Rain of Bood
© 2008 by Lili Bernard
In the spring of 2002 and for the subsequent year, I was at death’s door. Immediately following the birth of my fourth of six children, I had become critically ill with pregnancy-induced Acute Grave’s Disease (Hyper Thyroidism which is an autoimmune disease). As a result of a pregnancy craving; I had drunk exorbitant amounts of soy milk. Unbeknownst to me, this exacerbated my thyroid levels, which are already normally heightened during pregnancy. Furthermore, as a trauma survivor who has suffered from recurring panic attacks and night terrors, I was susceptible to becoming inflicted with an auto-immune disease due to the stress and repressed anxiety I carried around. Having learned that trauma survivors are medically-proven to be prone to autoimmune diseases and other critical illnesses; I work hard at excercising regularly, eating well and getting sleep in order to avoid the stress that can lead to such life-threatening illness as I suffered.
In 2002, I gave birth to the fourth of four boys in a four year span. For many postpartum months, my thyroid stormed toxically, poisoning the atriums of my heart, causing me to have temporary heart disease. My resting pulse was 260, when the ambulance came. (Normally, it’s about 60.) My doctors told me that, based on my blood lab results and vital signs, I had about a 19% chance of survival, statistically. I kept telling them that I was going to be in that 19%. They said I had a good chance of making it, because I was young, otherwise a healthy person and had thick muscles in the walls of my heart, due to all the sports I had done throughout my life.
Immediately, and during the prolonged period of time that I was sick; I saw angels and spirits of the deceased.
This painting was born of a celestial vision I experienced, during one of my two extended stays at the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit of the Cedar Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. There, while at serious risk of experiencing a heart-attack or stroke, I began identifying the guardian angels of doctors, nurses and others who meandered into my hospital room. (PHOTO: Rain of Blood, Oil on Canvas, 48″x36″ © 2007 Lili Bernard, Collection of Fernando & Sira Perez)
Nestled behind the shoulder blades of people, these protective spirits were in the form of bright balls of warm light. Some were larger than others. Their energy was euphoric. They emanated the most beautiful music that was without notes. Whenever my heart frequently went into rapid atrial fibrillation, a host of angels appeared above me to the far left. There seemed to be about seven angels in the group. Each time, as my heart went into spasms and my soul began to lift up and out of my body, these angels, dancing euphorically, descended themselves very near to me. Upon, connecting with my soul’s psyche, they ascended again, pulling me with them, escorting me towards eternity. Enticed, my soul followed the angels, half willingly, half hesitantly, until we were separated and I drifted back down.
During my two ICU hospital stays, my own guardian angel, who was male in energy, sat gently near me to my left, where I could see him. He was much bigger than the giddy angels in the host, calmer and wiser. Whenever my soul ascended too high, my guardian angel knowingly came between the host of angels and me, and gingerly pushed them upward, separating us. As the angels retreated heavenward, my soul lowered itself back into my body.
This phenomenon occurred cyclically, whenever the poisoned atriums in my heart fibrillated rapidly.
Very quickly, my parents had flown to my hospital bedside in Los Angeles, all the way from their home in the south-east coast of Spain. My sister Alicia and her two young children, Jordi and Melina, flew in from Illinois. My brother José came from his home down the street. My parents arrived in the cardiac ICU just as the doctors were giving me a bolus to restart my heart, because it had gone into rapid atrial fib again. Seeing my parents, in my semi-conscious and fragile state, provided me with a sense of security and warmth. Their smiles, which shined resiliently through their trepidation, filled me with strength.
Several good friends visited me often in the hospital as well. One friend, Dion Raymond, on several occasions, in the sterile metallic intensive care unit, wrapped my grossly engorged breasts tightly with linen, to prevent the milk from spilling all over, to ease the pain and to encourage my breast to cease their milk production. I could no longer nurse my new born baby Uriel, because the medicine would poison him. Another friend, Tonya Pinkins, day after day, came to my bed side and sang songs to me with her Tony Award-winning voice. Our neighbor from across the street, Virginia Watson, daughter of Johnny Guitar Watson, sat in the chair beside my bed and told me jokes, while I was barely conscious.
My parents and siblings visited me every day in the hospital, giving me hope and telling me over and over again that I was going to make it — before they’d go back to my house to cook and clean and help my distraught husband, Franklin, take care of our four young sons, ages two months to four years old.
