By Carol O’Dell –
Amelia Island, FL, has an angel. It stands just past the intersection of 8th and Atlantic. The childlike face lifts toward the sky, arms outstretched as though holding something invisible, and bronzed wings gleam against the stark Florida sun. The inscription at the bottom of the statue reads, “Angel of Hope.” It is encircled by a short brick wall and eight benches with a loved one’s name on each one.
I found this “Angel of Hope” one afternoon on a photography/bike trek around the island. I stopped to take a picture and began to read.
The inscription on the back of the statue reads, “The Christmas Box Angel,” and I thought of Richard Paul Evans’ book, The Christmas Box, about a woman who mourns the loss of her child and finds comfort at the base of an angel monument.
Then, at the base of the angel I read, “for all the children” and began to put it together – the benches, the names, the stones lined up at the base, the bouquet of flowers indicating someone had been here.
This angel is a place of remembrance for families who have lost a child.
I thought of Tyler, a purely sweet loving laid-back two-year old with beautiful big brown eyes, the son of Rachel and Patrick Pennewell. I remembered the day I found out Tyler had suffered a swimming pool accident.
Rachel, his mother told me, “Tyler was our angel. He had a purpose in being here. Sometimes I would just look at him. He was such a calm, knowing soul, and I’d wonder, You know something, don’t you? Some things be understood here on earth.”
After Tyler’s passing, Rachel and Patrick found the community of Nassau to be their angels who sustained them in those early weeks and months when shock turned to grief.
“I’ll never be able to thank them enough for all they did. Wolfson’s Hospital was amazing, and Amelia Signs made a plaque for Tyler’s memorial. The police and fire departments showed our family such respect, such kindness. How can I ever show them what this meant to us?”
The Angel of Hope statue is a way that many families have given back. It stands in the new part of the St. Peter’s Episcopal Church cemetery and has been in place since 2004. This sacred gift is available to anyone who would like to come, sit, and remember. Contributions from Bereaved Parents and the Francis Harrison Memorial Fund made this project possible, and the church contributed the walkways and landscaping.
Rachel said it’s so important for bereaved parents to find ways to give back because, “What else can we do? You don’t stop being a parent. You have to find a way to give, and in that giving, your child lives on.”
I asked Rachel how she got to a place of peace. “Tyler’s life completely transformed the way I saw myself, and that lives on today. He brought such peace into my life, from the moment of conception on; it was as if he had a mission. Patrick and I now have a second child, Hannah, Tyler’s little sister. I promise, Tyler helped pick her out. In so many ways, he’s still with us. He’ll always be with us.”
As I stand in this circle and read the names on each of the benches that surround this angel, I wonder who each one of them are, what their stories are, because it’s our stories that connect us–not the how did-he-die stories–but the deeper question: how did he live?
This Amelia angel creates a circle of hope; the hope and belief that each child’s life, no matter how short of a time they spent on earth, is a gift. If you look closely at the angel’s right wing, you will see the word “hope.”
The golden moments in the stream of life rush past us
and we see nothing but sand;
the angels come to visit us,
and we only know them when they are gone.
Reach Carol O’Dell at www.motheringmother.com.