66: Gracie’s Angels

66: Gracie’s Angels

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving and Recovery

Gracie’s Angels

I brought children into this dark world because it needed the light that only a child can bring.

~Liz Armbruster, on robertbrault.com

Three weeks after finding out his next great-grandchild was on the way, my grandfather stepped into heaven. I cried, naturally, but for some reason, the “big tears” just wouldn’t come. Odd for me, because I was pregnant and extremely hormonal! I rationalized to myself that since I was a nurse, I had seen Papaw Billy’s suffering; therefore, I knew he was in a much better place. I focused all my attention first of all on the funeral plans, and then after the funeral was over, I concentrated on making sure my grandmother was taken care of.

Almost five months after the funeral, my daughter and I were swimming in the pool when my husband called me inside. Our beloved Maltese, Gracie, had jumped off the couch and wouldn’t walk. She wasn’t crying or whimpering; she just refused to walk. I asked my husband to take her to the vet. I kissed her little nose, and told her, “Girl, you’d better be okay, because I don’t think I could handle it if something happened to you.” She looked at me with the saddest little brown eyes as if telling me that she was sorry.

I got the call from my husband, who was crying. He said that she had broken her back and needed to be put to sleep. I told him to go ahead because I couldn’t bear the thought of her being in pain.

I hung up the phone and wondered how I would break the news to my five-year-old, Shelby, who thought Gracie hung the moon. I took her into my bedroom and told her that Gracie had gone to heaven to play with Papaw Billy. Shelby took the news well; her little lips quivered and she cried a bit. Nothing like me, however. I was practically hysterical. Being six months pregnant by then, I knew that getting that upset couldn’t be good for me, but I was inconsolable. When I could finally speak, I asked Shelby if she’d like to see little Gracie before her dad buried her. Surprisingly, she said she would.

My husband brought Gracie home wrapped up in a navy blue towel. We placed her on the floor and unwrapped her. She looked so peaceful, just like she was asleep. Shelby studied her for a minute, and then decided we would have a funeral for Gracie. My husband went outside to dig her grave. I just sat on the floor holding Gracie and crying.

When the time came, we trooped outside. My grandmother who lives next door came and joined our solemn processional. I handed Gracie to my husband and he laid her to rest beside Gus, our Yorkie who had died the year before. Shelby bowed her little head and said, “God, please ask Papaw Billy to take care of Gracie. She’s the best dog in the world. Amen.” I took Shelby’s hand and started to walk away, but she hesitated, pulling me back. I didn’t want to watch my husband put the dirt on my beautiful white dog, and I certainly didn’t want Shelby to see it. I kept telling Shelby, “Let’s go inside. Let Dad finish.” Shelby looked up in the sky and said, “Here they come! The angels are coming to get Gracie!” At that very moment, a gentle breeze picked up. We stood silently watching Shelby. She continued to look at the sky, and then finally she said, “Okay, now we can go. Gracie is with the angels and she’s going to play with Papaw Billy.” My grandmother began to cry softly and nodded her head as if to agree with her.

Not long after that sad little funeral in our yard, I took Shelby to the library. She picked out a book called Dog Heaven. When we got home, we settled down to read it and on the first page, we saw a picture of a small white dog surrounded by angels. I immediately began to tear up, but Shelby just looked at me in the way that only a very smart five-year-old can and told me, “See Mom!! I told you the angels came to get Gracie!” As we continued to read the book, we saw a picture of an old man sitting on a cloud playing with the white dog. Shelby smiled knowingly and said, “And look Mom, there’s Papaw Billy, playing with Gracie!”

Our family still grieves the loss of our beloved Papaw Billy and our little furry Gracie. We’ve since had several additions to our family, including a new baby girl and a new dog, that Shelby appropriately named Angel. We still visit the two tiny graves marked by two hand-carved crosses, and when we feel the gentle breeze ruffle our hair as we stand silently, I thank God for the faith of a small child and her words of comfort at a time when I needed them the most.

~Mandi Cooper Cumpton

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