The following was first published in Segullah. It has been republished here with permission.
Cover image: “The Messenger” by Annie Henrie Nader.
I put the last of my grocery cart items on the conveyor belt and nudged my cart forward. As the cashier scanned my stack of necessities, I watched the bagger swiftly fill bags and then my cart, and out of the corner of my eye, I could see another shopper had joined the line. She began unloading her cart, and without thinking, I turned for a better look. I recognized the woman immediately as a friend of my Mother’s.
I didn’t know her well. Growing up in a predominantly Mormon neighborhood, there were just a handful of families that were not LDS. Hers was one of them. But my mother had a way of making those families some of her closest friends. I remembered how much my Mom cared about this woman. I remembered going with my Mom once or twice to take dinner to her when she was not well. I remembered my Mom reminding us to be kind to her children.
Should I say hello? The thought dangled in my mind.
She’ll never remember me. Or recognize me… It’s been over twenty years since we’ve seen each other.
The cashier announced the total of my purchase, so I inserted my card for payment and tried to dismiss the idea.
But the idea didn’t leave.
Maybe I should say something.
And then I felt it. A touch on my shoulder. My right shoulder. As if my mother were standing next to me, her hand gently brushing against my clothing.
Then I heard her voice. There was no mistaking it.
“You need to say hello to her,” she said. “You need to tell her that I love her.”
The cashier handed me my receipt and I hesitated, knowing it was now or never.
Reluctantly, I turned back to the woman behind me and spoke her name. Before I could make my excuse that she would never remember me, her hand was on my arm and she was saying my own name.
“Catherine. I was so sorry to hear about your Mom. It was so sad.” There was genuine sorrow in her eyes and in her words.
“Thank you,” I said. “We really miss her.”
“She was a great lady. She never judged me. There was never any judgement. No judgement at all.”
“I know,” I said. “She was good at that. I actually wondered if I should say something to you and when I hesitated, it was like she tapped me on the shoulder and told me to say hello, because she wanted me to tell you how much she loves you.”
Her face softened and so did her smile.
“She was kind to me. And you and your brother did more for us than you know.”
There was not time to say much more. I asked about her children. We swapped brief details and then again in the parking lot, we talked for a couple more minutes, about her family, how everyone was doing. It was a happy conversation and the connection was easy, unrestrained, and seemed to fill us both.
We said goodbye and I finished putting my groceries into the back of my car then climbed in and started the ignition. A glowing warmth and gratitude settled around me.
If I could have seen my Mother’s spirit with my very eyes, in all its shimmering essence, I would not have known with more surety that she was sitting next to me in the passenger seat than I did in that moment. So I spoke out loud.
“I did it Mom. I did what you asked me to do. I was your voice.”
And then I cried. And together we made the drive home.
Days later I was telling my friend Kara about the experience. How my mother’s words had felt so similar to the Holy Ghost when He speaks to me. The same kind of knowing and fire and peace. All at once. And yet it wasn’t the Holy Ghost. It was my Mother. She was the messenger.
Kara pulled out her Book of Mormon and reminded me of this verse in 2 Nephi 32. I’ve read it dozens of times. So many times. And never before had it made so much sense. One phrase rang out with perfect clarity.
“Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost.”
Since my Mother passed away, I’d been trying to figure out this new place of communication with her. I was trying to differentiate between her voice and the voice of the Spirit. And now I understood.
By the power of the Holy Ghost, I could discern her voice. Her message. And through the Holy Ghost, she was given means to communicate. This is the pattern angels use. This is how they speak.
They do speak. And when they do, similar to the Holy Ghost, they have a message for us. Instruction, illumination, a truth to confirm, a warning, a witness, and sometimes, simple but matchless comfort.
In this season of angels, when we speak of angelic annunciations and angels filling the skies over shepherd’s fields – this season in which we hang angels on Christmas trees, place their art on our walls, I can no longer think of them as distant floating figures. The word angel has personal, even tangible meaning to me now. They are family. Joseph F. Smith taught us this. Loved ones who care about us. And they are thick around us. Speaking to us, walking next to us, teaching us.
President Ezra Taft Benson said,
“Visitors, seen and unseen, from the world beyond, are often close to us… There is no veil to the Lord.” (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p.35)
No veil to the Lord. How often do we consider His perspective? How he views this mingling of worlds?
I made my scripture study this month about angels. In almost precise verbiage, here are their capabilites.
They can stand by us, come to us, go before us, speak to us in dreams, speak by the word of the Lord, speak by the power of the Holy Ghost, talk with God, talk with us, carry us, tell us not to fear, testify, bear us up, have charge over us, minister to us after great temptation, stay with us through the night.
As I write these words, a new death is fresh in our family. Last night my Dad’s brother, Richard, passed away. Cancer commandeered his body at a tragically rapid rate in recent weeks, and his going was sooner than expected.
Sweet Richard. Always kind. Always gentle. How my Dad loved this comrade from his childhood. His oldest brother.
I wept for my Dad. He has experienced so much loss this year.
But then I thought of those who had likely come to carry Richard home. The Grandmother I adore, the devoted Grandfather I never met, Richard’s daughter Fiona, and my own Mother. Surely she would have been there. And once again, I felt that spark of her feet touching the earth, the sensation of air moving as she passed by.
I didn’t hear her speak, but I knew she was near.