only positive things about the angels – they helped to fall asleep, they took pain away, and they made the patients feel lighter and sleep better.
Whenever my mother talked about the angels I just ignored it. I shook it off; just like I shook off that she obviously didn’t know who I was or that our conversations were repetitive and exhausting. There are things you want to do for your parents, but the last I wanted to do was to try to re-convert her to atheism just because it made me feel more comfortable to see her as she had always been.
The dreams of angels were clearly good for her and helped her feel at ease in the unfamiliar surroundings.
Then my mother began to talk of death. I had many conversations with her about death, but none where she explicitly claimed to know who in the home would die next. She even named the dates. She said the angels told her about it.
Three patients died that week, and for each my mother predicted the correct day. An older man walked out of the home, stayed too long in the cold, and died from a lung infection on Thursday night. Saturday night two older women died from heart failure.
The next week my mother predicted another death for the night. I told the nurses about it and they said they were sure that the patient was stable. Still they promised to observe him closely.
The next day the nurses gave me a call. They said I had to come in, it was urgent.
A nurse of the night shift had found the patient at 3am, dead, with his shirt ripped apart and his mouth wide open.
They asked me how I had known. I told them that it wasn’t me; that my mother had told me about it.
The doctor said that maybe my mother was just a very receptive person. He said that she must have picked up on signals of heart failure that the nurses hadn’t noticed during the day.
Right after the conversation with the doctor I went out to buy a camera. I charged the batteries and at night placed it on a shelf in my mother’s room and turned it on. I felt guilty for it – as if I was betraying my mother’s trust – but I also felt I needed to make sure that she was alright.
In the morning I drove by to pick the camera up. My mother said that the angels had told her another patient would die, but they hadn’t told her – or maybe she didn’t remember – who it would be.
I watched the recording at work. I saw parts of my mother’s body that I never wanted to see, saw her go to bed; saw the nurse check on her and the light go off. At about 2:30am there was a sudden flash of light, then movement in the bed. My mother got up, walked towards the camera and turned it off.
That night I went back to the nursing home. This time I hid the camera under a stack of clothes while my mother was in the bathroom. I hugged her goodbye. She looked sad when I left, but didn’t say a word.
In the morning the nursing home called me. They said they had found my mother dead. They said it looked like a heart attack.
They didn’t allow me to see the body.
“It’s a medical thing,” said the nurse. “And believe me, you really don’t want to. Remember her as you last saw her.”
I felt a strange sensation in my chest when I went to her room. The white bed sheets were pushed to the side of the mattress and many of her items on the bedside tables were pushed over. The camera was still in place.
I remember every detail of that film.
I watched how my mother went to bed for the last time. I watched how the nurse checked on her; how my mother fell asleep.
Then, at around 2:30am the camera recorded a flash of light. My mother sat up in her bed. The window opened and two young men in white climbed into the room. My mother welcomed them.
They placed something in my mother’s hand. She placed the small object in her own mouth and seemed to swallow it; then she lay back on her bed while the men placed an object around her arm.
A tube from the object on her arm led to a long, thin object. The object filled with dark liquid. My mother smiled at the men.
The men packed the long object in a white bag; then they also pulled the first object off my mother’s arm. My mother stroked her own arm.
“That’s all, right?” She whispered.
“That’s all,” replied one of the men. “Here is your reward.”
They placed another object in her hand.
“It will look natural?” My mother asked.
One of the men nodded.
“Thank you,” my mother whispered.
The two men climbed back out of the window.
For a few minutes my mother lay on the bed with her eyes to the ceiling; then she placed the object in her mouth. She smiled, then swallowed.
Her body convulsed; her arms slapped against the mattress; her mouth opened wide. A sound of bones cracking; then her movement stopped.
Her body sank slowly back onto the blanket. Her mouth stayed wide open.
I went to the police the same day. I handed them the tape and my testimony. They called the director and staff in for an interrogation.
I expected them to call me too. When they hadn’t called me at all three days later I went to the station again. One of the officers led me to a separate room.
“Look,” he said. “Your testimony is not enough.”
“I gave you the tape.”
“What tape?” asked the officer.
We discussed for more than thirty minutes; I demanded to speak to his superior, who also claimed there was no tape. I demanded to speak to the next superior who claimed not to know anything about the case and that his officers would never lie.
I copied the tape of the first night as evidence that I wasn’t lying, that it was all true what I said.
Now, instead, they claim that I handed a tape in when I filed my report. They claim that I’m crazy and that the tape I handed in shows nothing but my mother sleeping, then getting up and turning the camera off.
By now I’ve been banned from the grounds of the nursing home. I could go to prison if I go back. But the last time when I was there; when I shouted at the director about a conspiracy and ‘angels,’ a lot of patient faces turned to me. And they all smiled.
This is my story, originally I published it on Reddit.