One of the first things I bought when I found out I was pregnant was a five-by-seven-inch picture mounted on a piece of blond wood. The plaque showed a guardian angel guiding two children across a rickety old bridge.
My husband and I hung it on the wall in the freshly painted nursery. I often sat in that room daydreaming about motherhood. This was something we’d wanted for so long, and I could hardly believe that after three years of hoping and praying, our wish was finally coming true.
Our joy was doubled, literally, after learning I was carrying twins. I rushed home to the nursery. The picture seemed even more poignant to me now.
I stared at the beautiful robed angel and imagined her leading my two little ones safely across life’s bridges. Both were boys, we were told, and I’d have my hands full. Sitting in the quiet of the nursery, the reality of what was happening set in.
Two babies at once, I thought. Can we handle it? Again I focused on the image on the wall, and my worries eased. Of course we could handle it. After all, Jay and I weren’t going to be looking after the boys alone. God would always be there, watching over them.
Then my doctor discovered something disturbing during a routine checkup at six and a half months. The ultrasound showed a blood clot had formed in the placenta shared by both babies. “I don’t like what I’m seeing,” he said gravely. “I’m admitting you to the hospital.”
Jay ran behind us while the doctor himself pushed me in a wheelchair to the medical center about two hundred yards away. Lord, protect my babies, I prayed all the way there. We raced into the emergency room, where I heard shouts for a “crash C-section.”
Someone slipped a mask over my mouth and instructed me to breathe deeply. Being lifted onto the cold surgical table was the last thing I remember before I went under.
When I awoke I learned that one of my boys had been stillborn; the other, weighing only two pounds two ounces, was fighting overwhelming odds for survival. “I want to see him,” I told Jay.
On the way to the ICU he tried to prepare me. “The baby’s real weak,” he kept saying. My son’s tiny body was half-hidden by a tangle of tubes. Still, I could tell he was fighting hard. “See,” Jay said, “he’s kicking. He has the will to live.”
We named him Brian, his brother, Kyle–beautiful names I’d imagined calling out at dinnertime, or on the ball field. Back in my room, I felt helpless and alone. My mind was too confused even to form a prayer. Why, God? I demanded. Why aren’t You here with me now?
When I felt a glimmer of hope for Brian, the devastating loss of Kyle came crashing down on me. I had thought of them together, as a team. “The twins,” we’d always said. How could I separate them now, praying for Brian when God had not heard my prayers for Kyle?
I had expected to bring two children home to the nursery. Two children were walking across that rickety old bridge on the plaque hanging there. The angel watched over both of them. Why didn’t that happen, God?
Jay’s parents stayed close by during my hospital stay; my parents drove up from their home in a remote area. There wasn’t much any of us could do.
For three days Brian struggled in the ICU while I recovered down the hall. I was allowed to touch his tiny fingers and toes, his perfectly round head. But I couldn’t hold him in my arms. He was too fragile.
The day I was released from the hospital I went to say good-bye to Brian. I tried to make some sense of our tragedy. Is this God’s plan? I wondered as my hand made its way around machinery to stroke Brian’s wispy blond hair. “I’ll be back for you,” I whispered.
Jay and I, and our parents, spent most of our time at the hospital that week. Brian began having seizures. I paced in the waiting room, praying for my son to pull through. Lord, we need a miracle. But Brian was clearly losing the battle.
One day an old high school friend dropped by during the few minutes Jay and I had snatched at home. “This isn’t like me,” she said, handing me a wrapped box, “but I went back to get it after Brian got so ill.” I opened the gift . Inside was a gold-framed picture.
“I couldn’t get the image out of my mind,” my friend said. Here it was again–the guardian angel shepherding the children over the bridge, exactly like the plaque hanging in the nursery.
My friend left, and Jay and I returned to the hospital. The doctors took us aside. “There is nothing more we can do,” they said.
Brian died after only nine days on this earth. Part of me felt a sense of relief; I couldn’t have watched my baby boy suffer one minute more. But if this was God’s plan, would I ever understand it?
Jay and I walked around in a daze, planning the boys’ funeral. Our parents tried to be strong for us. After having been out alone for quite a while one afternoon, my father came in and handed me a small gold medal.
“I picked it up at a store,” he said, laying the medal in the palm of my hand. I ran my thumb over the scene embossed on it. “Dad, have you seen the plaque in the boys’ room?” I asked.
He hadn’t, and yet he’d given me the exact image that hung there, the one my high school friend had given me, the very image that had held such hope for me once but now seemed a cruel betrayal.
Trying to keep busy, my mother and I tackled a job I’d been dreading. We cleaned out the nursery, packing away things for storage. Filling a box with odds and ends, Mom came across a calendar I’d forgotten about. “What beautiful pictures,” she said, “and every one an angel.”
I walked over and stood at her shoulder, wishing I could speed up time, or better, turn it back to the days when our future seemed so bright, so full of hope. My eyes drifted to the empty cribs while Mom flipped through the calendar.
“July,” she said quietly. “Your birthday.” And the month I expected to bring my babies home to this room.
I glanced down at the picture for July–the angel again helping the children cross the bridge. “That image seems to be pursuing me,” I told Mom. “But I don’t understand why. It doesn’t mean anything to me now.
“Once, I trusted that God would guide my children to safety, that He’d provided a guardian angel especially for the task. Isn’t that the promise of the picture, Mom?”
“Oh, honey,” she said. “She was right there with them, Kathy. She guided them straight to God in heaven, the only place those innocent little babies could be safe. And even now your guardian angel is guiding you, giving you strength to go on.
“Maybe that’s why you keep seeing this image. God is reminding you that we are all His children and He is watching over each one of us.”
I thought long and hard about what Mom had said. The angel image had been following me all these sorrowful days. God had shown her to me even before I knew I was going to need her, from the moment I’d hung that plaque in the nursery.
In May, two months aft er the boys were buried and my parents returned home, Mom sent me a musical water globe with the very same image inside.
“You know how isolated it is out here,” she wrote. Stores that carried gift items were few and far between, but in one she’d come across my angel. “When I wound it up and listened, I knew it was meant for you.”
The song it played was “Amazing Grace.” And, somehow, even after all that had happened, I felt that was what God had given me.
A day will never go by when I won’t miss Kyle and Brian. But my guardian angel has walked with me over a rickety bridge of sadness and helped lead me to an acceptance that my boys’ home is with God.
Now when I look at the picture still hanging on the wall, I see its promise differently. God watches over every one of us every step of the way on our journey, however short or long.
And that’s why the very same image is the one my husband and I finally chose for our boys’ headstone–to commemorate a promise that God kept.