It was a night like any other as Sam Finnegan pulled into his home on Washington St. Another shift of involuntary overtime on patrol led to his late arrival, but it did feel good to see the light on inside; Erin, his better half, had stayed up waiting for him to come home. His exhausted mind and worn body dragged to the door, but when he opened it, his weary wife still embraced him, and they walked to the living room.
“How was your day, hon?” she asked.
“Well, I’m home now,” replied Sam. He remembered how they would give sarcastic answers when they first married and laugh about it. The past seven years, however, had taken enough joy away to make all those little things disappear. “Did you find the ring yet?”
“No,” Erin replied with disappointment. “I’ll look again tomorrow.” Erin looked up at her husband in the eyes with faded happiness. “I wanted to talk to you about something, but it can wait until the morning,” she said.
“Why not now?” Sam inquired, panicking a little at what it could possibly be.
“We’re both exhausted, Sam,” Erin said, “we ought to get some rest and have clearer minds.”
There was a brief pause. “Alright,” Sam said, resigned. He wasn’t looking forward to having his day off tomorrow fill up with messy fighting, but that’s what it looked like was in the cards.
Erin went to bed while Sam cleaned up. As he shuffled to his room, he peeked into the empty “guest room” on the way. Usually the door was shut, but Erin must’ve opened it earlier. He remembered with a fresh twinge of pain the plans they had made when first married, but apparently the Lord had other plans—or at least that’s what Sam had been raised to believe. He didn’t think much of his childhood beliefs now. But there still was the room, with its bright wallpaper and dusty boxes of hand-me-down toys. “She’s opened the old wound again,” he thought, grudgingly. “Here we go again.”
The next thought that came to him was, “Remember? Remember getting married and being excited for a future with squealing kids running around? You do, don’t you? Now you just hope the beer is cold when you get home.” Sam was too tired to even have a drink, but that thought really stirred him. He walked to their bedroom, and pulled back the covers on his half of the bed. But he hesitated. Something was tugging at him.
Sam knelt down and made the sign of the Cross. “You know, Lord, I haven’t prayed in awhile, so uh, pardon the casual talk.” He cleared his throat. “I don’t understand why all of it had to happen to us”—he paused—”to her especially. She didn’t deserve all of that suffering and anguish. I know the bad things I’ve done in life, but why saddle them on her?” He sat in silence for a while, then shook his head. “I don’t mean to be crass, but I can’t stand to see her despairing anymore. I can’t go to work and try to clean the streets and come home every night to another battle. I can’t anymore, Lord. Just”—he stopped himself again, opened his eyes, and looked up at his sleeping wife. “Just at least make it better for her.” Sam crossed himself, got up, and crawled into bed.
Sam had started to drift off into slumber when he felt something tugging at him again. As he roused himself, it grew into a burning sensation in his chest. He sat up, and suddenly, there was a flood of almost painfully bright light and a beautiful scent, like roses, but stronger and more vivid than any he’d ever smelled before. “Wha”—Sam’s breath caught in his throat. There was someone standing in his bedroom, bright and sharp and so tall its head seemed to scrape the ceiling. “Samuel Connor Finnegan,” the figure boomed. Sam tumbled out of bed. “Get up. The Lord has called for you.”
Sam got up and said, “Me?! What—what does He want with somebody like me?”
“A child He loves. He bids me show you something that is of great importance to you.”
Trembling, Sam took the figure’s outstretched hand; the room around him shimmered, and transformed into a garden, as if he had been standing there all this time without noticing. It was unlike any he had ever seen or imagined before. The figure that had brought him there, however, was gone.
“Sam,” said a raspy, familiar voice behind him. “How in the blazes have you been?”
Sam turned around, and sure enough, his uncle MacPherson was there. “What are you doing here?! What is this place anyways?! What’s going on?!”
“Don’t blow a gasket on me, kid,” Mac replied. “How’s the little lady?”
