In 1968, rock legend Jimi Hendrix wrote a song about a female angel he saw in a dream, an image he likened to his mother. In the song “Angel,” he wrote of his experience, about how she had come to rescue him.
Forty years later, the vivid image of a female angel lives on; but it isn’t just through the lyrics of a guitar hero, or only from a dream. A female angel visits one Ventura man who nearly lost his life four years ago. According to Bill Jeralds, the angel rescued him as well.
As a supervisor at a local call service center, Jeralds lived his life like any other eight-to-fiver — work, home, sleep, rinse and repeat. This lifestyle was nothing short of normal and predictable, until one day when he fell desperately ill.
In 2005, he was rushed to the emergency room at Community Memorial Hospital in Ventura, where he was diagnosed with pneumonia and a collapsed lung. A few days later in the intensive care unit, his condition worsened and soon progressed to double pneumonia, two collapsed lungs, bacterial sepsis of the blood and A.R.D.S., acute respiratory distress syndrome. Doctors placed him on a ventilator in a drug-induced coma while they tried to save him.
Three weeks later, his doctors told his wife, Shannon, whom he had been married to for only a couple of months, that there wasn’t anything else they could do to help Geralds. She insisted that they have faith in him, that he would get through this.
Instead of pulling the plug, she prayed. She also went to Things From Heaven in downtown Ventura and wrote down her prayer for God to save her husband on what the store owners call a “spontaneous shrine” — a corner of the store covered in more than 20,000 prayer notes written by people from all over the world.
Shortly after, Jeralds starting pulling through — his lungs cleared up, his body was killing off the bacteria in his blood, and he was off the ventilator. Although his body was feeling normal again, his mind had been severely affected — both short-term memory and most of his life memories were gone.
“My brain shut down part of my brain and opened up a new part,” Jeralds said.
The bad part — he couldn’t work at the call service center any more. He recalled one day going to work and his employees asking him why he wasn’t at a particular meeting.
“What meeting?” he said.
“The one you called us to,” an employee said.
Jeralds quit his job, unable to keep track of what he was supposed to be doing. He struggled for the next two years, feeling helpless and hopeless.
“I couldn’t work anymore, a year of that, crying, [thinking] I don’t know what I am going to do,” he said.
His wife kept telling him something would happen. And one day, something did happen.
Jeralds had an epiphany — he was going to make angels.
He recalled numerous experiences seeing an angel watching over him and his family — a female angel he believes to be his guardian angel.
In 2007, he decided to make angels — lots of them. He began drawing sketches of angels on pieces of plywood. He would cut out the images of angels, which were segmented into dozens of pieces, with a jigsaw and then coat them in varnish.
On average, it would take him about three weeks to make one angel. Today, one angel takes about one day to complete.
To some people, becoming an artist after such a tragic event isn’t so unusual, except for one factor — Jeralds couldn’t even draw a stick figure before his illness. In other words, he didn’t have any skills as an artist.
“My wife said that I had no talent before, I don’t think it is me doing it,” he said. “I make angels — they fall out of my hands, I don’t remember making them.”
And now, his angels, which have intricate wings and delicate faces, seem to have a life of their own — well, at least one very special angel that inspired Pope Benedict to hang one of Jeralds’ angels in the Vatican.
“It’s been remarkable,” he said. “When I was sick, this cardinal, apparently I forgot, had his congregation and the Vatican pray for me. I had to do something since he had the Vatican pray for me, so I made this really pretty angel. He took it to his office, and he moved it out to the chapel. Everyone loved that angel. A week later, his congregation asked, ‘Why did you change the angel?’ ”
As evidenced by pictures of the angel, the angel’s demeanor changed — it went from a smile to a frown then just a straight line.
Cardinal Donald Jolly of the Church of Angels in Orange County was so moved by this phenomenon that he notified Pope Benedict of the miracle, and as of Feb. 27, one of Geralds’ angels was hung in one of the holiest places in the world.
And it isn’t just the Catholic Church that has caught on. Geralds’ work, which he’d been selling at Things From Heaven for the last couple of years, came into high demand just last week. Apparently, a dealer from Tokyo commissioned Jeralds via the retail store to create 30 angels a month — up from the 40 in total he sold over the course of a year. And Jeralds, who creates his angels in a small shack in his backyard and then varnishes them in the master bedroom of his in-house studio, is certain that his angel is real — whether it be his vision or his wife who wouldn’t give up on him.
A gallery of Bill Jeralds’ work can be found by visiting www.angelduststudios.com and at Things From Heaven in downtown Ventura. His angels range in price between $75 to $2,000.