See an Angel, Thank an Angel, Be an Angel

That's my mom holding me! 

That's my mom holding me! 

Do you believe in angels? I do. I’ve seen and interacted with at least two of them. But, they sure didn’t look like the angels we see in movies or on artwork and statues. They didn’t look like Michael (starring John Travolta, cirlca 1996) or those ghostly figures that showed up to help Danny Glover and Tony Danza in the outfield. There were no wings – no halos – no bright white auras surrounding their bodies. In fact, there were sweat pants, plastic bags, and a lab coat. I always thought that if I ever saw an angel, it would most certainly appear to me in the middle of the night, at my bedside, with some important message, some words of wisdom, or a healing touch. But this was so different. One of my angels affected me deeply with only words. The other – well, her actions changed our lives.

In November of 2016, my mom fell and broke her femur. I was in a meeting at work. When I returned to my desk, I saw that I had 8 missed calls and several messages. One was my mom’s neighbor saying that my mom fell and there was an ambulance taking her to a hospital, but she didn’t know which one. The other was my mom calling – from the ambulance. I got to the hospital just after she had gotten back from an x-ray. She had surgery and we both knew it would be a long recovery. And it was. A few months into surgery, I was running around taking her to appointments and to physical therapy. The day I encountered my angel, I was really cranky. Work was crazy busy – I was getting ready for a big conference we were having that I was planning and managing. I was probably feeling a little sorry for myself and selfishly annoyed with having to manage things for other people. The joys of the sandwich generation! My mom had therapy and I planned to drop her at the door and run to Walgreens to pick up her prescriptions.

Because it was incredibly windy that day, I didn’t just help her out of the car with the walker, I walked up to the door with her to make sure that door stayed open while she got inside of the building and on her way down the hall to therapy. Once she was in, I turned to walk back to my car. When I walked around to my driver’s side door, a man was walking in my direction. I could swear he appeared out of nowhere. He wasn’t walking from a car. And, I didn’t see him walking across the parking lot as I was helping my mom out of the car. He was older – maybe in his 60s – with gray hair and a gray beard. Short but heavy set. He was wearing a sweatshirt and sweatpants and was carrying a plastic grocery bag. As he approached and we made eye contact, he said “You are a WONDERFUL daughter. There is a special place in heaven for you.” All I could do was smile and say “Thank you.” It was a big smile though. As I got in my car and pulled out of that lot, I felt confused. Who was that? How did he know me? How did he know that was my mom? But then I realized, it didn’t matter who he was. His words sunk in.

My dark mood lifted. The guilt that always creeps up on me when I’m feeling annoyed disappeared. I felt relief. Or maybe it was validation. I don’t know exactly what it is that I felt but I became extremely emotional. With just a few words, that stranger soothed my soul. It wasn’t some grand gesture or a generous gift. He just somehow knew exactly what I needed to hear at that exact moment. When I told my son (he was 9) about this encounter, he said, “I think that was God.” To this day, that gives me chills. I’m not sure about all that – but maybe this stranger was sent from God, from the universe, or from someone looking down on me from above. I wish I knew who he was and what made him say that. I wish he knew what an incredible human being he is.

Fast forward to September 15, 2017. I really dislike that day. It’s the day I found my mom in her apartment after she had her stroke. It was awful. While she was pretty bad, she knew she had a stroke and when I asked if she could see me, she said, “You look beautiful.” It was at the hospital that angel #2 appeared. She walked in the little ER room and introduced herself as Dr. Traynor. She started asking questions – a lot of questions! To be honest, I was a little put off at first. There were so many people asking questions and the ER doctor already came in and told me that mom’s stroke was too long ago – we didn’t know exactly what time it happened. “She’s never going to go home. This is how she’ll be from now on,” he told us. It was heartbreaking. I was emotional. Who was this lady who barged in here asking all these questions. I told her everything I knew and that mom was able to communicate that the stroke happened after she was up and had breakfast. Dr. Traynor looked excited to hear that. She explained that she thinks they should do a procedure where they’ll go in through her leg and try to remove the clot in mom’s brain. And asked me if I wanted them to try. That was an easy decision and Dr. Traynor hurried off.

At this point, my husband took my son outside to hand him over to my in-laws. When he came back in, he said that he heard Dr. Traynor on the phone – insisting that whomever she was talking to come in now to do the procedure. It seemed like a heated discussion. She was fiercely advocating for my mom. Somehow she knew what had to be done. And it worked. A couple hours later, the procedure was over. When the surgeon came in to talk to us, he seemed almost surprised that it had gone so well and that it had been so easy to get the clot out. It made all the difference in the world. Unlike my first angel, I had the opportunity to talk to Dr. Traynor after this all happened. She came and sat with me for a while when my mom was in the hospital after having her second stroke. I told her that we call her our angel. “Why? I didn’t do the the procedure. That was Dr. so-and-so.” (Although I don’t remember his name, I’m eternally grateful to him as well.) I told her about the overheard phone conversation and that I was sure the procedure would not have happened had she not been there. She smiled. And then she excitedly told me that there’s new research that shows the time between having a stroke and getting to a hospital might not be as detrimental as originally thought. She was heading to a medical conference that Friday and she was presenting my mom’s case. AMAZING. She saved my mom and she was going to save so many others.

What’s the point of all of this? Well, my point is that angels are always here. Maybe they exist as these beautiful, bigger than life beings from heaven – that I don’t know. But I am sure of this. Angels exist. And they appear when we need them the most. Pay attention to the angels around you. Be grateful for them and if you can, let them know. Tell them they’re your angel and tell them why. More importantly, realize that you can be someone’s angel. It doesn’t take a lot. It doesn’t take a miracle. Sometimes it’s just kind words. Sometimes it’s just standing up for someone who can’t stand up for themselves. Sometimes it’s just sharing some knowledge that others might not know. We all have the capacity to have a huge impact on the lives of others. It’s big and it’s small – at the same time. It’s within us and all around us. It’s profound but it’s simple.