Throughout history and a wide range of cultures a prominent and pervasive piece of lore is that of some sort of supernatural being lurking on the periphery of death and loss, somehow connected to it. These entities are variously described as being soul collectors, guides into the afterlife, or even portents of doom, and something like this is described across a range of different religions and cultures. Besides the obvious popular concept of the scythe wielding Grim Reaper, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all have their own iterations of these beings, taking many forms and displaying many features. While it might all sound like myth and legend there is a surprising number of people who have seen something very much like this in relation to death, and these cases of real encounters with “Angels of Death” run the range from the unsettling and sinister, to the comforting and benevolent.
While “Angel of Death” might sound scary and ominous, there are a lot of reports that describe these entities as being not something to fear, but rather a benevolent presence that seems to almost be there as a guide through the process of death or a force of comfort. These types of encounters are often made in hospitals and are seen by people on their deathbeds and those around them, the entity itself described as a benign or neutral presence rather than an outright terrifying one. One such report comes from a witness named Joan Reisling, who says that she is a hospice care-giver mostly for people in the last legs of a terminal illness. She says that there was one patient in particular with whom she had formed a sort of bond, often spending time together talking on all manner of things. Then one evening it seems Death came for him. The witness says:
I had become quite close to one patient in particular, and we would often have length discussions about all things spiritual during his lucid moments. Early on the morning of his death, I had come into his room as I’d done for the 4 months he was with us, at sunrise to open the blinds as per his request. The blinds were an opaque white, already allowing the bright morning sun to light the room for normal sight. As I walked over to the window, I saw a distinctly female figure sitting next to him on the bed. I heard the words, “Please leave the blinds closed.” in a low, multilayered voice. Her lips, however, never moved. In the existing room light, her pale, thin face was skeletal on one side, and somewhat normal on the other, except for the darkness of her eyes and her sunken cheekbones.
I just stood there in awe as she placed her spiderlike hand over his heart, and he opened his eyes. Upon seeing me first, he smiled and said “Good Morning, Joan…” Then, he calmly noticed Her, his smile broadened. She bent down to kiss him and pulled her hand down firmly on his chest. Again, he looked over to me and said, “Isn’t She beautiful…how can anyone be afraid of Death.” I felt tears welling up in my eyes and wanted to rush over and take his other hand, but for whatever reason, I was paralyzed where I stood. It was weird. I could actually see the life force draining out of him, coming out of his finger tips into hers. Almost immediately his heart monitor went dead and the alarm sounded. I turned for only a brief second toward the door as others were rushing in. When I turned back, she was gone. Stan, my patient, was finally at peace and all I could do was smile back at his corpse. Ever since that particular incident, the work I do here has become even more important than I had ever dreamed. I keep hoping to “catch” Her/Him again and taste a bit of the sweetness Stan did that morning.
Was this just a hallucination or something more? A similar account comes from witness Donald Brousard, of Pensacola, FL. At the time, his wife of 30 years had had a long and hard battle with cancer, and the disease was winning. On this evening he was by her bedside, sitting in a dim room by her side holding her withered, wasted hand. According to him, by that point she was hardly ever lucid and barely recognized anyone, and he predicted that she had very little time left indeed. Then, something very strange happened, of which he says:
For the passed week, she was unable to readily recognize me and respond to her surroundings due to the intense medication. Suddenly she struggled to sit up in bed, and for the first time in weeks, fully focused her eyes upon something at the foot of the bed. Still holding her hand, I saw it too! An immense darkness that formed into a vaguely humanoid shape right before our eyes. At that moment, the air in the room grew cold and hard to breathe, like all the oxygen had been sucked from the room. My wife turned to me and strained to whisper, ‘He’s come for me, Donny. I want to go now…It’s time to let go.’ I sat there crying, still holding her hand as she stared as if pleading to me. I kissed her, and when I pulled back, the figure was on the other side of the bed holding her other hand in what I could only describe as long, misty tendrils. Then, I saw something even stranger.
As she was fading, a weird illuminated, bluish fog seemed to frame the dark figure and it grew brighter the more she faded away. I kept looking at her, and looking at It, there seemed to be some kind of energy exchange going on. Everytime the figure’s illumination grew brighter, her pain seemed to lessen until her hand went limp in mine and she lay there, eyes open and fixed on the darkness. The glow behind it was gone. I watched the darkness that was once form atomize into a trailing mist that just went back into the shadows of the room. My wife lay dead on the bed, staring and smiling at nothing in particular. She looked happy again- and I knew somehow that she had continued and would always be with me. Death is not to be feared, nor thought of as an unmerciful persona. It is people’s misunderstanding of Death’s role in Life that is misunderstood. Until one has walked mine and my wife’s path, this may be hard to conceive. Death does not steal life away like a ‘thief in the night’, Death relieves us of a flesh worn, torn and weary from the strains of living in a disposable shell.
