It was a cold January day. The kind of day when even God was snuggled under blankets, sipping cocoa. He must have fallen asleep on His watch, because the winter skies cracked open with a ticker tape parade of snow, inches upon inches falling on our street, our yard, our driveway. There was no filter to this storm, but rather a winter snowfall of such abandon that the dog could barely navigate his daily rounds. There were no intriguing scents, now, just snow to his belly, and he begged to come in and stretch out a bit by the fire.
My husband Ben was huddled under two quilts, shivering. Radiation to his brain left his body regulating devices askew, and he was just shy of hypothermia. We both kept our fingers crossed that the power wouldn’t go out, a common occurrence in our neck of the woods.
By nightfall, the snow miraculously stopped, leaving behind a night blanketed by flinty stars, illuminated by a fresh moon. Outside, the snow glittered, lying crisp and unmarred, several inches, covering my yard and driveway completely. Pretty as it was, there was a sense of danger in the cold, as I prayed that the streets would be navigable should Ben have a seizure requiring help. As the only driver, and a poor one at best, I felt not a little panicky inside.
As we watched tv in the back of the house by the fire, I heard a scraping noise out front. There was a steady staccato to the sound, interesting enough for me to crawl out from my blanket to peer out the front window.
There, in the moonlight, were several neighbors. Some I knew well, others I had never met. They each had a snow shovel and were quietly shoveling our driveway. I threw on my boots and coat, grabbed my shovel, and drifted out into the snow to greet them. The world was quiet under the cloak of white, stars so brilliant that they cut holes through the cloth of the night sky, and the moon shimmered on the fallen snow, a spotlight on the faces of those who were here to help. There was little talk, just gentle smiles with a few softly spoken words, and the steady shoveling, the snow finding a new home along the curve of my driveway. At that moment, I felt something special deep in my soul that expanded out through my blood like tiny bubbles of champagne. It was a feeling of joy. Of kindred spirits sharing a human experience, of humble gratitude, and the longing for the night to never end, for us not to return to being just neighbors and strangers, but rather to exchange slivers of our essence forming a common bond. Snow angels had fallen from heaven, and left their mark indelibly in my heart.
As the cold gave way to February, there seemed some hope that spring might join us. But despite the promising slant of light as we crept closer to the sun, Ben’s condition wasn’t improving, and although the days grew longer, our lives seemed shrouded in darkness. Ben needed to be moved to a facility. He left our house one dark afternoon in the back of an ambulance, both of us knowing he would not return.
The halls of Hospice are filled with angels. They occupy the corners of the rooms and walkways, the winter windows frosted from their gentle sighs on cold panes. Some are there to welcome home the weary traveler, while others hover to support and bring comfort to those of us destined to be left behind this time. Candles flicker in the windows of those who have passed, a lighthouse for the angels, a beacon showing the way to eternity.
But not all angels tread on heavenly planes. There was the man, a stranger, who spoke to me in the hallway. For a moment or two, we were joined by our sorrow, commiserating, exchanging hugs. Then we turned away with sad smiles and resolve to continue our vigil with our loved ones. The next morning he came to our room with flowers for me. “Happy Valentine’s Day”, he said with tears in his eyes, “these are from your husband. He would want you to have them”. I never knew his name, or where he lived, except that he walked here on this earth, an angel of bone and sinew.
Angels entered the room each day in the form of nurses, social workers, friends and neighbors. They made blankets to keep Ben warm, and put hummingbird feeders outside to attract the tiny birds to the window. The birds would come, even though the February rains threatened to weigh their feathers down, pushing them to the ground, but still they came, defying all odds, dancing in the wind.
One weary, grey afternoon, I returned home from Hospice alone. It had been a sad day. A day of weariness and sorrow, exhaustion and trepidation. I needed to return to the house, feed the dog, pack a bag, get the mail. The everyday duties we must do in the teeth of life’s turbulent changes. The sun was setting as I drove down my street, the hills beginning to darken, another day swallowed up in the great business of dying.
As I pulled into my driveway, I looked up towards my front door, and the planter beneath the sidelight window. To my amazement, the planter was filled with bright, colorful primroses, their little faces peering out, illuminated by the last rays of sunshine. They were merry, hopeful, completely unexpected, a symbol of friendship and caring. It was such a surprise, the perfect gift when my heart was so heavy. More angels had touched me that day. Lovely neighbors, transforming the twilight in my heart to happiness.
Over time, angels had brought us meals, driven us to radiation and chemotherapy treatments, took Ben for little jaunts and out to movies, called, wrote, and visited. Each one touched our hearts in ways that will never be forgotten. Kindness and caring was all around us. In the darkest night of winter, these angels gave us wings.
*Sharon Frame Gay grew up a child of the highway, playing by the side of the road. Now she lives outside Seattle, Washington. Her work can be found in several anthologies as well as BioStories, Fiction on the Web, Frontier Tales, Literary Orphans, Chicago Writer’s Association, Literally Stories, and many others. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee.