It was Friday afternoon, and my pager went off. My hospice team nurse was notifying me of a new admit, Jean, who was actively dying and whose family was requesting a visit. I turned my car around to head to a nursing home in Edina.
I walked in the door, and I was greeted by Sue, the charge nurse, who shared with me that Jean’s son, Rick, was present and would not leave her bedside. “Their relationship seems a bit odd,” Sue said.
I knocked on the door and then slowly opened it. Rick waved to me to come in. Jean, lying in bed, had labored breathing and was nonresponsive. I noticed the afternoon sun streaming through the cracks of the shades that were slightly ajar.
“I am the hospice chaplain, Catherine. I am here to be of support. You must be her son Rick,” I said.
In a quiet voice Rick said, “Yes, I am her son, Rick. Can you share a few prayers with my mother? She’s Christian, and this would be comforting for her.”
“Yes, of course. How are you doing?” I asked.
“I’m okay.” Rick looked intently at his mother and gave off energy that told me he did not want to have a conversation. I asked him if there were any other family members and if there were any particular prayers that she liked. He shook his head no. “I am her only child. Whatever you share will be fine,” he said looking at his mother.
I pulled out my prayer book and picked a few of my favorites. I started to read the prayer, “Be with Me God.” As I started reading, Jean started growling, a blood-curdling growl. Then a hissing noise came out of her mouth. I felt a pang of fear run down my spine.
I looked at Rick, and he did not make eye contact. He also did not look fazed by this disturbing behavior.
I finished the prayer and shared another. Jean continued growling. I paused for a moment. In my mind I said a prayer to God for protection. I asked that love and light surround me. My fear dissipated, as I knew that I had protection and support.
I read a last prayer, and Rick nodded. “Thank you” he said. “Maybe you could come again tomorrow if she is still with us?”
“Yes” I said, trying to hide my hesitancy. “Our hospice team is here to support you and your mother. Is there anything I can do for you?”
“No. Thank you,” Rick said, still making little eye contact.
I turned my back to walk to the corner of the room to write a note in the hospice book. As I started walking to the dresser, I felt a sharp pain hit my neck, like something had tried to stab me. I quickly touched my neck and kept walking to the dresser. I signed the hospice book, offered words of support to Rick, and, gave Jean and Rick a final blessing.
Outside the room, I gasped and then sighed. I took another deep breath in. What had just happened in that room? What was that hissing and growling?
A knowing came to me: Jean was possessed. Some kind of dark spirit had just tried to attack me, and then it dropped away.
In my many years as a chaplain, I’d experienced a patient growling on her deathbed only one time before. The patient’s daughter had told me that her mother had dark spirits with her.
I mentioned Jean’s noises to Sue. She didn’t seem interested, or perhaps she didn’t fully comprehend what I was saying. But then, she was having a busy afternoon, and I did not seem to have her full attention. Plus, I had read in several books that dark spirits often show themselves only to ministers or spiritual leaders. So maybe the dark spirit hadn’t made itself known to Sue, as it had with me. Or maybe hissing and growling were just a couple more things in the long list of strange patient behaviors that Sue had seen in her career as a nurse.
Sitting in my car afterward, I noticed that my neck was still sore. Later that afternoon, I had an appointment with a medical intuitive and shaman, Michael Isaacson, whom I’d seen for years. I told him what happened, and Michael confirmed exactly what I thought.
“She was possessed with a dark spirit. It tried to attack you but could not, and it dropped off. Your neck may be sore for a few days, but you’re okay. The negative spirit couldn’t penetrate you because your light is too bright. You have a lot of support all around you that is protecting you,” he said.
Jean died that night. I was relieved to know both that she was no longer suffering and that I did not have to go back in that room. I prayed that she could find peace.
This experience with Jean was a lesson for me in the power of love. Love had not only calmed the fear I felt in Jean’s room, but it also had protected me from physical harm when the dark spirit had lashed out at me. Love and light overshadow darkness.
For me, love is grounded in my faith in God. My daily prayers include asking God to pour love and light through me and to protect and guide me. I feel a peace and warmth move through me when I say this prayer. I know that God is with me.
Love is the antidote to fear. It is the ultimate healer and protector. When we open to and embody love and light, there is no room for fear.