My family and friend helped ground me to the earth where my four little boys wept in my absence. My children were the driving force in my intense fight against death. I am thankful to my parents for having taken such good care of my husband and our four young children, when I couldn’t.
Sitting with with me in my sterile hospital room for hours upon days, holding my limp hands, my family and friends smiled and trembled through their fear. They prayed, often out loud, whenever my heart fibrillated rapidly, while the doctors and nurses rushed into my hospital room to give me another bolus that would restart my heart beat. At these moments, when the host of angels appeared to take my soul away, I often remarked, “The angels are here! They’re coming closer! Can you see them?!” At my utterance of the angels’ arrival, various hospital staff gazed at me with their eyes widened, afraid for my mortality.
“Tell the angels to go away,” my mother always responded to me swiftly. “Go away! Leave her alone,” she snapped toward the direction in which she knew I was seeing the angels.
It was specifically the soul encounter with my dearly departed little cousin, Roxana Perez, which gave birth to this painting. During one of the many rapid atrial fibrillation episodes that I survived in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit of Cedar Sinai, I witnessed Roxy’s spirit speak to me very clearly. The incident began with a vision of Roxy’s parents and her little brother, Fernandito. In the far right corner of my hospital room, I saw a live image of the three of them turned away from me, surrounded by darkness, with their shoulders slumped downward. Their bodies were diminutive, their backs glowed orange. Suddenly from where they were, a big burst of light flew over in an arc, past me to my left, to the host of angels who had been watching me.
When the bright ball of light and the host of angels met, they all danced together euphorically, happy to meet one another. They began exchanging information. The angels sent the ball of light over to my guardian spirit, who was yet resting quietly beside me. Once in front of my guardian angel, the ball of light ceased dancing and held still, as if in reverence and concern. My guardian angel communicated information to the ball of light which I could not here or understand. Suddenly, as if sent, the ball of light zipped over to me and hovered steadily in front of my face. It floated so close to my face that I could feel the warmth of its magnificent glow against my cheeks. Immediately, it became clear to me that the ball of light was the spirit of my cousin Roxy. It was unmistakable. Though without human form, Roxy’s smiling face appeared in the midst of the ball. With disembodied heavenly gestures, Roxy’s every attitude radiated from the light.
In a rush to get back to her parents, in that cosmic, spirit-to-conscious, wordless communication, Roxy quickly told me, “Call my mother and tell her that I’m OK, that there’s no where on earth I’d rather be than right there in heaven.” Roxy continued, saying that time on earth is short; but that in heaven there is no time. She said to tell her mother that soon they’d be together, though long it may seem to those on earth. She also told me to tell her mother that she did not suffer, during her death. I quickly called her mother and told her. Believing, Roxy’s mother was elated at the good news. Perhaps it provided some sense of comfort in her deep bereavement for the daughter with whom she, her husband and their son Fernandito were so close.
A few years prior, at the age of twenty-two, Roxy had been killed in a car accident. She was the daughter of my father’s nephew Fernando Perez whom we call “Papito” and his wonderful wife Sira, who has always been like a big sister to me. In many ways, Roxy was like the little sister I never had.
Papito and Sira had immigrated from Cuba with their parents, years before my family and I fled the island. Our families were all from the same city in Cuba: Santiago. Papito was a teenager when he and his family arrived in New York City. Shortly thereafter, he was drafted in the Viatnam war and fought in Nam for a few years.
Our families lived close to one another in Brooklyn, New York, and then down the road from one another in Princeton Junction, New Jersey. We grew up going to the same schools and playing Little League baseball in the same ballpark, which was right behind the Perez’s backyard. (Roxy’s little brother, Fernandito, later grew up to play Major League Baseball in the 2008 World Series for Tampa Bay, after having graduated from Columbia University with a degree in Honors English). After school, and all day during the vacation months, Roxy and Fernandito used to stay at our house, under my mother’s care, until their parents came home from work to retrieve them.
As a young child, Roxy delighted the family by putting on “dance video shows” for us. Boogying to the beat of Michael Jackson, Roxy emulated every move of the King of Pop. At the age of seven, she had the moonwalk down pat, white sparkling glove, tilted hat and all!
