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A Woman Singing ‘Amazing Grace’ Comforted Her

The words to “Amazing Grace” gave her heaven-sent comfort when she needed it the most.

Illustration by Amalia Restrepo

Somewhere on the hospital ward, a woman was singing, her voice loud enough to disrupt my thoughts. My focus was on my husband, Bill, lying in the bed in front of me. He needed all the prayer and attention I could give him, even in the middle of the night.

The painkillers the doctor had prescribed were helping him sleep, but the medication to treat the shingles infecting his eye had brought on frightening side effects. He’d been in the hospital for nearly a week, and he wasn’t getting any better. He’d taken leave from his job as a manufacturing engineer, couldn’t drive, couldn’t trust his balance, felt constant pain. It was awful seeing him like this. Bill was only 62, vital, energetic. An avid hiker and mountain climber. I wished there was more I could do for him, some comfort I could give him. I felt hopeless, alone. Lost on a journey I couldn’t see an end to. I was praying constantly, but God felt unreachable.

Only a couple months before, Bill and I had celebrated our fortieth wedding anniversary, vacationing in beautiful Banff, Canada. We’d planned to go backpacking, but changed our minds when Bill complained of headaches. The pain grew excruciating on the drive home. It was weeks before doctors diagnosed the cause as shingles. It seemed my husband couldn’t catch a break. Ten years earlier Bill had been diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, a cancer that was essentially untreatable. Periodic chemotherapy had allowed him to maintain an active lifestyle, but his immune system was vulnerable. It felt like we were walking a trail along a precipice, just one false step away from calamity.

“Stay strong,” I whispered to him now. “We’ll get through this together.” I doubted he could hear me, but no matter. At the moment it was me who needed reassurance.

The woman. She was still singing. The words to “Amazing Grace” filtered through the air. “I once was lost and now I’m found…” Did she not realize how her voice was carrying?

I trained my thoughts back on Bill. We’d spent the majority of my 59 years together and had faced other challenges in our marriage. The first 20 years, actually, had been difficult. We bickered constantly, and not over anything important. Still, the arguments were heated. Both of us were stubborn, strong-willed. We were each so intent on making our own points that we didn’t have the patience to listen, had no interest in compromise. Bill would leave the house in a fury and go hiking, his way of cooling off. Which only made me more upset and resentful. I wanted to keep fighting. A few marriage counseling sessions got us nowhere.

Finally, we committed to spending 12 weeks in a couples communication class. We learned how to listen to each other, to repeat back what we heard the other one saying, to validate one another’s feelings. We followed the facilitator’s advice to plan weekly activities together. Often, we went hiking, away from everything, deep in the forest, huffing and puffing up steep switchbacks until at last we reached a majestic peak. Alone together, urging each other along on our journeys, it was like I was meeting Bill for the first time, falling in love with him all over again. A love we’d nurtured these last 20 years. With Bill in a weakened state, I had to remain strong, to honor that love for the both of us.

There was no ignoring the woman’s singing anymore. It had gotten louder, more soulful. I went out to the wing of rooms that circled the nurses’ station and followed the sound. I stopped when I found the source a few rooms down from Bill’s.

I peeked inside the doorway. The room was darkened. An older woman in a bright blue dress sang to her loved one in the bed, her voice comforting, soothing. “Precious Lord, lead me on…” I listened to one gospel hymn after another. I didn’t make eye contact with the woman. Her gaze never left the patient she watched over. But her beautiful words enveloped me, held me in a safe embrace. I knew the woman in blue wasn’t singing to me, and yet I couldn’t help but feel that I’d been meant to hear her. No one was looking out from the other rooms. Even the nurses didn’t look up. The moment was personal, private even.

I didn’t want to intrude. I tiptoed back to Bill’s room, lifted up by the words of those hymns. I didn’t know what the future held. I only knew that Bill and I were in God’s hands.

The next morning, I went back to the room where I’d seen the woman in blue. I wanted her to know what peace she’d given me. But the room was empty. The moment we’d shared felt even more divine. As if I’d been blessed by an angel.

When Bill awoke, he was a new man. The pain that had plagued him receded. His sense of balance was restored. He was discharged in the afternoon, and we went home. Within days Bill was talking about going back to work.

But it wasn’t to last. Weeks later the pain returned, as bad as ever. One night, Bill tossed and turned, unable to sleep. “I feel like I’m going to explode,” he said. “I don’t know if I can make it through the night.”

My mind raced, wanting somehow to soothe him. Then in my mind I saw the image of the woman singing, her voice filling the sterile hospital halls. I took Bill in my arms. “Jesus, lover of my soul…” I sang softly. Bill nestled against me. Moments later he was breathing evenly, asleep. For a second time, it seemed, the angel in blue had found a way to comfort us both.

Not long after that, Bill had a stroke. His health rapidly worsened. And yet the last days we spent together were some of the most meaningful, most beautiful moments of our entire marriage. We freely shared our love for each other in an outpouring of emotion. Every minute to be treasured. I grieved that I was losing Bill, but I wouldn’t have traded that time together for anything. The peace I discovered upon my encounter with the captivating woman in blue never left me.

Bill and I had promised to love each other in sickness and health, acknowledging that there would be challenges along the way. How little did we know. And yet we were better for the struggle. It seemed a bit like a strenuous hike. How difficult it felt. Punishing, even. And then we would reach the summit with its glorious view, and I understood that the reward was in the journey.

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