Similarly, we have an account from an Alexander Breif, from Whitesboro, Texas, whose girlfriend had been suffering from a serious, unspecified illness. One evening he was sleeping beside her, unable to sleep from worrying about her condition, and that was when some mysterious force seems to have come for her. He explains:
The room was dark, but I could still see everything in the room, and out of a corner this dark figure seemed to be floating in thin air. I was worried. about his presence because of my girlfriend’s condition. I yelled out ” go away” But then a whisper said to me, ” I am not here to hurt you nor to hurt her but she has to come with me.” And then my girlfriend woke up and asked, “What’s wrong?” I said, “nothing, just go back to sleep”. After she went to bed I tried to go to sleep but with the figure in the corner it was hard but I eventually did. I woke up the next day and looked at her. She was breathless. She died 2002 July 15.
Some cases of encounters with the angel of death seem to come from people who seem to have quite accidentally just sort of stumbled across one of these entities in the act of collecting a soul, almost as if they have seen something they were not meant to, or were purposefully allowed to be voyeurs to it. One such account comes from a B. Barraco, who says that she had been a nurse at a large hospital in Salem, MA when one of her patients called out to say that she wasn’t feeling well. Things quickly grew in intensity from there, and the witness explains of her bizarre experience:
Slowly, the woman began to lose consciousness and, in fact, started to die! All the time I was doing everything possible to regain her. I had called in several people for help, and soon the room was filled with nurses and doctors. I stood back from her bed by the doorway, giving the doctor a report of what transpired. I saw out of the corner of my eye the other people in the room. But, standing at the foot of (her) bed was someone dressed in black. I really didn’t pay much attention to him because I was concentrating more on the patient. The person dressed in black walked away from her bedside and started to leave the room, and as I was standing in the doorway, I had to move for him to get out. I did so saying, “Oh, excuse me.” I felt a huge breeze as he brushed by me. I turned to the person next to me and asked who that was who just left? This person said, “No one just left.” I gave a description of the person, but they still insisted that nobody just went out of the room. Just at that moment, the patient rapidly regained consciousness. It was at that point I realized who that person was all dressed in black.
It seems very much like this witness just happened to have seen something she was not supposed to, or had been privy to this scene for inscrutable reasons we cannot fathom. Another account in this same vein is from witness Carl DePensio, who believes that he was “a bystander, who, for whatever reason, was allowed to watch Death “take a soul.”” He says he had been living on the 8th floor of an apartment building in New York City, with a window that sits directly opposite from that of a neighbor, a space of 8 feet between the two. One summer evening he claims he was sitting in his room reading when everything around him became unusually still and quiet. He says that the sounds of crickets, birds, and even traffic just suddenly ceased, to send a surreal silence crashing down upon him. It was through this veil of utter silence that one unsettling sound emerged, a sound like a heartbeat, and this is where the bizarre events would unfold, of which he explains:
With my back to the window, I started to hear the sound of a low heart-beat, and then a strong wind rushed down between our two buildings. The sound of the wind was distinctly like huge, flapping wings and the wind grew so strong that it blew in the window and knocked over my lamp. I got up, peered out the window and the air smelled like wet earth and dying flowers. On my neighbor’s window ledge was the most amazing dark shadow, crouching and looking in his window! I watched as it “floated” into my neighbor’s opened window. The heart-beat sound was now pounding in my head to the point of giving me a headache. Inside my neighbor’s room, all I could see was a flash of blue light, very low and subdued…and the sound of the heart-beat stopped. I felt suddenly strange, lightheaded, like all of the oxygen was taken out of the air. I fell back onto the sofa, and again the scented wind whooshed into my window and was gone as quick as it came. The night-sounds started up again immediately! The next thing I heard was my neighbor’s family scrambling and turning on lights, so I yelled out the window if everything was all right. I was informed that their father was dead, so I rushed over to see if I could help in some way. When I arrived in his room, I felt faint again and started to tell his sister some of what I saw and felt. She, too, felt and heard similar things but saw nothing. As time went on and I got to talk to the whole family, no one else heard or saw anything but us. I often wonder why I was privy to this.
