They had a wonderful life together, Ginger and Ray. They had been married for ten years and had just celebrated their anniversary with a nice dinner on the town. Their little family now included Elizabeth, who was born eight years before. They were very much in love and Elizabeth was their beautiful expression of that love.
Their days were filled with work and school, yet the weekends were kept for the family to spend time together. They would take Elizabeth to the park, to the local pool, on drives into the country or up to the mountains. Elizabeth was a joy to them, she was always laughing and happy. She was quite well spoken, clearly expressing her opinions and giving them observations of life around them through the eyes of a youngster much older than eight years. Her wisdom many times brought amazement and laughter to her parents.
Most recently, Elizabeth had been asking for a pet. She wanted to take care of someone, just like her mom and dad took care of her. Even though she was young, Ginger and Ray believed she was ready to learn about caring for and the responsibilities of having a pet.
Off to the pet store they went on a sunny Saturday afternoon. On the way there Elizabeth was excited and did all of the talking about the exact pet she wanted. Her parents assumed it would be a kitten or a puppy. But Elizabeth kept talking about a special pet, and she told her mom and dad that she would know exactly the right one when she saw it.
To her parentís surprise, once at the pet store, Elizabeth was drawn to a small bird in a cage that hung high above the child. She seemed mesmerized by the song the bird was singing with its sweet-sounding voice. The bird was golden in color with feathers that were streaked with splashes of red.
Elizabeth immediately asked for this little bird. When Ray asked her if she didnít want to look around some more, she answered, "No, Daddy, I want ĎSunny.í"
"Where did you get that name?" asked Ray.
"She looks like the sun to me, and she has such a beautiful voice." replied Elizabeth. "Can I have her please, please, please Daddy?"
Ray, who had a hard time denying Elizabeth anything she wanted, looked at Ginger whose eyes told him that this would be fine. They would bring Sunny home and she would become part of their little family. The pet store clerk explained what would be necessary to take care of the bird, and along with Sunny, they purchased a new cage, food, toys and special vitamins.
On the way home, Ray and Ginger explained to Elizabeth that this would be a very big responsibility and that they would both help teach her how to take care of Sunny. Elizabeth sat in the back seat of the car with Sunny in her cage resting on Elizabethís lap. Elizabeth listened very carefully to what her parents were saying. She knew how important it was to take good care of her new pet, and she told her parents that she was going to work hard to be sure Sunny had all the love and care she needed.
The next several weeks flew by, and the relationship between Elizabeth and Sunny became much stronger. The bird trusted Elizabeth, and many times Elizabeth would let her out of her cage to fly around the room and land gently on Elizabethís outstretched hand where she would sit and sing a melodious lilting song. Elizabeth loved Sunny and took her responsibility for the bird to heart, enjoying every moment of care she gave to her little feathered friend.
Then, on one weekend which started out just like previous ones, the lives of the entire family changed. Elizabeth began to run a slight fever, so her parents decided to keep her inside. They spent the weekend doing all that Elizabeth loved to do ó reading to her, playing games, playing with Sunny, and watching Elizabethís favorite videos. For two days they enjoyed each otherís company, but in spite of the fun, her parents had a concern about the fever that seemed to persist.
In fact, when her fever and aches didnít go away by the end of the weekend, Ginger decided to take her to the doctor. Besides having the low-grade fever, Elizabeth had been complaining about feeling very tired. At first her parents thought it might just be from her spending so much time outside playing and running around.
Ginger was becoming more alarmed because it was not like Elizabeth to complain about anything. This was a little girl who, as young as she was, loved life and always found the good in everyone and everything around her. She was a very wise child. Some might say she had an "old soul," and her parents knew she was special.
Elizabeth had many friends who would flock around her like little birds. After school they would spend time playing or doing homework. Because of her illness, her friends would call to see how she was doing, but even though she usually loved to talk and giggle like a typical little girl, she told her mother that she didnít want to speak to anyone because she was so tired.
By the time they arrived at the doctorís office a couple of days later, Ginger knew her little girl was very ill. Call it motherís intuition, this was not like Elizabeth at all. Over the years she had slight colds and the chicken pox, but Ginger felt that this was something very different. Her anxiety level had risen, yet she did her best to let Elizabeth know that everything would be fine. Elizabeth kept asking her mother what was wrong with her. Why did she feel so tired? Why did her neck feel so puffy? Ginger kept telling her she wasnít sure, but Dr. Shuler, her pediatrician, would have the answers.
They spent two hours in the waiting room before Dr. Shuler was able to see them. There were a lot of children there, all of whom seemed to have come down with flu-like symptoms. Ginger felt a little bit of relief. Maybe Elizabeth was suffering from one of these new viruses. Yet, deep inside her, her motherís instinct told her differently. She didnít want to be an alarmist, yet she couldnít wait until the doctor would see them.