“Well,” Sam started, “we’ve hit some hard rocks with something that’s been really weari—”
“That’s why you’re here, bud,” Mac interrupted. “Let me show you.”
Walking forward on the stones, Mac began to speak. “This is The Lord’s garden for children.”
“Where are they?”
“They come out and play sometimes, but other times, they’re in bloom, like now.”
The garden was filled with flowers that appeared to glow with brilliant radiance. All sorts of blazing, intense colors, some of which Sam had never seen before, filled the view as far as the eye could see. Sam was no gardener, and his memory of uncle Mac was of a strong-willed cop—his mind didn’t conjure up images of him in any garden, either. Yet, this was the most beautiful one he had ever seen.
“These are the children who died before birth, or not long after, Sam. They didn’t get a chance at Baptism, but God always had a plan for them, and so they received a special grace.” Mac took a flower in his hands and gently lifted it up. It bloomed into a baby—he cradled it, fast asleep in his arms.
“This is Isaiah. He died with his mother in an accident. He was due in a week. I remember being the first one on scene to that one. I never forgot it, and now I get to meet him.”
The baby’s eyes opened, and he gurgled with joy. “Yes,” Mac replied to the baby, “my pal is a little strange, isn’t he?”
Sam looked himself over. “Don’t take it personally, kid.” Mac said to him with a sly grin, “If you keep at it, you’ll get a glorified body too someday. For now though, your corporal one is pretty ugly.”
“Well, Mac,” Sam started, almost nervously, “If you don’t mind, where are—”
“You’re okay, Sam,” Mac responded. He put baby Isaiah down, and he flowered brilliantly again. “I know what you want. Follow me.”
They began to walk to the other side of the garden. “You know, Sam,” Mac began, “I wasn’t much of a gardener back then. Matter of fact, I visit this place often, but don’t really tend it.”
“What? Who does?”
Mac pointed to a woman, with a glorious cloak and spectacular crown, watering and nurturing every flower.
“That’s the Blessed Mother, Sam. She tends it. She always hears our prayers, even when she comes down here and tends to the little ones.”
Sam could hardly believe what he was seeing, but there she was, where Mac pointed.
“As to your other question, while we’re on the way, do you remember your third day on the job?”
Sam’s chest tightened hard. “I really don’t wan—”
Mac picked up a blue flower, and gave it to Sam. “Hold her. She doesn’t feel what she felt that day anymore.”
Sam held her. She couldn’t have been more than three. He remembered quite well, no matter how hard he tried to wash it away with cheap, stomach-turning bourbon. Immediately, the memory of that day came back like a fiery wind in his head. The little girl opened her blue eyes at him and smiled a bright smile, and the heat inside Sam expelled from his lungs. She giggled.
“I did as much as I could Mac, I thought I did everything right, why did—”
“He knows why, and she’s here now, in a place infinitely better than the last one she was in. I’m sorry kid, I don’t have a better answer.”
“You said she doesn’t feel any pain anymore?”
“No Sam,” Mac said, “only the highest degree of happiness.”
Sam’s face was hot again, but not in anxiety this time. “We all had at least one call like that, kid,” Mac said. “I had a dozen in my career. Better to open up than boil over.”
The girl in Sam’s arm wrapped her little arms around his chest as far as her arms would go. “She thinks very fondly of you, Sam, and prays for you every day.”
Sam’s breathing began to calm down to normal, and as it did, she flowered once more. Mac took her from Sam’s arms, and put her back in the flower bed.
“Not much farther now, bud.”
They walked a little farther before stopping at a small grove of flowers. Each one looked oddly familiar to Sam, yet he couldn’t put his finger on why. Mac picked one up, and gave it to Sam. “Thomas.” said Mac.
“Who?” Sam asked, trying to remember any other repressed memories of bad calls on the job.
“You don’t know this, but Erin had a name picked out.”
Immediately he began to tear up. “Then—”
“Yes, these are all seven of them. Take a seat; the Lord left a bench here for you.”