A particularly unsettling experience of accidentally observing the taking of a soul allegedly happened to witness Derek Cabriole, of New York City. He says that he takes the subway home every night at around 2 AM, at a time when the train is practically deserted and this evening was no different. According to him the only other passenger on the train at the time was a slouched over man in dirty clothes, who he took to be a homeless derelict looking for a place to stay warm. The witness ignored the man and went to reading his newspaper, but when he looked up he could see that another man was now sitting next to the homeless man, odd considering that had not made a stop and he had not heard the partition between cars open or close. The witness says of what happened thusly:
There was another passenger sitting right next to him…but we hadn’t stopped and no one else had entered the car! He was the most gaunt, pale creature I ever saw. I couldn’t help staring at him, but I don’t think he noticed me just then. His fingernails were blue-black, not painted, more like cyanotic. The whole car began to smell of dying flowers and wet earth. It was weird. He touched the sleeping, homeless man on the shoulder. He was obviously groggy, but he looked the strange man straight in the eyes and broke into a smile and tears at the same time. Then, they both turned and looked straight at me. I thought that I was going to keel over right there.
An incredible cold ran up my spine and I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck standing up. I had to look away almost immediately, as it was somehow extremely painful looking into the stranger’s eyes. They seemed to be drawing me in and my heart was pounding so fast, I felt as if I was going to pass out. Just then, the lights in the car went out (as they frequently do). It was only for a moment or so. When they came back on, the strange man was gone, and the other man was slumped over the side of the seat. I just knew that he was dead. His eyes were staring into space and he had the most peaceful smile. The whole event affected me deeply. I am both apprehensive and assured at the same time. That experience taught me that Azrael is gentle, but harnesses an incredibly awesome energy of some type that both frightens and attracts me at the same time. Sometimes now, I still see his eyes in the darkness.
Another type of Angel of Death encounter seems to portray them as being a sort of harbinger of death, with their presence an omen of what is to come. A commenter on Your Ghost Stories by the user name “Thano7496” tells of how when he was a child in Albania his grandmother was very sick with liver cancer. It had progressed to the point that the family sought surgery for her in the country of Greece, and that the day before the operation his father had a very bizarre experience. It began with a banging sound outside at around 4 AM, followed by the sound of the doorknob ominously turning, its squeaking remarkably loud in the otherwise silent house. The story continues:
My father was staring at the door and was terrified to see the Archangel of Death, standing at the opened door. My father describes him as being tall, thin, and muscular and having a pair of black, feathered wings. He had a hood and had a pale skin, along with black eyes and hair. He held a large scythe in his hand and a large cloak, covering his thin body. He started staring at my father for a few seconds. My father went from being terrified got curious and confused.
My father asked him “What do you want? Why you are here?” However, the angel didn’t respond, just kept staring at my father. Finally, my father got the point of the angel’s visit and asked “Is my mother going to die?”. Death closed his eyes and lowered his head, showing sadness and desperation. He slowly left the room and closed the door, leaving my father alone. The next morning, my father went to the church near our house and told the priest about the vision and the encounter with the angel. The priest got terrified and told my father that the angel is called Azrael and is the Archangel of Death! A few days later, my grandmother took the surgery and it was unsuccessful. She died a few days after the surgery. It terrifies me when I think that I have stood in the same room with Death long ago and that my father actually spoke to him.
Also from Your Ghost Stories is an account from a “Zarza,” in the United Kingdom. One evening his cousin came home in a state of panic, saying that he had seen something out on the road he could not explain. The cousin told them that he had looked into his rearview mirror to see a man standing in the middle of the road, but when he had stopped the car to see who it was the figure was gone. He had then gotten back into his vehicle only to look back and see the stranger standing there again. It was weird, as there were no other cars out and nowhere the man could have been hiding, and this was spooky enough to send the cousin on his way again. The commenter says:
He told his mum that his heart started to race and he pressed on the gas and left as quickly as he could. Now I’m not sure if this was the next day or within the same week, but my cousin’s brother noticed that the neighbour’s dog was howling a lot recently and he joked and said, ‘oh no I hope that isn’t a sign of death coming’ (both brothers had a bit of a dark humour). Again, the mum said please stop joking like this… God forbid. Following these events, the mother woke up one morning and could not stop crying. She lay on her son’s bed (the one who was out on the drive that evening) and she hugged him from the back while crying her heart out. He joked and said, ‘Mum, that’s no way to wake someone up’. She told him that she was getting a bad feeling.
The next day my cousin was out for a drive again. That day, the police came knocking on the door and informed my auntie and uncle that their son had died in a car accident. Till this day our hearts are breaking as it was such a tragic loss. After this heartbreaking event, his mum told us what he had been scared of that day when he saw the figure on the road, and the events that occurred in the same week. I have since wondered what it could have been and if it means anything?
