23: Hummingbirds from Heaven

23: Hummingbirds from Heaven

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Angels and Miracles

Hummingbirds from Heaven

Quick as a humming bird is my love, dipping into the hearts of flowers — she darts so eagerly, swiftly, sweetly dipping into the flowers of my heart.

~James Oppenheim

I plopped down on the bed in my stepson Ryan’s room and leaned back on the pillows, listening to the humming of the fan he always kept running in the otherwise silent room. On the nightstand to my left, a dog-eared copy of Beowulf rested next to a half eaten bag of spicy Cheetos. I looked over to where two loaded bookshelves lined the wall, with various sizes of sketchpads piled on top. In the corner, two of his guitars jockeyed for position on a chair. The electric one sat plugged into the amp just waiting for him to walk in, pick it up and start playing. But Ryan was gone.

“He left us too soon, leaving brushstrokes on our hearts,” those were the words that Scott, the minister, had spoken at his memorial service just hours before. The church was filled to overflowing with flowers, family, and friends and the outpouring of love was like salve for my husband Michael’s wounded soul and mine.

Ryan had made quite an impression in his short life. But that’s what artists do. They inspire and move you to feel something — and Ryan was truly gifted. Tears streamed down my cheeks as I was again struck by how someone with such big dreams and so much talent could be killed in an inexplicable gas-can explosion on a cloudless July day.

After the memorial service, time passed, people went back to their lives, and we were left with a hole in our hearts and an empty room in our home. For the next few weeks, I lived minute by minute, sometimes half expecting Ryan to come walking into the kitchen for afternoon coffee. But each morning brought the fresh realization that the nightmare of losing one of our children was now our reality.

July became August and one afternoon the final accident report landed in the mailbox. I laid the large manila envelope on the patio table and stared at it a long time before ripping open the seal. Holding my breath, I scanned the contents, then breathed a sigh of relief, which quickly turned to dread as I pushed the paper away and stood up. “How are we supposed to find peace when there are still so many unanswered questions?” I wondered aloud as I paced the deck waiting for Michael to come home from work. Suddenly, I stopped as it hit me. If I could just see some kind of sign from beyond about Ryan, maybe, just maybe, I’d be able to begin finding some peace. So, I sat down on the deck and prayed: “Dear God, could you please let me see a hummingbird as a sign Ryan is okay?”

I don’t know why I asked for a hummingbird. Well, I mean, I do. I love hummingbirds. But despite the fact that we load our yard with red flowers and feeders to entice them to visit, seeing even one a year buzzing around our house is cause for celebration.

The next day, I was sitting at the patio table enjoying the cool morning, when out of the corner of my eye I saw something green flitting on the purple petunias spilling out of the flower boxes surrounding the deck — a hummingbird. Then, just as quickly as he’d shown up, he zoomed off. Our encounter had been brief, but hope shone in through the cracks in my heart. I had my sign.

That evening, as we were eating dinner, I told Michael about the sign I’d asked for and received. “That’s so great, honey,” he said, offering a small smile, but the joy didn’t quite reach his eyes. I knew he wasn’t doing any better than I was, so I prayed for another hummingbird.

The next Thursday we were enjoying a late start to the workday with coffee on the deck. I went inside and as I was refilling our mugs I again saw the hummingbird flitting near the same flowerboxes. It was close enough for Michael to see, but had he? I had the urge to knock on the window and point to it but knew I would scare it away. “I saw it,” I heard him say as I hurried back outside. He was leaning back in his chair with his legs stretched out. When I looked over at him and saw the relaxed grin overtaking his face I knew, he’d asked for his own hummingbird sign.

While working in the yard one September day my thoughts turned to Ryan. Over a month had passed since the hummingbird sightings and the hope and comfort that had sustained me due to those encounters were beginning to fade like my summer flowers. Doubts began to creep in like the cooler temperatures of the approaching autumn. Had it truly been a sign or had I been hoping so hard I convinced myself? The summer sun had made its way around to the back of the house and was heating up the deck where I was working. Sweat started to pool on my back where the sun was beating. “Time for a break,” I whispered and stood up. As I headed toward the house, my mind was focused on a refreshing glass of sun tea.

I had just gotten to the edge of the deck when something flew up right in front of my face and stopped. I raised my hand, intending to shoo it away, until I noticed its size and bright green belly. I put my hand down and stood there as it hovered in front of me for what seemed like a full five seconds. Tears of joy filled my eyes as it zoomed away. The message had finally and fully been received.

“There’s no question in my mind, the hummingbird visits were sent as a message that Ryan is okay,” I told Michael that evening over dinner.

On a dreary day a few months ago I went into Ryan’s room in search of a book I thought I’d left in there. While combing through one of his bookshelves I noticed a sketchpad sandwiched between two books. I pulled it out and as I leafed through the pages a small sketch popped out. As I touched the small drawing, a smile spread across my face. It was a hummingbird reaching into a flower with its long beak. I’d just discovered another one of Ryan’s brushstrokes on my heart.

As I sit here writing this I’m still amazed that just when I needed it, hope flew in on a hummingbird, solidifying my faith in things unseen.

~Amy Catlin Wozniak

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