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A meeting at the Bridge

(In April 1997, this message & followup reply were posted on the Time-Warner Pets Forum on CompuServe by staff member Margaret Kowalski. I have posted it here for all to share. It is a true story.)

Last fall, in the dark hours of a very windy early morning, fire sirens sounded in our quiet neighborhood. In quick succession, another and another and another screaming truck rolled up. The HI-LO howl of an Ambulance hurrying to it's destination joined the chorus. Suddenly the howl of the wind lost the battle for supremacy; it could no longer compete with those sirens. Now two police cruisers converged on our quiet corner. The night, no longer dark and empty, was a collage of color, bustle and man-made noise. Cars were leaving their stalls in the parking lots, to be replaced by fire fighting equipment, rescue truck and ambulance; fire fighters, paramedics, police, and the people evicted from the row houses milled around in the mixture. The smells of a fire out of control replaced the odors of late fall. The air was now full of flying, smoking embers instead of blowing leaves. By morning it was clear that the men and equipment had won the battle. The cost of that victory tallied out at one house destroyed, several badly smoke-damaged, many tired but thankful Emergency Services staff, two firefighters being treated for smoke inhalation, and a little girl's two kitties, victims of the raging fire.

This child was torn between the pain of her furkids' death, and the thankfulness felt by them all that the fire hadn't claimed more lives. At first she was convinced that she shouldn't mourn for her furfamily, because the whole family had lost so much and it would only make her Mom and Dad feel worse. She even thought that somehow she was responsible for the fire in the first place because she had named those kitties Dusty and Smokey. It was a heavy load for that little heart to carry and mind to deal with; this little girl had successfully fought one round of a battle with Leukemia, and now she had been handed another battle with grief.

When she found out about the Candle Ceremony, and read some of the stories and poems about Rainbow Bridge, she grasped the knowledge and made it all hers. She even had a special name for the participants in the Candle Ceremony each week, and eagerly joined in herself, with her Mom and Dad. We were re-named "the Candle People", we who had helped a little girl deal with and start to heal from her loss.

Some weeks ago, the Leukemia reappeared, and she was hospitalized again. The treatments this time were not effective, and she slowly lost ground, though not her sense of humor not her consideration for other people... especially those caring for her. This week, she drifted along the borders of knowing and not knowing, until she lost all knowing.

Early this morning, 12:30 AM, Tuesday April 15, 1997, she opened her eyes and smiled at her parents who were sitting on the edges of her bed; her eyes looked beyond them, her mouth opened and she said with a voice full of love and wonder, "SMO-key!!" Her little self relaxed, and Della went forward to meet her Smokey and Dusty on that Bridge.

Please remember her family, consisting of her Mom, Dad and Grandma as well as two Aunts, an Uncle and two cousins, in your prayers.

Thank you all.



Some time later the following letter was received from Della's family with a request that it be shared with all the "Candle People":

Thanks from Della's Mom and Dad

I want to thank each and every one of you who shared the most painful time we've ever known. When we had the fire last fall, we were so very discouraged; all that we had gathered in 12 years as a family was gone. We had a distraught daughter who lost not only her inanimate treasures, but also had to adjust to the death of her two kitties. Smokey and Dusty had been given to Della when her leukemia went into remission, and they were her joy. We had not been allowed the time to save them, there was only time to get Della out, and escape ourselves. But oh, we felt so guilty!
Then a knock at the door, and Heather from Disaster Relief Services asked if we would let a lady come over for a few minutes and talk to us. We hesitated for a few minutes, and Heather said that she felt it would be all right, and if we wished, she would stay with us. With that assurance, we agreed to see this lady, and Heather phoned to ask if she could come then. Marg came in, and spent almost half an hour talking to us, telling us that she would like to share something with Della that had helped other people who had to recover from the loss of a loved one. She showed us the text of what she called The Candle Ceremony, as well as some writings, and asked if she could show them to Della and talk to her for a few minutes. When we said that she could, she asked that we stay with them, since we didn't know her, and that if at any time we were uncomfortable to stop her there.
Della took to Marg right away, and was thrilled that her babies were going to be remembered with love by so many people. Marg talked about their death with a great deal of sensitivity to a sorrowing 10 year old. Before she left, she gave Della her phone number and address, telling her that if she wanted to talk, she could phone or come to her house. As Marg told her, she wouldn't stop hurting all at once, but it would get better with time. We're sure that Della's recovery from Smokey and Dusty's death was made smoother by the love that Marg brought from you all and shared with Della.
The night that Della came home and said that she had talked to the Candle People was a highlight of her life..... she was too excited to sleep, all she could talk about was how great you all are and didn't even care that she was so slow at typing.
Pete and I have been the beneficiaries of that love and caring these past weeks, and it was that caring and the prayers, accompanied by the candle glow, that gave us the strength to support Della as she herself made her way to the re-union with Smokey and Dusty. Marg called herself the pipeline for the caring of all of you, and we felt surrounded by a ring of prayer, love and support. We can't ever thank you enough, but we want you to know that we'll be on the lookout for ways and opportunities to be part of that pipeline for other people who are hurting like this.
Again, thank you all from grateful hearts.

In sincere gratitude,
Pete and Mary

The final chapter to this incredible story:

On April 14, 1998 I received a beautiful letter from Della's Parents.
Since it is also for all of you who light candles each Monday, I am sharing it with you.

Dear Ed
Marion has graciously said that she'll bring this to you, since we weren't able to get to the chat place last night. I want to say "Thank you, from very grateful hearts for what you've done".
Last night was the first time that we've been able to read Meeting on the Bridge and our reply on your webspace. Your introduction is beautiful, and when we close our eyes and think of it, we'll always see it against the background you've chosen. It's as if she's speaking from beyond the sky, isn't it? We were telling Mother about what a sense of peace there is about the way you've presented it, and her comment was "When someone dies, we hold funerals or memorial services, we place markers on the grave and pretty soon the only ones who know of that life are family and friends. It's not going to be like that for Della". You have made it possible for our daughter to continue doing what she loved to do in the world, make a difference for people, and help them to feel better. Words can never thank you enough.
This has been the most terrible year and a half of our lives; yet through all the pain and tears, we've been so blessed. Marg led us to the Candle People, and from them we've been given the strength to move ahead into a deeper peace than we could have thought possible. You will all be a part of our own Candle Ceremony as we remember Della on this first anniversary of her Meeting with Smokey and Dusty this Wednesday.
Again, thank you for the marvellous work you're doing on your webplace, and thank you for sharing the most devastating yet most wonderful moment of our lives.
Awed love
Mary and Pete

Just four days after I received the letter, I learned that on April 18th 1998 Pete, Mary, and Della's Grandmother were victims of a head on collision while visiting relatives on the first anniversary of Della's passing.

They are now all together. Again and forever. Across the Rainbow Bridge.

Click here for a picture of Della