I never saw an angel before, and I wasn’t certain they even existed outside of the Bible, in a greeting card, or as a gift store tchotchke. And then, one day, I met Oswald.
I prepare the dead for burial. It’s a blessing straight out of the Good Book, and I take my work seriously.
People kid me all the time when they find out I’m a mortician.
“Competition must be stiff.”
“You’re a funeral director? That must be quite the undertaking.”
“What a business. People are dying to get in!”
I chuckle as if I never heard it before; they have their fun, and we move past it.
I’ve been in this business for over forty years, and I look at each day as a Godsend. But, I’ll tell you this, I see things a little differently since Oswald came to greet me on a bright sunny day, the tenth of July, last year.
I was preparing the body of Marian Borowski. Marian was a tiny lady, Caucasian of European descent. Her daughter told me she thought her mother was ninety-eight years old, but she wasn’t really sure. Mrs. Borowski came to the country illegally by using immigration papers bought on the black market in Prague. This was in the early 1930’s – so it’s anyone’s guess as to an accurate date of birth.
The funeral was set for the next day, July 11, 2019. It was Wednesday, and I had two new intakes that morning. My plate was full, and I was getting a little bleary-eyed.
I remember looking at the clock, 10:30 pm. It will be midnight before I’ll get to bed tonight. I thought.
I thought wrong. I would not sleep that night.
Oswald came in silently. I smelled him before I heard or saw him. It was a sweet smell, extremely pleasant, floral – but not too strong.
I took in the fragrance and thought it odd. In my workroom, it’s cold, damp, and eternally permeated with acrid chemical smells. Yet, that night the usual stench was gone, and it got my attention.
I lifted my head and turned to look around me. Nothing unusual in sight. I shrugged it off and continued working. I quickly grew accustomed to the smell, and I was enjoying it.
A few minutes later, I felt a presence. I wasn’t frightened; it wasn’t anything like that. It was welcoming, peaceful, and very present. I looked around again, still no indication that anyone was in the room with Marian Borowski and me.
Mrs. Borowski? I thought. Were the smell and presence coming from her still body? I lowered my head to sniff. Feeling foolish with my head buried in a corpse, I decided what I was experiencing was clearly not coming from her dead body.
I stopped my work and sat down in an old wooden chair in the corner of the room. I closed my eyes and began to pray.
“Dear God, explain what is happening here. What am I feeling? What am I smelling?”
God answered by way of introduction.
With my eyes shut tightly, I heard an other-worldly sound. It wasn’t like a creepy voice-over you’d hear in a sci-fi movie. It wasn’t like any kind of voice at all. It was sounds, not words, and there was a message being communicated to me.
I heard, “osss.” I heard “waaa.” I heard something that sounded hard, like the sound the letter “D” makes.
“Oswald?” I said out loud.
I know the whole thing sounds stupid, But it was the opposite of dumb; it was brilliant. The encounter was pure enlightenment. It was as if I was communicating with a very intelligent visitor from another planet.
I assure you, I am not the UFO type. I am a person of deep faith. That’s who I am. And that’s why I was certain then (and now), God was trying to tell me something, and Oswald was the messenger.
Humans need to make something concrete of even the most ethereal experience. That’s why I gave God’s messenger a name, and pretty soon after, a shape. Oswald came to me as a large unseeable cloud. My imagination drew the form.
I continued to sit on the old chair, not noticing that my back was growing stiff, and the hour was growing later. With open eyes, I marveled at the apparition which had overtaken the room. I heard no more external sounds. Instead, there was a cacophony of conversation, verse, words, and music in my head. Yes! The music was so pleasing it was impossible to control my joy. My body got up from the chair, and I was dancing.
I am a mature man, alive sixty-plus years with a body to match my age. I am not one to make rapturous dance moves. But that night, at Oswald’s urging, I was as graceful as Baryshnikov.
Suddenly, it all vanished. My head was empty; my heart was full. The natural smell returned to the morgue. I was clearly alone once more, with Marian Borowski’s body lying dead on the table.
Exhausted, I sat down on my stool. I picked up the instrument I had last used and got back to work, never letting go of the memory of what had just happened.
What did just happen? And why? And why to me? I think about it all the time, and I have not yet concluded.
But I do know a few things, for certain. It woke me up. It gave me renewed awe for God. It patted me on the back and said, “Good job! Keep doing what you’re doing.”
Oswald is as real to me as is our Lord and Saviour. He is just that mysterious too.
The next day Marian Borowski was laid to rest. It is said that there is a precise moment when the soul of the deceased takes flight to heaven. It’s when the body is returned to the earth, and the last shovel of dirt is placed on the covered casket. Only then will Marian Borowski meet her Maker.
“Praise God!” I whispered to the ascending spirit, knowing that there are no two words that I would rather relay than the glory I feel for God. There at the graveside, with perfect timing, I sent my message and Oswald was ready to deliver it.
This should go without saying, but I’ll state it anyway. This story is a work of pure fiction, built on faith, mixed with hope, and topped off with praise to the Almighty.