The Angel Who Took My Hand

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By Helen Fernald

Why didn’t he pick up the phone? I always called at 8PM on Saturday night to talk with my brother who lived alone five hundred miles away in Ohio. He usually picked up right away. On a rare occasion, he went out to a café or bookstore, but always left me a message upon his return.

Trying to reassure myself, I decided that he had just stepped out, or maybe he had phone problems–but I was not convinced. Before going to sleep, I prayed to find a message from him in the morning. There was none. So I did what I love to do early in the morning. I went down to the lake to watch the sunrise.

It was glorious—red and purple angel wings. I had seen those before, but there was something different in that sunrise. Right in the center was a blue heart. I understood immediately.

Upon returning home, I called my brother’s neighbor who said she had seen him drive into his driveway at 7:30 the night before. Usually he parked by his garage, but that night, he parked next to the back door and hurried in. When I explained my concern, she went right over and knocked and knocked. No answer.

I called the police and asked them to investigate. After breaking down Charlie’s back door, they found his body still sitting up right next to the phone. Apparently he knew he was having a heart attack, quickly entered the house, sat down and was gone. He never heard the phone ring that night at 8PM.

My heart was once again shattered into a million pieces. The same had happened with every member of my family of origin. One moment they were there, the next gone, with never a chance for me to say goodbye.

This time it was even more complex, because I was Charlie’s next of kin and therefore responsible for taking care of everything. As the pandemic had begun just four months earlier, I would have to resolve all legal matters from my home in New Hampshire.

Having no idea where to begin, I asked the police to guide me. One officer told me I must first find a funeral home so the body could be removed from the house. I had no idea but a search on Google led me to a possibility. Since it was Sunday, I had to leave a message, but in just an hour, the funeral director called and said he would help.

Even though my mind was swirling that night, I finally fell asleep. A beautiful white angel appeared to me in a dream and offered me her hand. Taking it, I began following her down a dark path lit by golden light. She led me to a grove of trees, which we entered in silence. When I looked up, silvery lights were twinkling in the trees; I was surrounded by a thousand tiny angels all there to help me.

At first all I could do was sob and sob. I had been afraid to start crying because I was sure I would never stop. But now I was in a safe haven, wrapped in those gentle white wings of my angel, so I allowed the tears to flow freely. Although it seemed like an eternity, I was finally able to catch my breath and become still. For a long time, I just sat there feeling the comfort of those wings. My heart still ached, but I felt warm and loved.

Soon the darkness began to fade away as the sun rose, shining its beams into that grove. Taking my hand once again, the guardian angel led me back down that path. Suddenly I felt frightened. How could I ever undertake such a daunting task—taking care of my brother’s body, finding a lawyer, cleaning out his house, dealing with the estate, burying his ashes? It was all too much to consider. I began to cry again.

Pausing, the angel wrapped me once again in her wings until I calmed down. Then she whispered in my ear that she would stay by my side through the entire process, leading me to the best resources possible. Whenever I wanted to cry, I should whisper, “Angel”; immediately I would feel her presence.

Suddenly the alarm went off. Had there really been an angel walking with me? Could I trust that message? Would she always be there to support and guide me? I realized I had no choice—I had to trust that dream. Perhaps Charlie himself had sent her to me. I did now know, but desperately needed to hang on to that thought, or I would quickly sink into despair. I had to be strong, and that angel would be my anchor for the next year. I named her Grace.

How often I called her name, sometimes in desperation, sometimes with a broken heart, sometimes with tears in my eyes, sometimes just because I needed a friend in that moment who would take my hand or wrap me in love. “Grace, I need you.” “Grace, are you there?” “Grace, please, please Grace, just come.”

With Grace by my side that first Monday, I began tackling the myriad tasks involved when someone has died, especially suddenly. The details were overwhelming at times, but I could feel my angel’s hand slip into mine, and I knew I would be all right.

Slowly I created my “Cleveland Team.” Margaret, a dear Ohio friend, was second on that team, right after the funeral director. Without her help, I could never have progressed at all. She was the first to enter the house, after the police removed the body, finding Charlie’s will and other legal documents; quickly she became my personal assistant. Then came the lawyer, estate liquidator, handyman, real estate agent, banker, cleaner and more.

I was constantly surprised by the people who seemed to come, in one way or another, to help in remarkable ways. For me, each was a reminder that Grace had taken my hand and was leading me through this challenging maze, step by step. I also felt uplifted by the many prayers of friends and family.

For the first few weeks, I sat at my computer, phone by my side, from 9 to 5 everyday, with short breaks to eat, get dressed and walk. The to do list seemed endless; there was always another detail that needed resolving or a question to be answered. As winter was approaching, I knew I had to clean out the house and sell it, or I would have to deal with an empty house surrounded by snow for months. Surely with the help of Grace, the funeral director led me to the lawyer, who led me to the real estate agent.

In a whirlwind, and despite complications, the house was sold just three months after my brother’s death. Ironically, the date of the closing was November 13, exactly forty-two years after my father had died in the same place in that house. I had no doubt that my father, mother who had died twenty-eight years earlier, and now my brother were all part of my Cleveland Team as well, with Grace as the director.

Was it Grace’s idea? Or perhaps Charlie’s? I will never know but the following spring, an idea popped into my head. A friend had sent me this beautiful poem by my brother, which I shared on social media in remembrance of Charlie on his birthday. After reading the poem on my page in Facebook, another friend offered to compose music. By the water’s edge, I had a vision of a video featuring this poem, my photos of the lake, and my friend’s music along her melodic voice singing the verses. The musician knew a videographer, and so, once again with Grace’s help, I honored the passing of my brother one year later with a moving video.

Unknown to the World’s Gaze

A flower blossoms forth
Hidden from the eye
No one saw it bloom
No one sees it die

It blossoms for itself
Unfolding to the sun
It has no need of praise
And can survive with none

And shall we bloom on vacant paths
Unknown to the world’s gaze
If together we might grow
What need we then the world’s praise

Charles S. Evans 1949-2020

What at first felt like an impossible task became the process of a community, here on earth and beyond, working together to help me heal and move forward. I am deeply grateful for that community, for Grace, my special angel, and for the reminder that we are never alone.

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