Angels in the Valley

Part 6

     Under the shade of the magnolia tree, they gather, the females of the Herd, and they converse and laugh as always. One member of that party is no longer there. Oh, they talk about her as if she never died, but I can tell her physical presence is sorely missed although she lives on in spirit. We didn't know what happened that night when Chanda supposedly disappeared. Come morning, Omar awoke to discover his mate – my sister – gone, no where to be found. How could she just up and disappear? She could not see, so Chanda just getting up in the dark of night and wander to parts unknown is unthinkable. Even if her other senses had grown stronger, and she could feel her way around the Nesting Grounds, she could not have navigated her way in the dark.
     However, some things – very telling revelations – came to light after Aladar and the other males searched the entire Grounds. At the edge of the valley, near the rock formation where upon Gotoma's bones rest, we found her. Of course she must have been dead some hours. Rigor mortis had set in, and her body took on the classic pose of the dead: sprawled on the ground, head thrown back as if looking up at the sky. My mother demanded to see Chanda's body, something of which Aladar and Lowin wanted to forbid, but Eema and Baylene said that Mom had to see Chanda once more. They said she needed closure, and that we, as members of Chanda's extended family, needed to pay homage to a life well lived.
     So we did just that. That is, after we allowed my mother to grieve as only a parent can over the loss of a child. How awful to hear my mother wail and moan over Chanda's dead body, as if the girl was all she had in the world. Omar cried as well, as did nearly every Herd member, dinosaur and lemur alike. We all loved Chanda, and she, just yesterday, talked of nothing but the upcoming celebration of my mother and Lowin's marriage. Chanda certainly looked forward to her extended family which included Yolande and all eleven of our offspring. Chanda had always regarded Yolande as a sibling as much as a friend, so she, jokingly, said her wish had come true.
     At least I am happy that Chanda spent her last day on earth all smiles and laughter, truly at peace with herself, not wasting time fretting over her illness or blindness. She once told me she would lay awake at night, looking up at the sky and count the stars as she did in childhood. Being without her eyesight was not a problem since she remembered the placement of each and every star, the moon and its phases, where to locate the brightest of morning and evening stars. Sky watching was one of her favorite pastimes, and she indulged her avid passion for pondering the heavens even after losing her sight. I suppose it gave her comfort, to what end I am not sure. What I learned later that day, though, gave me pause. What if Chanda could actually see something we couldn't?

     While I have been somewhat skeptical of our resident clairvoyant Sarama, I must say her visions have been, of late, not far from astounding. It was she who told us what happened that night that, awakening momentarily, saw the light – and the strange creatures hovering overhead.
     "I thought it was one of my visions," she told my mother. "But I was wrong. So much light, but unlike any light I've – we've – ever seen. Brighter than the sun, and such heavenly music coming from those beings. Their wings flapped in the breezeless sky; their voices blending so beautifully, singing songs of praise and glory. Then I saw Chanda, totally unfettered by her blindness. In fact, I believe her eyesight returned for this moment, the moment of her death. It was her time, so I could not interfere with that higher power calling to her. It was in the grand plan, for Chanda to leave us so soon after giving birth. I saw many of our beloved Herd who had passed on long ago: Chibro, Bruton, Baylene's family, Eema's long-dead mate, Aladar's mother, my parents and daughter Doli. They came to fetch Chanda home, to take her to that paradise where sickness and pain are unknown."
     My mother listened to Sarama who continued to recount what she saw that night. To her – and to my – surprise, it seemed Sarama was not the only one who witnessed my sister's journey from this life to the next. Both Baylene and Eema said they sensed something last night, so did Plio and Yar. Old Yar said he swore he saw blips of light dart here and there over the sky. Fearing another Fireball-like catastrophe, he aroused Aladar who watched this celestial display. To our Herd's leader, these lights were not threatening in any way; rather, they signaled the impending death of one of our members. That would be Chanda, who continued to follow the lights as if they beckoned her. Yar believes it was the spirits of long dead family and friends, those who passed on long ago, and those who perished all too recently in the Fireball disaster. Baylene swore she saw the spirits of her parents, siblings, children, and mate. Eema saw her mate who died eons ago, so long ago everyone had lost count of how many years.
     "Chanda seemed determined to press on, even after I called out to her," said Eema to me. "It was her time, baby. Be thankful your sister lived her life by her terms, and enjoyed what time she was given. And be glad she is free of pain. That girl suffered so, but she never let on how much she hurt inside. We all know how she struggled with her disease, and how she put on a brave face when the eyesight went. Chanda was one plucky gal, and you and your mother should be proud of her."
     Yes, we are so proud of Chanda, and what she taught us about compassion, courage, and living life to its fullest. Later that day, the males of the Herd pushed rocks over Chanda's body, creating a tomb. Here she still lies, but it is just the body; the spirit has moved on to another place, to that perfect paradise where disease and pain, hunger and fear, are unknown. It is, as Eema said, far better that Chanda is free from suffering. Yet, we should not forget her legacy which lives in her six children.
     As of now, all the Herd females take turns rearing the babies. My mother is there constantly, but she has since abandoned the suffocating attention Chanda came to abhor. Mom loves her grandchildren, and she only wishes they will grow up happy and healthy. We watch them for any signs of their mother's illness, if by chance she might have passed it on to them. No, so far, all six are healthy – no signs of the dreaded malady that plagued Chanda nearly all her life.

     I sit near the tree where the ladies gather, watching them go about their routine, listening to their lively chatter, learning from them. It seems, judging from the animated confab, as Chanda never left us. She lives in each and every one of us.
     Before the males join the ladies, I hear my mother tell Baylene, "I will always miss Chanda. She was my life, and I had hoped she would have lived to old age. But that was not to be. I have accepted her death; her gaiety and love of family was enormous but the body just gave out. My only wish...Somehow this dreaded illness will be cured, some day. I don't want another mother to suffer with her sick child, wondering how much time that child is given, what awful complications could arise from this malady. If one of the grandbabies should get it, I shall grieve, yet I will instill in them, while they're young, to love life. No matter what should happen to them, they should know they are loved and supported. Alas, I learned that lesson all too late. Am I bitter? No, and I'm so thankful I was able to love my daughter with all my heart and soul."

     I, too, miss my sister. And I concur with Mom: Some day, somewhere, somehow, this disease will be cured. But, until then, how long will another child suffer, another parent mourn the premature death of a youngling? So many questions, so many wishes and prayers yet to be fulfilled. For now, we are comforted by those lights. Yes, the lights come nearly every night. The very beings my sister encountered that night hover over us, singing their songs of love and comfort. The valley reverberates with rejoicing, not mourning. We all loved Chanda, and these...what Yar calls "angels"...know that love. Often I wonder if future generations will see them and derive the same comfort they give us.

     Angels in the valley...watching over us....comforting us...Giving us hope for another day...

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