The bad news came January 6, 1981.

Until then, Melissa and Chris Deal were by most standards one of the happiest couples anywhere. They were in their early twenties, lived in Nashville, Tennessee, and shared a passion for country music and the outdoors. They were constantly finding new ways to enjoy each other's company, whether by mountain-biking, hiking, or playing tennis together. Attractive and athletic, Melissa and Chris seemed to live a charmed life in which everything went their way.

That was before Chris got sick. At first the couple believed he was only suffering from a severe cold. Then they wondered if perhaps he had contracted mononucleosis. But the doctors chose to run blood tests; and finally, on that cold January day, Chris's condition was diagnosed as acute lymphatic leukemia. At age 28, Chris was suffering with the deadliest form of childhood cancer.

During the next three months, Chris's cancer slipped into remission and he stayed the picture of health. Muscular at six feet two inches and two hundred pounds, Chris looked more like a professional athlete than a man suffering from leukemia. During that time, Chris continued to work and neither he nor Melissa spent much time talking about his illness.

At the end of that period, doctors discovered that Chris's brother was a perfect match for a bone marrow transplant. But before the operation could be scheduled, Chris's remission ended dramatically and he became very ill.

"I'm afraid he's too weak to undergo a transplant," Chris's doctor explained as the couple sat in his office one afternoon. "The cancer has become very aggressive."

The doctor recommended that Chris be admitted to Houston's cancer hospital, M.D. Anderson, for continuous treatment in hopes of forcing the disease into remission. Within a week, Chris and Melissa had taken medical leaves of absence from their jobs and both moved into the Houston hospital. The nurses generously set up a cot for Melissa so that she could stay beside Chris, encouraging him and furnishing him strength during his intensive chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

Living in a cancer ward was very depressing for the Deals, who had previously seen very little of death and dying. The couple talked often about how their lives had become little more than a nightmare in which Chris fought for his life amidst other people like him, people with no real chance of overcoming their cancer. Chris began to spend a great deal of time in prayer, asking God to take care of Melissa no matter what happened to him. He prayed for remission, but also asked God for the strength to accept his death if his time had come to die.

Months passed and doctors began to doubt whether Chris's cancer would ever be in remission again. By Christmas, 1981, Chris weighed only one hundred pounds. His eyes were sunken into his skull, and he had lost nearly all of his strength. He was no longer able to walk and only rarely found the energy needed to sit up in bed. Doctors told Melissa that there was nothing more they could do.

"I don't think he has much longer, Melissa," one doctor said. "I want you to be ready."

Melissa nodded, tears streaming down her cheeks. She felt completely alone and wondered how their happy life together had turned so tragic. She began to fear that Chris would die while she slept, and for that reason she dozed for only an hour or so at a time, waking quickly each time Chris moved or tried to speak.

On January 4, Melissa fell into a deeper sleep than usual and was awakened at 3 a.m. by a nurse.

"Mrs. Deal," the nurse said, her voice urgent, "wake up! Your husband has gone."

Thinking that her husband had died in his sleep, Melissa sat straight up, afraid of what she might see. But Chris's hospital bed was empty.

"He's gone! Where is he, what happened? Where did you take him?" she asked frantically.

"We haven't moved him, ma'am," the nurse said quickly. "He must have gotten up and walked somewhere. We came in to check his vital signs and he was gone."

Melissa shook her head, willing herself to think clearly. "He can't walk. You know that." She was frustrated and her voice rose a level.

Even if her husband had found the strength to get out of bed and shuffle into the hallway, he would have been seen. Chris's room was on the circular eleventh floor of the cancer hospital, and the nurses' station was a round island in the center of the floor. There was no way Chris could have gotten up and walked out of his room without someone spotting him. Especially since each of his arms was attached to intravenous tubing.

The nurse appeared flustered and shaken, and suddenly Melissa jumped to her feet and ran from the room. As she ran toward the elevators, Melissa's eyes caught a slight movement in the eleventhfloor chapel. Heading for the door and peering inside, Melissa was stunned by what she saw.

Inside the chapel, with his back to the door, Chris was sitting casually in one of the pews and talking with a man. He was unfettered by intravenous tubing, and although still very thin, he appeared to be almost healthy.

