57: Touch from Heaven

57: Touch from Heaven

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Messages from Heaven

Touch from Heaven

Angels descending, bring from above,
Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.
~Fanny J. Crosby

In the lengthening purple shadows of the Oklahoma summer twilight, we rode our bikes toward home, making our own breeze as we pedaled in the still, hot evening. The day was not over for us yet. My friends and I were old enough to stay out after dark in those long, sun-streaked days. “Big kids” at ten years old, and in the haven of our safe 1960s neighborhood.

When the streetlights came on, the bikes were put away, and we congregated on someone’s front porch or in a driveway, the strains of Wolfman Jack’s WLS radio show all the way from Chicago playing through a tinny transistor radio that someone had brought outside.

At last, one by one, we reluctantly headed inside when our parents called. The bathtub awaited. I was suddenly eager by then to wash off the accumulation of the dust and grime of the sticky Oklahoma day, and get into bed, the attic fan humming as I fell asleep.

Sometime during the night, for as long as I can remember, I would sleepily stir at the touch of a hand on my forehead, then my cheek. Sometimes, after that touch, a light kiss would follow on the top of my head, and a whispered “Mommy loves you.”

Like the faraway sound of a train whistle in the night, I came to expect it through the years. So much so, that if that soft caress came much later than usual, I’d feel a restlessness steal over me as if something were missing.

“Why do you come check on me at night?” I asked her, feeling I was certainly getting too old for such a ritual as a teenager.

Mom just smiled. “Because I love you. I just want to make sure you’re all right.”

“I’m not a baby, you know.”

“You may think that,” she replied, not looking at me, “but you’ll always be my baby.”

After that conversation, I felt some satisfaction in the curtailing of those nightly checks. But not as much as I thought I would. As time progressed and I moved midway into my teenage years, rebellion set in. Mom and I were constantly at odds. Still, it seemed that no matter how bitter our arguments were, she had the uncanny ability to know how my conflicted heart needed her while I struggled for my own place in the world.

Sometimes, I’d come awake slowly as the door closed softly behind her, seconds after her fingertips grazed my skin, leaving the remnant of the touch behind like a memory I couldn’t quite grasp.

But somehow, it had changed, that touch. The loving care, the gentleness of a mother’s love, those things always remained; but in those tension-fraught years, those infrequent caresses seemed stolen and colored with a longing on her part that I didn’t understand. Finally, I was on my own and the memory faded. I couldn’t remember the last time Mom had come into my room in the night to “make sure I was all right.”

The years to adulthood passed for me, and Mom was struck with Alzheimer’s. After a two-year battle, she passed away just three weeks after Dad. For the first time in my life, I was completely adrift — an orphan at the age of fifty.

Silly to think that way. I was a grown woman, with two college-aged children of my own. But for the first month after Mom died, I couldn’t remember her without dissolving into tears and thinking of the hole in my heart that would never mend. How I wished I had those turbulent teenage years back to do over!

Sleep was generally tough to come by during those days. When I went to bed at night, I could count on either lying awake for hours, or falling asleep right away only to awaken in the wee hours and stare at the ceiling until morning.

But something happened one magical night that made a huge difference for me. Sleep came to me, deep and dreamless, with no restlessness. Sometime in the early hours of morning, I felt that old, forgotten memory of childhood begin to awaken me, like a magic spell at the appointed hour. The sweet fragrance of gardenias surrounded me, and the familiar touch that I would never forget, from this life to the next, fell upon my cheek.

In only a moment, I awoke fully. “Mama?” My voice was hushed in the deep velvet of the summer night. There was no answer but the lingering perfume of the gardenias that Mama always wore, and the warmth of my skin where her palm had cradled my cheek only moments before.

I told no one about what had happened. I felt the conviction of its reality too strongly to risk listening to any doubters.

A few months later, as I slept, I heard Mama call my name so clearly that I answered her as I came awake in the depths of night. The tone, the inflection, and the voice itself were all so real that I almost got up to look for her. Then, I remembered. She would not be there.

Again, several weeks later, I awoke one night to the feel of her careworn palm just leaving my forehead. This time, there were no gardenias, and I felt somehow that this would be the last time Mama would come to check on me. Sadness overcame me, until I remembered her words of so long ago.

“I just want to make sure you’re all right.”

Understanding came, and with it, the sorrow vanished. There was no need for Mama to come again. Peace came over me as I realized Mama didn’t need to check on me and make sure I was all right. She was letting me know I was.

~Cheryl Moss Pierson

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