70: Elena’s Angels

70: Elena’s Angels

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miracles Happen

Elena’s Angels

Insight is better than eyesight when it comes to seeing an angel.

~Eileen Elias Freeman, The Angels’ Little Instruction Book

It was mid-afternoon and I had collapsed on my bed, wondering if I should take a nap, and feeling guilty for even considering it. Instead of resting I should have taken advantage of my nine-year-old daughter Elena’s nap to pay overdue bills, open the scores of get-well cards stacked on the front table, and do the laundry that had piled up during Elena’s three-month hospitalization after her aneurysm rupture. But I hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in weeks, and it felt so good to lie there, even if I still had on my shoes.

Closing my eyes, I reveled in the stillness. It was so quiet. Church quiet. No alarms signaling a high blood pressure, plummeting oxygen rate, or racing heartbeat. No doctors or nurses interrupting us for exams, vitals or meds. All I heard was the shuffle of our Golden Retriever, Buffy, as she checked on me before curling up in her usual place on the rug outside Elena’s door. And the steady hum of the baby monitor, telling me Elena was finally settling down to sleep.

Sleep. Before I knew it I was dreaming of a day in our lives before our world turned upside down. It was a Sunday afternoon. We’d just returned from church. The day was warm, our moods bright. Instead of going in for lunch, Elena ran for the back yard. She mounted a wooden swing, pumped her legs, and flew so high.

“Watch me!” she shouted. “Mom? Mom!”

I jolted awake, my heart racing. A few seconds passed before I realized I was not outside watching Elena fly. And I was not camped out on the lumpy faux-leather recliner next to Elena’s hospital bed either. I was home. In my own bed. In my own room. So why couldn’t I shake the feeling that something wasn’t right?

“Mom?” Elena called me through the baby monitor on the bedside table. “Mom!”

The hair prickled on the back of my neck. Not a dream. Real. I bounded out of bed, and clambered down the stairs.

The last time I had rushed to Elena’s side was a hot, steamy day in July. The sky was so blue my eyes hurt to look at it. The cousins were over, playing dress up. All was well until Elena’s oldest sister, Liz, came racing upstairs. “Something’s wrong with Elena,” she said breathlessly.

We found Elena curled in a ball on the basement floor. She was dressed like a Disney princess in a bright yellow gown, groaning and holding her head like it was about to explode. I’ll never forget the sound. It was deep, guttural. Primal. Remembering it now as I hurried to Elena’s room made my chest ache.

I rushed into the room and sat on her bed. “What is it, sweetie?” I asked, trying to hide my fear. “What’s wrong?”

“It’s too loud,” she said as she clutched her blue blanket.

Elena liked to fall asleep with music playing. But her Little Mermaid tape had ended nearly an hour ago, leaving me unsure what to make of this. “What’s too loud?” I asked.

“The angels,” she said.

“Angels?”

For the record, we’re not an angel family. We don’t display them around the house, except during Christmastime. We don’t talk about them, unless questions come up after church. But Elena hadn’t attended worship in months. And since it was only October, we didn’t have any angels displayed around the house or neighborhood. None that I could see anyway.

“Are they here now?” I asked.

Elena pointed at the upper right hand corner of the room. It was empty except for a few cobwebs and a handful of “Get Well” balloons. It was possible she was talking about the balloons; but being balloons they were just floating around, seen not heard.

“How many are there?” I asked.

“Three,” she said without hesitation.

“Three?” It was a small room, which made it difficult to imagine how there was room for one angel, let alone a host of them. “Aren’t they a bit scrunched with their wings and robes and everything?”

“Mom,” Elena said, irritation tinged in her voice, “they’re kid angels.”

A couple of things occurred to me then. First, sending pint-sized angels to kids in need made perfect sense. Second, Elena was too serious—too certain—to have made this up.

“What are they doing?” I asked, my curiosity winning out.

“Singing,” she said.

Singing? “Singing what?”

“The Little Mermaid. Beauty and the Beast. Coat of Many Colors.”

“Coat of Many Colors” is what Elena called the soundtrack for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. It has been her favorite since before she got sick; so it shouldn’t have surprised me that it was on her angels’ playlist.

“They know your songs,” I said. “That’s awesome.”

“But I’m tired,” Elena said, slapping the covers.

Before the aneurysm rupture, Elena was active, adventurous, and energetic. Her goal since coming home was to learn how to walk, talk and be nine again. She had already regained enough strength to stand by herself for nearly five minutes without tiring. But seeing her frustration now reminded me how much more work she had left to do.

“Did you tell them to please be quiet?” I whispered.

She inhaled like she hadn’t considered this approach. “Be quiet,” she told her visitors. “So I can sleep.”

“Please,” I said, reminding her to be polite.

“Pul-lease.”

“Did it work?” I asked after a while.

She nodded and yawned. I tucked her in. “Sleep tight,” I said, like always, before turning out the light. “Dream pleasant dreams.”

“G’night,” she said amidst another yawn.

“Question,” I said before shutting the door. “Did they say why they’re here?”

Elena’s eyes were closed as she mumbled her answer. “They’re staying until I get better.”

“Really?” I stared at the corner. I wished I could see Elena’s angels. I wanted to thank them, and, honestly, I needed reassurance they were really here.

Elena sighed and snuggled deeper under her covers. I kissed her forehead, inhaled her sweet scent, and paused. Suddenly, it was clear to me. I’d been so invested in Elena’s recovery that I had missed the obvious.

Most people die from ruptured aneurysms. Elena survived. Two weeks she had been in a coma. Two long weeks. Doctors prepared us to expect the worst when she awoke—if she awoke. Elena returned to us singing the song, “Any Dream Will Do/Give Me My Colored Coat” from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. She knew her name. And ours.

Doctors called Elena’s recovery a miracle. In retrospect, it was the first of many.

During her hospitalization, she survived a stroke, multiple neurosurgeries, and a life-threatening infection. Through it all, her trademark perseverance, sense of humor, and spirit remained steadfast.

I may not have seen Elena’s angels, but this much I did know—they were as real as the miracles Elena had experienced so far.

What does the future hold? Only God knows. But whatever happens next, I have confidence Elena will face it with grace and grit. After all, she has a heavenly pep squad cheering her on.

~Kim Winters

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