Mended Hearts and Angel Wings

Mended Hearts and Angel Wings

From Chicken Soup for Every Mom's Soul

Mended Hearts and Angel Wings

I broke the angel’s wing the year my grandmother died. I was ten, Nana was eighty and the angel was older than both of us put together. Nana had lived with us for as long as I could remember, and that was fine with me because she had neat stuff like tiny cases of perfume and powder and a sewing box with fancy buttons and bits of lace, and she let me play in her room whenever I wanted to. I was the youngest in my family and usually in the way or trying to tag along with somebody. Nana was special because she was the only one who actually wanted me around.

Breaking the angel’s wing and Nana being sick enough to die, both seemed impossible to me. I knew how easily things could break, and I knew that people died, but I was certain something as precious to Nana as that angel could never break, and someone as precious to me as Nana could never die.

Nana’s angel was a Christmas angel, a gift from her grandmother long ago. Each year when the decorations were brought down from the attic, we opened the angel’s box, carefully unwrapped the tissue paper and the angel would emerge, pure and sparkling to take her place behind the cradle in the crèche.

She never stayed where we put her though; she moved around as if she could really fly. She sometimes landed next to the telephone, where nervous hands fingered her delicate wings while talking, or she perched on a desk to watch over an anxious teenager studying for exams. Sometimes she would alight on the windowsill by the kitchen sink where my mother scrubbed and whispered prayers for a daughter or a son or, the year Nana was sick, for her mother.

That year everyone was praying for Nana. Christmas approached but not nearly as gaily as it usually did. I unwrapped the angel by myself that year, and she wasn’t the same either. Her china white gown, her crystal blue eyes and the gold ribbons around her waist still sparkled, but somehow she seemed like a fake angel, not a real one. She sat in the crèche forlorn and untouched.

Nana stayed in bed night and day and our house got quieter and quieter. One morning I brought the angel up to her. She held it in her soft wrinkled hand and stared at it for so long that I started to feel bad because it seemed to make her sad, and I thought she might cry. But she turned to me and smiled and in a whisper I could barely hear she told me to take good care of her little angel. I wondered if she meant me, but before I could ask her, she drifted off to sleep. She never spoke to me or to anyone else again.

Nana died before Christmas came that year. Everyone said I handled it well. They talked to me about death, saying how it’s a part of life; they told me how good I had been to Nana and how God needed her to care for little children in heaven as she had cared for all of us. They said it was okay to miss her, and it was okay to cry. I listened and nodded, but their words made no sense to me because none of it was real. I couldn’t grasp that Nana had really left me. Until I broke the angel’s wing.

Christmas was over, and I was wrapping the angel gently in extra folds of tissue paper when my brother threw his new football at me, shouting, “Catch!” a second too late like he always did. The ball hit my arm, and the angel fell in slow motion down onto the kitchen floor where her wing broke away from her white china gown and shattered into pieces.

I cried then. Loud, aching sobs that I had hidden inside came tumbling out as I realized for the first time how final death is. How real and how wrong that Nana, my best and often only friend in the whole world, was gone forever.

Everyone made a big fuss over me then and sent all sorts of cards and gifts trying, I guessed, to fill the giant empty space in my heart. Time did ease the pain, but sometimes all it took was a whiff of perfume or the sight of an old white head in a church pew, and I would feel an aching tug in my heart.

I forgot about the angel until the next Christmas. As I slowly unwrapped the tissue inside her box, I began to imagine that if the angel was healed, I would be too; maybe all those tugs on my heart had been Nana sewing it back together up in heaven. Just as she had mended my torn clothes, she had been mending my broken heart with those memories and signs, telling me she wasn’t gone and never would be.

I don’t know who fixed the angel, and I never tried to find out, because it would have stolen the precious wonder and peace I felt when I held the mended figure in my hand. It was my first glimpse of the tremendous power of love and faith that is so much stronger than death.

Many Christmases have passed since then, and many stages of my life: from child to woman to mother to grandmother, and my belief in that power has never dimmed, but strengthened, just as surely as the angel’s beauty has never dulled, but brightened.

I have seen Nana’s eyes in each new baby I’ve held, felt her touch in each gentle embrace I’ve shared, and spoken to her and been answered in every prayer I’ve whispered. I feel her hand on mine every year as I unwrap the angel. And when I tell the story, I know that she’s listening and watching and smiling with me.

Anne S. Cook

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