Melissa was filled with anger. Why had Chris left without saying anything? And who was this man? Melissa knew she had never seen him before, and he wasn't dressed like a doctor. Where had he come from at three in the morning? Melissa stared through the window trying to make sense of what was happening.

After several minutes passed, Melissa walked into the chapel toward her husband. At the same time, the stranger looked down at the floor, almost as if he did not want Melissa to see his face. She noted that he was dressed in a red-checked flannel work shirt, blue jeans, and a brand new pair of lace-up work boots. His white hair was cut short to his head, and his skin was so white it appeared transparent. Melissa turned toward Chris, still keeping one eye on the man across from him.

"Chris?" she said, questioningly. "Are you all right? Where have you been?"

"Melissa, it's OK," Chris said, laughing casually and appearing stronger than he had in months. "I'll be back in the room in a little while."

At that instant, she turned toward the stranger and he looked up at her. Melissa was struck by the brilliance of his clear blue eyes.

Who was he, she wondered. How was he able to make Chris laugh and appear so at ease when only hours earlier he had been barely able to move? Melissa stared at the man, mesmerized by the look in his eyes and searching for an explanation as to his existence.

"What's going on?" she asked, turning back toward her husband.

"Melissa, please, I'll be back in the room soon!" Chris's voice was gentle but adamant. Melissa knew that he wanted her to leave them alone.

Reluctantly, Melissa turned to go, making her way back to the center station where she informed Chris's nurses that he was in the chapel. They were relieved and did not attempt to bring him back to his room.

For thirty minutes, Melissa waited alone in the hospital room until finally Chris joined her. Melissa almost didn't recognize him. With a wide grin on his face and a twinkle in his eyes, Chris appeared to be full of energy as he walked toward her with a strength he hadn't had before. He was obviously happy and at peace with himself.

"OK, I want to know who that man was. Why were you talking to him? What did he say? And how come you're walking so well? What happened?" Melissa fired the questions at her husband in succession and he began laughing.

"Melissa, he was an angel."

His happiness and the way Chris spoke those words left no doubt in Melissa's mind that he believed what he had said was the truth. She was silent a moment, allowing herself to ponder the possibility that the man had indeed been an angel.

"I believe you," she said softly, reaching toward her husband and taking his hand in hers. "Tell me about it."

Chris told her that he had been jerked awake and instantly experienced an overpowering urge to go to the chapel. His tubing had already been removed, something none of the nurses remembered doing when they were asked later. As he moved to climb out of bed and begin walking, he was suddenly able to do so without any of his usual weakness. When he got to the chapel, he quietly moved into a pew and kneeled to pray. He was praying silently when he heard a voice.

"Are you Chris Deal?" the voice asked gently.

"Yes," Chris answered, curiously unafraid of the voice.

At that instant, he turned around and the man was there, dressed in a flannel shirt and jeans. The man sat directly across from Chris, their knees almost touching. For a moment the man said nothing. When he spoke, Chris had the feeling he already knew the man.

"Do you need forgiveness for anything?" the man asked.

Chris hung his head, his eyes welling up with tears. For years he had held bitter and resentful feelings toward a relative he'd known most of his life. He had always known it was wrong to harbor such hatred, but he had never asked for forgiveness. Slowly, Chris looked up and nodded, explaining the situation to the man.

The man told Chris that God had forgiven him. "What else is bothering you?"

"Melissa. My wife," Chris said, the concern showing on his face. "I'm worried about her. What's going to happen to her?"

The man smiled peacefully. "She will be fine."

The man knelt alongside Chris, and for the next twenty minutes the two men prayed together. Finally, the man turned toward Chris and smiled.

"Your prayers have been answered, Chris. You can go now." Chris thanked the man, and although nothing had been said he somehow was certain the man was an angel.

"And then I came back here," Chris said cheerfully.

Suddenly Melissa leapt to her feet. "I have to find him," she said as she left the room.

Melissa believed Chris's story but she was overwhelmed with the need to talk to the man herself. She ran back to the chapel but the man was gone. Next, she checked the guards who were at their post at each elevator. She described the man Chris had talked with.

"A man in a flannel shirt and jeans," the guard repeated curiously. "No, haven't seen anyone like that."