Roxy grew, combining her passion for R&B music with an interest in sports. In college, she was the public relations officer for the Howard University Woman’s Basketball team. Upon graduation from Howard, Roxy went on to work as a public relations assistant for the NFL (National Football League) at their corporate headquarters in New York City.
Roxy’s funeral lent testimony to her having positively impacted so many different people in her short life. Friends and colleagues waited, to pay their respect, in a long line that extended from the funeral home to the middle of the next block. So many people shared stories of how they had benefited in knowing my little cousin Roxy. Our family suffered tremendously in Roxy’s passing. Roxana’s family, in many regards, was a role model of love and excellence for our extended family.
Upon Roxy’s death many questions popped into my mind. Why do such terrible things happen to such wonderful families? Why do others suffer so little? Is suffering necessary for our salvation? When I became critically ill, three and a half years after Roxy’s passing, and found myself in a serious battle with my own fledgling mortality; I pondered those questions again. Why is it that we must suffer, if God loves us so much?
At one point, in the hospital, when I was in rapid atrial fibrillation and my soul was soaring high above my body, the Holy Spirit made himself visible to me and spoke. Knowing the questions that were in my mind, in some form of wordless, cosmic communication, Christ told me that, however short or long it may be; I should live my life on earth joyfully, lavishing love and forgiveness. Floating parallel to my body in an enormous and illuminating presence, the Holy Spirit held his hands out toward mine. Though our hands did not physically touch, I could feel His divine healing energy, penetrating through my hands and sustaining me.
Tears flooded from my eyes as I euphorically sang hymns. The words “Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, kept rolling off my tongue uncontrollably. My pastor and dear friend, Father Chuck, showed up quickly at my bedside. It was around 3:00 in the morning. I had phoned him to come over fast because my soul was soaring so far away from my body, so high; that I feared this time I would surely die. It was the first and only occasion in my celestial visitations that I was seeing Christ.
“He’s here! He’s here!” I said euphorically to Father Chuck, with all the voice that I could muster. “Do you believe me?” I whispered. Father Chuck responded, “Yes, yes! My father said the same thing when he was dying!”
“Don’t say that!” I snapped in panic, mixed with joy, “I’m not ready to die. What do I do? What do I do?”
“Ask him a question,” Father Chuck blurted excitedly, “Ask him a question!”
“What should I ask him?” I retorted quickly.
“Ask him if I’m doing the right thing being a priest,” Father Chuck quipped. He laughed, his shoulders nervously bouncing up and down.
“I’m not gonna waste my breath on that!” I muttered, my body ailing, my tongue now too tired to talk. In His grace and mercy, the Holy Spirit heard the question I asked of him in my mind. I said to to the Holy Spirit, “If heaven is so beautiful, so wonderful, as I have been tasting, why must we suffer this life here on earth? Why must we even be born in the flesh?” In that cosmic language without words, the Holy Spirit answered me.
He said, though heaven is infinitely more beautiful than anything I could ever imagine on earth; there I will not be able to enjoy the warm embrace of a child, the sweet kiss of a spouse, the coolness of water on my calf as I wade through a stream, or the sight of a butterfly unfolding from its cocoon. There I will not be able to taste the salt from the blood on my skin when the thorn from a rose pricks my flesh as the butterfly floats away.
Then he told me to forgive and to seek forgiveness.
When butterflies shed their cocoons, they often release droplets of liquid. Sometimes the liquid is yellow; other times it is red. This liquid-shedding phenomenon is known as “The Rain of Blood.” Here, in this painting, the red drop and Dahlias represent the blood of Christ. The gold shield guarding the stylized Blue Morph Butterfly being born is symbolic of the glowing spherical angels I saw behind the backs of people, when I was sick. The scripture on the armor is from 1 Corinthians 15:42. “So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body.” The blue wings of the butterfly are symbolic of the living water that is released from the womb when a child is born into the world.
I’m happy to report that, by the grace of God, I have been med-free and symptomatic free since the spring of 2003. I have since given birth to two more healthy children with absolutely no problem whatsoever. They were the two easiest pregnancies out of the six successful pregnancies I’ve been blessed to experience. I thank God for allowing me to see another day, and my family and friends for having helped me to survive. I am grateful to God for his allowing me to be here and for being able to be a part of my children’s lives, so that I and they may spread the Good News of God’s loving Grace and of the life here-after. Hallelujah-Amen!