3: Finding Grace

3: Finding Grace

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Touched by an Angel

Finding Grace

What greater thing is there for human souls than to feel that they are joined for life — to be with each other in silent unspeakable memories.

~George Eliot

When my little daughter, Grace, passed away, I was devastated, simply beside myself with grief. I didn’t know what to do, where to turn. I couldn’t eat or sleep. She had been through so much and it simply wasn’t fair. I was so angry — with God, with the doctors, with myself — everyone. Gracie had Treacher-Collins syndrome. She had a cleft palate, was missing bones from her cheeks and chin, and her ears were little nubs with no outer openings. She had dealt with all of these problems, including surgeries to overcome them, like a trouper. At the age of three, she was a happy little blond delight and all she wanted in the world was to keep up with her five-year-old sister Katie.

Unfortunately, we discovered another roadblock. She had very little enamel on her teeth, and her baby teeth began to break down. To protect them, she needed to have her teeth capped. The only way for the dentist to work on her was to give her gas; otherwise she fought like a bear and wouldn’t let him work on her mouth. At her third dentist appointment, she suddenly stopped breathing. Despite all of their efforts, they couldn’t bring her back.

I was shocked. I followed the ambulance to the Emergency Room at the Catholic hospital, where they left me in a room with her. I cradled her in my arms and begged her to wake up. But that was not to be.

My sister came to the hospital right away, so I wasn’t alone long, thank goodness. Finally, I had to let my baby go and walk away. I have never, ever had to do anything so hard.

People quickly gathered; family, friends, neighbors all came to offer comfort, but there was none to be found.

I became ill with a migraine, nausea, and vomiting. I curled up in my bed and closed my eyes, praying and wishing I could go back in time. Wishing I hadn’t taken her to the dentist that day. Wishing she had been born without so many challenges. Wondering if the genes that caused all of her problems came from me — but no one knew the answer.

The migraine passed, but not the grief. The funeral had to be arranged — so many things to attend to! I couldn’t eat; I couldn’t sleep. Every time I tried to sleep, I would see her in that tiny white coffin and jerk awake. I couldn’t think of anything else except my five-year-old, who still needed a mama. She was bewildered. She didn’t understand why her little sister was no longer there and wanted to know when she was coming back. How do you explain that?

Then one night, a miracle occurred. I had dozed off and instead of seeing Gracie in her coffin, I found myself walking along a wooded path. The grass was thick and green. I could smell the flowers that speckled the ground. A soft breeze blew, and it felt good. In the distance I saw a tall, black wrought iron fence. As I approached, I saw people walking around on the other side. It looked like they were having a picnic. I leaned against the fence, just watching. Then I saw a child pulling a man toward me. As they drew closer, I recognized them. It was my father-in-law and Gracie! My father-in-law had passed away the month before Gracie was born. I always regretted that he never got to see her, but now I saw them together! They stopped about a foot away from the fence. Gracie’s face had filled out. She looked exactly the way I pictured she would once she had all of her surgeries. She was perfect. And she looked so happy. She waved at me with a giggle. Then they turned around and walked away.

I immediately awoke with the knowledge that I had just seen two angels. My little angel was in heaven with her grandfather. She was happy and well. I had nothing to fear for her.

Some may say I simply dreamed of what I hoped to be. But I know it was no dream. And while I still grieved, it was tempered with the relief of knowing my baby was in good hands. I pulled myself together, found Compassionate Friends — an amazing grief counseling group — and went on living, something I wasn’t sure I could do before.

My little Gracie passed away in 1984, and usually I can speak of her and think of her without a problem. Other days it seems like it just happened. But then I remember that dream and I know more is out there beyond this life.

~Susan Tilghman Hawthorne

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