There she stood, much taller than she was four years ago, with her brownish-auburn hair flowing gracefully over her left shoulder. Smiling nervously, she looked at me through the dark square framed glasses, my now 14 year old niece, Melanie.
Brief awkward hugs were exchanged with her in front of my parents. They have longed to have their second born granddaughter in their lives for all of these 14 years, yet had to settle for occasional visits here and there. Now, though, we were all together sharing in this moment with Melanie.
We made our way at dusk dark through the Christmas decorations that lined the Children’s Christmas Garden. Looking around, we found our place on the cold, hard, steel bleachers that were set up for this occasion; The Angel of Hope Ceremony.
I left my seat for a moment to fetch a long stemmed white carnation. Returning to the front row of the bleachers, I smiled as I offered it to Melanie. I previously explained the ceremony to her and gave her the carnation for her to place on her mother’s plaque at the appropriate time in the ceremony.
As the ceremony began, it was an emotional time for so many that were gathered with us. The purpose for the Angel of Hope Ceremony is to recognize our loved ones that have gone too soon. While the idea behind it was for parents who have lost their children, I paid for the plaque to be placed for my sister as my parents did not have the funds to do so at the time the statue was erected. It is often hard for me to visit the cemetery as I get too emotional when I go, so the Angel of Hope Garden is a place I can visit to remember my sister and to honor her. It was my hope that others would find comfort there under the Angel as well, and I believe they have.
As the names were called out, pictures were shared on the screen so that everyone in attendance could see the person that we were honoring and remembering. Much to our surprise, they were not all little children at all. The majority were pictures of adults, but honestly, they are someone’s children no matter how old they were when they passed. That is exactly why I had this plaque placed for my sister. Although she passed at the age of 33, she was still – and will always be – my parent’s oldest child.
We paused for a moment when my sister’s name was called, “Pamela H. Smoak.” Finally we rose to our feet, my husband and I, Melanie, my dad and mom, as well as my two beautiful daughters who were sitting on the end. We made our way down the lit path toward the Angel of Hope, and as we reached my sister’s plaque, we paused once more. Melanie placed the white carnation on top of the monument that holds the plaques as I placed my hand on the plaque itself. We stood there on an almost silent night as my dad kissed his hand and placed it on the plaque as he uttered the words, “I love you, baby.” As our group exited the garden, we were all given a candle to light as a song played in remembrance of our loved ones.
This is certainly never anything we look forward to each year as that means a very important part of our hearts is missing. We would much rather have her here with us, but sadly, that just wasn’t part of God’s plan. Instead, we find a stronger meaning in this year’s Angel of Hope Ceremony as Melanie was present to pay tribute to and honor her mother.
My sister’s birthday is December 13th. While we cannot do anything for her here on earth now to “celebrate” with her, we can gather every year – and have for the past seven years – on the first Saturday in December at the Angel of Hope Ceremony to honor her and others gone too soon.