He sat down in a daze, looking through the tears at Thomas. “My—my son.” Mac handed over the other six, one by one. Immediately they all bloomed in his arms, an embrace that Sam could hardly handle at all, had the bench not had a back rest.
Sam began to feel a strong burning once more in his head; all the while his children embraced him. “It’s not your fault, hers, or anyone’s, bud.” Mac said “It’s just how it is.”
“But why would He—”
“Again, I don’t know,” Mac said, shaking his head. “But I do know that they watch you every day, and pray for you. They all have names too. She named each one, even after they miscarried.”
They embraced for what felt like hours. Sam felt years of anguish and sadness drain out of his eyes as his children sat still in a giant hug on a bench somewhere he had never traveled to, with his deceased uncle at his side.
As Sam felt relief wash over him, Mac came over, and lifted them from Sam’s tired arms. Before the children flowered once more, they all said with one voice “Bye, Daddy!” and returned to their beautiful arrangement. Sam had not known peace like this in his entire life.
Mac helped Sam up. “Before you go back, kid, I want you to resolve to be stronger for Erin.”
“I am now,” Sam replied, “We’ll get through this, knowing they’re okay.”
“That’s it, kid. The Lord knew you needed this. Get back to your wife, take the day off from chores tomorrow, and make it right with her. And before you go,” Mac said with a grin, “tell Erin her wedding ring ended up in her blue sun dress, right pocket.”
In an instant, Sam awoke ten minutes before his morning alarm. Erin had already gotten up and started making breakfast.
“Sweetheart!” Sam leaped out of bed and bounded towards the kitchen. Erin was startled at his morning energy; Sam was no morning person by any stretch.
“Uh, what hon?”
“It’s good to see you.”
Erin was confused even more. “You … too? Did you break something?”
“No,” Sam replied, “I wanted to talk to you about something.”
Erin turned the burner off, and moved the pan of scrambled eggs off to the side. “Is everything alright?”
“You could say that.” Sam replied, with his grin growing wider.
“A promotion at work?” Erin asked.
“No,” Sam said flatly.
“A new squad car?” Erin asked with some impatience.
“No,” Sam replied again.
“Okay,” Erin said with frustration, “I don’t have time for your little guessing game, Sam. We have something to talk about.”
“I saw them,” Sam said with calm happiness.
“Who, Sam?” Erin replied shortly, “Your dead uncle again? Can you let it go already?”
“The kids,” Sam said with some reserved excitement.
“Oh give me a break,” Erin replied bitterly, “Sam, all of this isn’t wor—”
“You named our first Thomas, didn’t you?” Sam said calmly.
Erin was stunned. “What are you—”
“The next one was going to be a girl, and you had chosen Allison,” Sam continued, “After that, when we were having the twins, you wanted to name them Mary and Martha because you thought they’d both be girls, and you were right—”
Erin’s mouth hung open and her face flushed red. “How could you have—”
“I saw them,” Sam replied. “It’s hard to understand, I know, but I did. I don’t know why I was found worthy to see them, but an angel took me there, and yes, Mac was there too. He said your wedding ring was in your blue sun dress, right pocket.”
Erin went to the closet, and shuffling through her dresses, found the ring right where Sam said it would be. “I … just don’t understand!” Erin said, still in shock.
“Sweetheart,” Sam said, “why don’t you take a seat? This is a lot to take in.”
“It’s not my fault!” Erin began to cry, “All I ever wanted was a child! A little, gurgling baby to hold, and feed, and nurture, and love, and—”
Erin could not finish, for her emotions overtook her. Years of hardened anguish broke like a levee, all at once. Sam consoled her and rocked her back and forth, stroking her hair while she cried into his chest.
After some time, Erin’s flood of emotions subsided, and Sam said softly, “I know it is difficult to accept, sweetheart. I don’t know why it had to happen that way, and I’ll never have an answer. I do know this, though; they watch from Heaven and pray for us every day.”