The idea of an angel of death is millennia old. There are references to an angel who delivers the wrath of God in the Bible, Quran, and other religious texts. Over the centuries, the angel of death evolved from a sometimes unseen supernatural force that decimated cities and armies with fire and brimstone from the sky, to a very personal and one-on-one encounter between a black-cloaked skeleton carrying a large scythe and hourglass, and an unlucky person who is about to lose their life.
It was in the 15th century that the Grim Reaper took on the dark, hooded robe persona. The image evolved from the traditional garb of pallbearers at funerals—the dark robe with a bowed head. Artists took the image to a more horrific level by making the person under the robe either a rotting corpse or skeleton.
Soldiers in the battlefield, the elderly in nursing homes, sick people in hospitals, and people from all walks of life have reported seeing a dark, shadowy figure near the scene of death. Beating the death angel is not just the ambition of Dr. Frankenstein; ordinary people have fought to overcome the inevitable that is waiting for us all.
This week, Sharon Moritz of Chicago, Illinois reported an encounter she had back in 1966.
In 1966, my daughter was only about six months old, and my husband and I were living with his parents at the time. On one particular morning, he had left for work and I decided to lie on the couch until my baby woke up. I left the door to the upstairs open, as well as our bedroom door, so I could hear her when she awoke. I soon fell asleep on the couch.
Shortly after I fell asleep, something woke me. As I opened my eyes and looked up, I saw what appeared to be someone wearing a black, hooded robe going toward the stairs. I was frozen with horror. I watched the figure turn and go upstairs. At this point I was freaking out—my baby is up there. I got up and started running toward the stairs, and I yelled for my mother-in-law to help. My mother-in-law was sleeping in the room off of the dining room, and she jumped out of bed to find out what I was yelling about. When I got upstairs and went into the nursery, my baby was lying there limp with her eyes rolling in the back of her head. I grabbed her and ran downstairs. She was lifeless. We put 7UP soda in her bottle and forced it into her and left for the hospital.
By the time we reached the doctor, she was okay. No one could explain what had happened. When they looked at her at the hospital, they thought we were nuts. She was laughing and having a great time getting all of the attention. Had I beaten the angel of death? Or was my daughter in trouble and that spirit was warning me? Whatever it was, thank God I still have my daughter.
The Grim Reaper gets a bad rap. Simply by the nature of his job he is perceived as dark and evil. The reality is, though many times death seems unfair, it is neither good nor evil—it’s simply a fact of life, like the sun. To many, the sun isn’t evil; it provides warmth, light, and gives our plants/food source a chance to grow. But, if you were starving because of a drought, or stuck in a desert with no water, the sun is definitely not your friend. Perspective is everything.
Almost every culture has a deliverer of death, but in some cases the Grim Reaper is present to convince the dying to hold on, or to warn the living that a loved one needs help and it isn’t their time. Sharon’s situation reminds me of another case I read about where a New York man saw a robed skeleton standing next to him as he sat on the couch. The skeleton told the man that his wife had just taken an overdose, and then he vanished through the wall. The man went to the bathroom to find his wife unconscious on the floor. He brought her to the hospital where she made a full recovery.
Death is very difficult for many of us to cope with. The angel of death, or Grim Reaper, allows us to embody the concept into a tangible creature—a creature that can help a person if it isn’t their time, or maybe even be beaten at his own game.