Quite a strange account was given by a Carl McCallum, of Virginia, who claims that there has been a specter of death that has followed his family around for many years and often serves as a portent of death. Typically the entity would show up as a stranger in black sitting among the crowd at the wakes of family deaths, and one occasion the witness had an interaction with the mystery man, which would become an experience he’ll never forget. He says of the incident:
I come from a very large family and have attended the wakes of many relatives. Coming from a traditional Irish-Catholic background, all of our funeral rites are lavish in pomp and circumstance. From the age of 6, my first wake, I can remember the presence of a man who came to the service alone, spoke to no one, but simply sat in the background and “observed”. I remember asking my dad, “Who is that man?”He’d simply say, “What man?” He couldn’t see him. It seemed that my aunt and I were the only ones that could ever see him, and she never wanted to talk about it. He’s been at every wake thus far.
Most of our family wakes were held at a local tavern, and split between there, the funeral home, and our family home. The “mystery man” would sit at the end of the bar, in the shadows, just staring at everyone. I remember thinking how “beautiful” he was when I was younger, with pale, marble-like skin, extremely tall with incredibly dark eyes that seemed to pierce right through your soul. But, his clothes were always “wrong”…out of time, as it were…as he seemed. A couple of times, he raised his glass to me as if to make a toast, then he’d smile…Finally, when I was about 17, I decided it was time to “confront” this mystery man. Oddly enough, it was at the wake of my aunt, the only other person who actually saw him as I did. He was at his usual place at the end of the bar when I walked up to him. I stopped about 5 feet from where he sat, not out of choice, but because my body just locked up as if I suddenly became paralyzed. In the space of that last step, I seemed to have stepped out of time.
The voices in the background faded to a faint whisper and everything sounded like it was coming through a long tube. Without thinking, I blurted out, “Why are you here?” He simply turned toward me and said with a smile, “Very good question, son…very good. Allow me to turn it back on you!” He laughed momentarily and his face became a skull for a split second! The next thing I remember, is my dad tapping me on the shoulder, “Who are you talking to?” he asked, kind of annoyed. I just looked at him and somehow knew that from that day forward I wasn’t the same. I looked into my father’s eyes and literally “saw” his death. Every detail that happened exactly to a tee 7 months after my aunt died. “He” was there at my father’s wake as well. I think that He shall always be “with me”. I’m not, as of yet certain as to why, but I’m learning fast via the new sensations He has gifted me with.
It is a very otherworldly and scary account to be sure, but maybe even stranger and more menacing is a report from witness Rose Marie Cortenga, who believes that Death itself foretold the tragic death of her niece in quite a spectacular fashion. The story is rather chilling and sad, and she explains that it all started with the niece’s “imaginary friend.” The witness says:
For the past several months, my seven year old niece was going on and on about a tall, black shadow that comes to her in the woods behind our house. My family has always been very open and honest about things of a spiritual nature with the children. So, when I asked her to tell me more about the “stranger”, she immediately and nonchalantly referred to her visitor as “the Angel of Dying”. I asked her how she knew this. She told me that “the angel told her so.” She had been trying to tell us about “the angel” for quite a while now. But, as usual, we adults are so caught up in the day to day, that we tend to ignore children’s rambling about “imaginary” friends.
However, her persistence, and reading about other people’s encounters…spurred me to sit down with her and listen. I am more of a mother to her, as her real mom passed away two years ago, so we are very, very close. She sat calmly and told me why the angel “took” her mom away, and why she also had to leave soon. At first, I didn’t understand. Later that day, she came running up to me during dinner, grabbed my hand and literally pulled me from my seat, insisting that her “angel” wanted to meet me.
It was about 8:30 pm as we went out into the yard. She told me to sit on the grass while she went into the woods to “get him”. What I saw next was absolutely incredible! She emerged from the woods in a swirl of leaves, floating about a foot off the ground. She was skipping playfully on thin air and was hand in hand with a figure so dark that it literally had no shadows. I froze for an instant as they came to where I sat. Every hair on my body stood on end. My niece came behind me, putting her hand on my shoulder telling me not to be afraid. She then took my hand and put it into “his”. The next thing I remember, was my husband hovering over me in the yard and a group of paramedic workers attending to my niece about three feet away. She passed away that night from a brain hemorrhage. The whole event changed all of our lives here. She still comes to visit, and my hand still tingles.
Stories like this run across history, and this is only a selection of more modern accounts that show that this might be more than mere superstitious folklore. Is there anything to any of this, and if so what exactly are these entities? Are they angels like the myths say, or are they some other spiritual or even alien force, hovering about death for reasons we may never understand? Death certainly has a mystical quality to it, so while we may never know the answers as long as it is out inevitable fate, then stories like this are likely to continue to congregate around it.