A nurse finally led them into Dr. Shulerís examining room. He was a tall, lanky balding man who adored children. He was always making them laugh which helped him to examine a child more closely. His stethoscope was a virtual toyland, with all kinds of gadgets attached to it which would distract even the youngest child for a few moments. He had been Elizabethís pediatrician from her birth, and both mother and child trusted and loved him.
"Well, my little friend, what are we here for today?" asked Dr. Shuler. He never talked down to a child, and if possible, he would always ask the child what she was feeling before turning to the parent to get their input.
"Dr. Shuler, I feel really sore, achy and tired," responded Elizabeth to his question. "I donít know whatís wrong with me. All I feel like doing is sleeping."
"Well, Elizabeth," he said, "Letís see what we can find out."
Dr. Shuler gave her a thorough examination. They needed to draw some blood and do other testing to be able to diagnose her condition. He spoke quietly to Ginger, explaining what he felt the problem might be, but he didnít want to alarm her. He was very direct. He explained that her symptoms appeared to be serious, yet he wanted to wait until the test results came back before giving her any more information.
His attention now turned back to Elizabeth, he explained gently to her that they would have to do additional testing. In the meantime, he wanted her to go home, sleep, and eat anything she liked. He would prescribe childrenís aspirin, a lot of fluids and bed rest until the test results would give them more information. It would be a few days for the results to come back, and he didnít want Elizabeth to go to school, but to stay home and rest as much as possible.
Ginger and Elizabeth quietly left the doctorís office. Ginger was lost in her own thoughts and fears, and Elizabeth was tired and didnít feel like talking at all. Ginger was thankful for this because she felt that if she had to speak, she would begin to cry, and she didnít want to upset her child.
When Ray got home that night, Ginger told him everything the doctor had told her. He was having a hard time understanding that something might be seriously wrong with Elizabeth, and Ginger was having a hard time explaining what she was feeling. Together they would face whatever it was, and each would bring strength to the other. Together they would help Elizabeth, for she was their child, their shining light, their joy.
Elizabeth spent the next few days with Sunny by her side, singing sweet melodies. She would look up at the little bird and smile. She saw something in the bird that was special and wonderful and which brought her a feeling of love and serenity. It was as if Sunny were an angel. That was the thought that ran through Elizabethís mind as she quietly watched her little friend. She was becoming more and more tired each day. She had lost her appetite for even her favorite foods. Sunny was the only thing that seemed to make her smile.
Ginger and Ray were beside themselves waiting for the test results. How could this take so long? What could it be? They would call the doctorís office each day only to be told that the results were not yet ready. In the meantime, they watched their little girl fading away. She was so quiet now, so different from their little firecracker.
Finally, after what seemed an eternity, they received a call from the doctor. It wasnít from his nurse, as usual, but Dr. Shuler himself. They knew it had to be very serious when he asked them to come into his office. They left Elizabeth in the care of her grandmother and left for the doctorís office.
When they entered his office, Dr. Shuler was sitting at his desk, but did not have on his usual smile. There was sadness in his eyes and voice when he explained to them that Elizabeth had a rare blood disease which had progressed to the point where they could do nothing. He apologized to them, for he had examined her less than a year ago, and she appeared to be fine. Apparently this particular strain of the disease could appear at any moment and run through a little body in a matter of weeks.
Ginger and Ray sat there stunned, not saying a word. They were numbed by the information the doctor had just given them. They took each otherís hand as tears began to fall down their faces. The doctor was at a loss for words. He loved his profession, yet at times like this, he could only desire to be in another place. This had happened to him several times during his career, and it did not get any easier each time he had to give parents news like this.
After a few moments of silence, Ginger asked, "Dr. Shuler, how much time does she have? What can we do for her? You mean to tell us thereís nothing at all that can help her? I canít believe that with all of this modern day medicine there isnít some kind of help that we can give Elizabeth. You canít mean sheís going to die!"
As she spoke, Gingerís voice became more agitated and began to crack. She didnít want to believe what she was being told. How could this be happening to her little girl? How could this be happening to them? They were so happy! Why was God doing this to them? What had they done wrong to be punished like this?
Ray tried to calm Ginger and Dr. Shuler tried to explain all he could about the disease that had claimed Elizabethís little body and the course it would take. She didnít have much time left. They should try to make her as comfortable as possible, giving her whatever she wanted. He suggested that they bring her into the hospital, but both parents said "NO" with a vengeance. They wanted her to be in familiar surroundings and a hospital wasnít the place for her.
