Today, I was chatting online with my friend Rose about the Angel of Hope statue and yearly remembrance ceremony held on December 6. If you are not familiar with the Angel of Hope (or the Christmas Box) check out the following website for information on statues that have been installed around the United States and globally: http://www.richardpaulevans.com/angel-statues. As a bereavement support provider to families experiencing the sudden and unexpected death of an infant, I was part of this annual tradition of re-dedicating the statue and remembering along with many grieving families during the years I lived and worked in St. Louis, MO. Thank you for jarring this memory of waiting in hope, Rose…this one is for you.
We started gathering two-liter soda bottles in November, knowing we would need hundreds of luminaries to light the walkways of the park leading to the Angel of Hope. It was art and science to get the luminaries ready each year, with a mountain of volunteer supporters. I enjoyed helping set the luminaries up just before dusk, slowly placing each container filled with sand and votive candles along the walkways, wondering who would make their way to the statue. It never ceased to amaze me how many people came out each year, no matter whether it was snowing or raining…or whether the wind was whipping through our midst. We were there, with candles and white flowers. We were there to remember. Together.
That particular night, I had a poem that I had composed on request of my friend Cathi who was the leader of SHARE, the grief support organization that had worked to install the Angel of Hope statue on this site. We would go on to become dear friends, following each other in taking on national leadership roles. Several of us…all leaders of bereavement support organizations…would take turns reading and allow the crowd to file one by one to place flowers in the outstretched hands of the statue. There would be tears, but those of us who work with grief hold tears as sacred, the flowing of holy water from the depths of the soul. I knew…because I had been in this space…that something larger than individual grief would begin to move through this place, to transform those who gathered. There is a strength of spirit in the collective gathering of those who mourn. Even though my religiosity waxed and waned in those days, I recall standing by the statue and looking into the crowd, hearing the words of the Beatitudes echoing through my mind: “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
That night, my spirit was restless. I brought white flowers…daisies…to place into the Angel’s hands, in memory of my own loss of expectation many years ago. I was at a point in my personal grief where I had made peace with my emotions, and my reproductive loss was a part of my own life narrative that fueled my empathy for others. I had made peace with not being a parent, instead taking on a vocational path of grief work and scholarship. Life pushes us forward, though. I had recently remarried. I was willing to take risks, and reinvest in loving and hoping…and maybe, even parenting. This was all new to me, foreign territory I did not plan to tread. This precipice of exposing oneself to love and loss is like overlooking a valley filled with hope yet edged with fear. It is one thing to go blindly into unknown territory. It is entirely different to choose of one’s free will to walk the path and risk the exposure to pain in sacrifice to feeling hope and love again, knowing it could not possibly be the same after taking the first step. I was standing on that precipice on that night, flowers clenched in one hand and my lit candle glowing in the other.
I read my poem. I stood with my colleagues and pulled my hat down over my ears to keep the cold wind away. I made contact with the eyes of those who were grieving and embraced many who I knew and recognized. We were in this together, united by a common experience we would not have willingly chosen. We were moving together along this path; yet, each of us had to make a personal journey as well. I stepped forward, reaching up to place my flowers into the outstretched hands of the Angel statue. And, at that moment, I knew what a drug-store test would confirm the next day. I had already stepped off the precipice. My next journey began with a single step, and was edged not in fear, but by a multitude of other travelers whose eyes shone with hope amid the candles in our hands and the luminaries lighting our path.
That path was about to lead me to personal and professional places beyond anything I could have imagined. But at that moment, all I could do was step…and hope.