Angel Band

on September 18, 2010 in Angel Band

Annie Helen "Mama" Voyles- Story & Helen Diane Story - Just starting out in 1949

Dr. Hiba Tamim pointed at Mama lying in the hospital bed. Mama was sleeping so deeply her breath was hardly detectable. “Your mother is a strong person. Helen Story may look weak now, but she’s not. She is the one in charge here, not you or your sisters, not even your brother. I’m no longer in charge. Helen Story is still in charge of her life,” said Dr. Tamim as she held up some legal papers.

“That lady there is calling the shots, and I am going to do exactly what she has instructed me to do.”

Dr. Tamim took a deep breath and looked at us sweetly, “I so admire your mother’s courage.” She focused her eyes down at the papers in her hand and thought long and hard before she spoke. “And now – I’m going to move her to another room, one where her family will be more comfortable.”

The new room looked more like a nice hotel room except for the hospital bed and morphine drip. It had a suite with a kitchen, two televisions with lots of books and movies. There was no clock, no blood pressure equipment – just Mama sleeping peacefully.

As the morning turned to late afternoon, Mama slept deeper until her breath slowed to an almost stop. A single tear rolled down her cheek. Jim noticed it and jumped to gently wipe her face. Just when I believed it to be her last breath, I started to stand up to go to her. Instantly my nine year old niece, Kate, jumped onto my lap. I sat back down and held on to Katie with both arms, and knew that this is where Mama wanted me to be. Yes, Mama was still in charge. I watched Mama slowly slip away from us while holding her baby grandchild.

As Kate and I sat there at the foot of Mama’s bed, I thought about the past three weeks. While Mama was at herself, she asked for her lawyer, “Hand me that phone; I want to call Phil Bramlett. I need to talk to him. I need to tell him to bring his mother up here. I’m gonna need a notary.” Phil came with his mother, Lou Neil. Mama wanted her living will updated, all ‘T’s crossed and all ‘I’s dotted.

A few days later Mama started sleeping a lot. One evening after work, I hurried to visit her. When I arrived, she was already asleep. I did not want to disturb her, so I sat on a chair next to her bed and watched her sleep. After about an hour I decided to slip out and go home. As I stood up, the chair made a little sound and Mama woke up startled. She glared at me, as though she did not know who I was.

“Mama, it’s me. Mama, do you know who I am?”

Mama relaxed as she grinned at me and said, “Of course, I know ya. You are that little DIane STO-reee-teller!” She chuckled to herself and faded away not saying another word.

And here I sat today in Mama’s new hospital room watching her chest heave now and again; each time her breath became farther and fewer in between. I closed my eyes and thought about how vital she once was; how she hummed her favorite song, “Oh, Come, Angel Band.” I could almost hear her now.

Daddy played and sang the angel band song often for her. No matter how busy Mama was, when she heard him hit a few notes of that song on his Gibson – she stopped what she was doing, sat there and looked at him as though she had not seen him in a long time. Mama hummed “Oh, Come, Angel Band” as she cleaned house and cooked meals, while she carried a bucket and shovel to the woods to dig up sweet shrubs. She hummed it while caring for her sick children, while thinking as she shopped in stores. Mama loved that song.

In the last week or so, Mama didn’t feel like humming any song. But that song was on her mind, because she reminded my sister, Patricia, that she wanted that song sang at her funeral. She was not being morbid at all, since she has told us that at least a thousand times over the years. This was just one more time.

And though we thought we were prepared for Mama to leave us, we were not. We were stunned. When Mama’s spirit left her, we all stayed our ground in that hospital room and did not move. Our cousin, Pheobe (Elizabeth), came to our rescue along with her son, Michael Dickens. Michael, the singing preacher, ministered to us with prayer and asked – who ever wished – to share something about Aunt Helen. He said it helps with the healing process.  We shared little stories about Mama while waiting for Bill Head to send someone to take my mother to the funeral home. A few days later, Michael opened Mama’s funeral at Pleasant Hill Baptist, singing “Oh, Come, Angel Band.”

But today, we all sat or stood gathered around our mother, for the last time.

As I sat there waiting on the undertaker, I recalled a conversation with Mama a few years back. Her dear friend, and the only undertaker she’d dream of using, died. It took weeks for her to get over the fact that she had out lived her undertaker. She had counted on Ben McLane to take care of her and her family. Now he was gone and her children would have to rely on strangers.

A large man with dark hair arrived and yes, he was a stranger. He walked in and introduced himself and asked for our permission to embalm her. And now, I supposed it was time to leave her. But it did not seem right to leave her after all she had been through in the past three weeks. Pancreas cancer is a horrible disease and Mama had suffered, especially the last few days. I must not have been the only one who felt that way, because no one left the room. Helen Story’s whole family, children, grandchildren and in-laws stayed firmly planted to the floor. All was silent, and after a while the stranger stepped up and addressed the family.

“I did not know your mother. This is the first time I ever laid eyes on her, but I can tell you that I know she was loved by all of you. She must have been very important to her family. I can also tell you something else. In just a few hours, it will be Easter – the highest holiest celebration day in all of Heaven. And, this lady has been invited to attend that celebration. Helen Story must be loved and honored in Heaven as well.”

It was time to go home, Mama was in good hands. Mama and I had fifty-nine years together.


Oh, Come, Angel Band


My latest sun is sinking fast,

My race is nearly run;

My strongest trials now are past,

My triumph is begun.



Oh, come, angel band

Come and around me stand;

Oh, bear me away on your snowy wings

To my eternal home.


(modern refrain:)

Oh, come, angel band,

Come and around me stand;

Oh, bear me away on your snow white wings

To my immortal home.


I know I’m near the holy ranks

Of friends and kindred dear –

I hear the waves on Jordan’s banks,

The crossing must be near.


I’ve almost reached my heav’nly home,

My spirit loudly sings;

Thy holy ones, behold, they come!

I hear the noise of wings.


Oh bear my longing heart to Him,

Who bled and died for me;

Whose blood now cleanses from all sin,

And gives me victory.


Jefferson Hascall, pub. 1860 Massachusetts Methodist Minister

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