They left the doctorís office, neither one saying anything to the other, each lost in their own thoughts. After a while they began to discuss what they would tell Elizabeth. How do you tell a child she was dying? How do you come to terms with your child leaving this Earth before you? She was so young, how could this be happening?
They decided to not tell her anything. They would just give her as much love and attention as possible. The doctor had told them it would only be a matter of a few weeks, possibly less. Ray decided to take a leave of absence from his job so that he could spend more time with his daughter. Hopefully his company would be understanding.
They arrived home, entering the house quietly. Grandma asked them what the doctor had said. Ginger explained to her mother everything as simply as possible, in a quiet voice and with tears in her eyes. Grandma was stunned, and she too began to cry softly. Ginger told her mother that she wanted Elizabeth to be kept as happy and comfortable as possible. Whatever tears they wanted to shed would have to be shed in private where Elizabeth would not see them.
Ray and Ginger went into Elizabethís room. She was sitting up in her bed, looking so tiny, and Sunny was sitting on her finger. She weakly smiled at her parents and asked, "What did the doctor say? Am I going to be all right?"
Ginger gently and quietly responded, "Honey, you have a very bad virus, and the doctor said you have to stay in bed for a couple of weeks. But, weíre going to take really good care of you. Your dad is going to take off from work so that he can be with you. Dr. Shuler said that you should rest all you can, and you can eat anything you want. How does that sound?"
Elizabeth smiled at her mother. She didnít want her to know how tired she was feeling. All she wanted to do was close her eyes and sleep. As young as she was, she knew her mother wasnít telling her everything. As we said, she was a child wise beyond her years, and in her heart she knew she was preparing for a new adventure.
It was only a matter of days when Elizabeth finally left her family and friends. Her last moments were very peaceful, with her mom, dad, grandmother and her dear Sunny by her side. During the last days of her life, Elizabeth would talk to Sunny about where she thought she was going. Sunny would look at her and chirp a lovely little song as if in answer to her words. Elizabeth felt that Sunny was going to be there with her. Sunny was her angel bird.
After Elizabethís death, Ginger and Ray were lost. They were angry, bitter, sad, guilty ó feeling all the emotions a parent feels when a child dies before her time. Their lives had been changed permanently, and they didnít know what to do. How would they go on without Elizabeth? How long would they feel this pain of loss? Every time they looked at Sunny, who now sang less and less, they would be reminded of their little girl, and their tears would flow.
One day Ginger took a walk to the park. She had to get out of the house or she would go crazy! She walked without thinking of where she was going, or who was walking toward her or next to her. She walked as if in a fog ó a fog of sadness, a fog that surrounded her with a blanket heavy with the weight of losing her child. Her emotions were locked up in her heart, and her heart had been frozen in time the day Elizabeth died.
As she sat quietly on a park bench, lost in her own sad thoughts, an old woman sat down next to Ginger. Ginger was so caught up in her thoughts of Elizabeth and how much she had missed her, she even failed to notice the woman.
The woman was tiny, her face softened with the lines of old age and her silver gray hair held high off her face and neck in a bun. Flowers were threaded through her hair to give you an impression of youth and aged wisdom all at the same time. She wore a very simple outfit of a long blue skirt, flowered vest and bright yellow blouse. On her feet were dark brown boots of soft leather.
The woman looked at Ginger with a warm smile and said, "You seem so unhappy, my child. Is there anything I can do to help you?"
Ginger looked up at the woman, and with tears beginning to form in the corners of her eyes, she replied with frustration in her voice, "Oh, you wouldnít understand."
The woman, still smiling, said, "Please, child, Iíve been through so many different kinds of challenges in my lifetime, I think that whatever it is that is giving you so much pain, I may be able to help you."
Ginger felt the warmth and sincerity of the womanís words and looked at the smile on her face. She wondered about this old woman. She wasnít dressed in fancy clothes, and she had a bag of birdseed on her lap. Many birds were beginning to gather around them while the two woman spoke with each other.
Before she knew it, Ginger found herself telling the old woman all about Elizabeth. The woman listened very closely, tears falling down her face, as she felt the sadness Gingerís words and voice held. She very well understood the pain Ginger was feeling. She also knew that Ginger would need time to work through all of the feelings she was experiencing. As Ginger spoke, her own memories came flooding back to her.
The reason she understood and knew the emotions that Ginger was experiencing was because she too had lost a child many years ago. Everything Ginger was saying, the old woman knew by heart. Everything Ginger was feeling, the old woman had felt. She let Ginger go on until all her tears were spent.