Melissa hurried into the elevator and traveled to the first floor. The guards at the hospital's main entrance had also not seen anyone who fit the man's description.

"But that's impossible," Melissa insisted. "I know he had to have gone through these doors less than fifteen minutes ago. He couldn't have just disappeared."

"Sorry, ma'am," the guard said. "I haven't seen anyone like that all night."

Feeling defeated, Melissa returned to Chris's hospital room where he was sitting, his arms crossed in front of him, with a knowing look on his face.

"Didn't find him, right?" Chris said, grinning.

"Where did he go? I really want to talk to him." Melissa was frustrated, baffled by the man's sudden disappearance.

"I guess he went to wherever he came from, honey. He did what he came to do and he left."

Slowly, Melissa nodded as if she understood. She still wished she had been able to find the man, but apparently Chris was right. The man had completely disappeared, perhaps to return to wherever he had come from.

The next day when Chris awoke, even more energetic than he had been the night before, both Melissa and Chris thought he was miraculously in remission. He was happy and content and spent much of the day visiting the other patients on the floor and offering them encouragement by praying with them or merely listening to them. Many physical manifestations of his illness seemed to have lessened or disappeared as mysteriously as the man who had visited him.

Then, two days later Melissa awoke to find Chris staring at her strangely.

Suddenly nervous, Melissa sat up in bed. "What?" she asked.

"I dreamed about Bill last night," Chris said, clearly confused by the dream. "You told me to tell you if I ever dreamed about Bill."

Bill, Chris's best friend, had died in a car accident the year before. For reasons that were unclear to her, Melissa believed that if Chris ever dreamed about Bill, it meant Chris's death was imminent. She hadn't told Chris these thoughts but had asked him to tell her if he ever dreamed about Bill.

Now Melissa was confused. Chris couldn't be near death. He looked vibrant and strong. And if his prayers had been answered, as the flannel-shirted man had told him, then he must have been on his way to recovery. Something wasn't making sense.

"What about the angel?" she asked Chris, her voice filled with anxiety.

Chris shrugged. "I don't know. You just asked me to tell you if I ever dreamed about Bill." Something in Chris's face told Melissa he knew why she had considered the dream significant.

That afternoon, Chris suffered a pulmonary hemorrhage. He began bleeding from his mouth and nose, and immediately there were dozens of doctors and medical experts swarming around, desperately trying to save his life. Melissa moved to a place behind Chris's head and placed her hands on his shoulders.

"Come on, Chris," she shouted frantically. "Stay with me!" At that moment one of the doctors asked her to step aside so they could work on him.

Melissa backed up slowly and found a spot in the room against the wall where she sank down to the floor and buried her head in her hands.

While the doctors hurried about Chris, shouting "Code Blue" and trying to save his life, she began to pray. Almost instantly, she felt a peace wash over her and realized that this was part of God's plan. Chris had prayed that she would be all right, and at that instant she knew she would be, no matter what happened.

That afternoon, minutes before he was pronounced dead, exactly one year after being diagnosed with cancer, Chris called out Melissa's name.

"It's OK, honey," she whispered, her tear-covered face gazing upward. "It's OK."

Now, more than ten years later, Melissa believes that Chris's prayers had indeed been answered that night when he was visited by the man she believes was an angel. Since his time on earth was running short, he had been given the gift of peace, of accepting his fate and not fighting it in fear. Also, he had been released from the bondage of bitterness and hatred and graced with the gift of God's forgiveness. That fact was evident in the happiness and contentment of his final days. And finally, Melissa had survived Chris's death and came out stronger for the ordeal--another answer to Chris's prayer.

Although there are people who might try to explain or argue about the identity of Chris's visitor that night, Melissa saw him, looked him in the eyes and watched the transformation his visit made in Chris's life. As far as she's concerned, there will never be any explanation other than the one Chris gave her that same night: "Melissa, he was an angel."

 

From: ANGELS, MIRACLES AND ANSWERED PRAYERS. (There’s an angel on your shoulder: Angel encounters in everyday life) Vol 1. Kelsey Tyler. Angel encounters in everyday life and everyday lives touched by miracles. Pag. 29-37, Guideposts. New York 1994.

 

 

Index