"My dear girl," said the old woman, "I know exactly what youíre feeling. You see, I too lost a child many years ago in the same way that you did. There are no words that anyone can say that will help you feel better. I know there were no words that helped me at the time. But I will share a secret with you that has helped me more than any doctor or psychiatrist ever could."
Ginger couldnít believe that this woman had been brought into her life exactly when she needed someone the most who would understand her feelings. She had listened to this old woman and felt sadness for her. For the first time since Elizabeth died, she was beginning to focus on someone other than herself and Elizabeth. She wanted to know the womanís secret. Maybe it would help her to release the pain of loss that she was carrying so heavily within her heart.
"I would appreciate it if youíd tell me your Ďsecret.í" said Ginger.
"Now, my dear, this may sound strange to you at first, so I want you to take my words home with you and think about them. I was very, very angry when my son died. I couldnít believe that a God who was supposed to be gentle and kind could be so cruel as to take a child away from his mother. Yet, after a time I began to realize that God really loves us, and there are some things that happen for a reason. Oh, I donít blame God for my sonís death. I finally understood that God does not take His children away from their parents. Diseases and accidents do that."
"Oh, I know that God can give us miracles at the last moment, but I finally understood that each person leaves some part of themselves behind, no matter how young he is when he dies."
The old woman continued, "I began to look at ways in which I was honoring my child. You might wonder what I mean by Ďhonor.í As was your child, my son was filled with life. He made me and his father laugh all the time. Even when he wasnít around, maybe he was in school or playing with friends, sometimes something he had said would come back into my memory and I would smile at his funny wisdom. He was such a joy to us and never gave us a day of pain. What was I doing to his memory when all I could feel was anger about his dying? Was I giving him the love he gave us? I decided to do something in my sonís name that would keep his Spirit alive for us. There are several programs in which Iím involved that do just that."
The woman stopped for a moment to catch her breath. Ginger was feeling more and more serene the longer she listened to what the old woman was saying. Slowly it was sinking in for her that the pain of losing Elizabeth could be lessened. After a minute Ginger said, "Please, if you donít mind, Iíd like to hear more."
"Well," responded the old woman, "I volunteer at a local clinic that treats the disease my son had. I help raise money for research. I also meet and counsel parents who have children suffering with the same condition. In other words, I became involved."
"I still miss my son even though itís been years." she continued, "Yet, I look at the time he was with us here on Earth as a gift from God. Iíll always remember the way he made us laugh. Iíll always remember the way he was so generous to everyone he met. I think of all the wonderful things about him. When I remember this, I smile because I know heís still affecting my life in a beautiful way. The more I thought about it, I knew he wouldnít want me to go through life being so sad and angry or that he might even be the cause of this anger. I know he is with God and God is taking very good care of him. Itís my purpose to learn from my sonís leaving and to honor his life with all that I am doing in his memory."
Ginger looked at this old woman, with the wisdom of her many years. She was taken back by all that she had shared. For the first time in weeks she was beginning to feel better. She felt a shift in her body, a gentle calm within her heart.
"Thank you so much for sharing your Ďsecretí with me," said Ginger. "Youíve given me a very special gift. Youíve helped me to see my life in a different way. I know it will still be a long time before Iím able to look at my life the way you do yours, but at least I feel that if I do something in Elizabethís memory, her Spirit will stay alive and strong for me and her father."
Ginger continued, "Did I tell you how much Elizabeth loved birds and all sorts of animals? She had a special songbird that brought her a lot of happiness. I know Elizabeth would want me to help organizations which support the environment and animals. She was always talking about how beautiful the Earth was and would worry about the way we didnít take care of it. Maybe I can work in that area. Iíll have to give this a lot of thought before I do anything. At least youíve helped me to understand my pain. I canít thank you enough for your wisdom."
The old woman smiled at Ginger. God had many times put people like Ginger on her path. People who had lost their little ones and were having a difficult time adjusting to the loss.
"Oh," exclaimed Ginger, "I never did ask your name. I would like to keep in touch with you if you donít mind."
"Iíd love that," replied the old woman. "My name is Jessica Earhart, but everyone calls me ĎSunny.í"
Ginger looked at the woman in surprise. Elizabeth had her Sunny, now Ginger had her own Sunny who brought her a feeling of peace.
Gingerís life changed once again on that special day in the park. She knew that Elizabeth, though she was with God, would always be with her, bringing a smile to her face and love to her heart.
She would share with others the gift of Elizabethís spirit and joy for life. She smiled as she felt Elizabethís presence making a positive difference in the world. Elizabeth would live on into eternity for Ginger and Ray.
This story is an excerpt from "Halo My Dear Angel...A Journey of Miracles," which is available in both soft cover and e-book format on Fran's website