If you’ve been following me through this hallucinatory journey, like Willy Wonka’s boat ride in the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, you know that I was seeing malevolence everywhere: evil nurses, menacing fast food clowns dispensing needles and Hunger Games-inspired competitions.
But it wasn’t all evil. Not everything I saw was frightening and not everyone I spoke to was a threat. In fact, somewhere in those two weeks I spent stuck in the vortex, I started talking to an angel. The Angel I Never Met, I call her. She was probably not the only angel looking out for me. I’m sure my dad, lost in 2001 to complications resulting from a bone marrow transplant to treat aplastic anemia, and Matt’s mom, lost to breast cancer in 1997, were both looking out for me.
Today is May 21st and marks the 14th anniversary of my maternal grandmother’s birth and death. I find it not surprising at all that she arranged to leave on her 70th birthday. She always did enjoy making a statement and, after a brutal battle with colon cancer, choosing her time to go was perhaps the last thing in her power. At least, I like to think it was. I think Nana had a hand in the family reunion that took place in my hospital room before my surgery and I’m sure my mom was talking to Nana the entire time I was in the hospital.
But there was another benevolent presence that came to me in those long dark hours alone. There was someone else. I didn’t even know her first name at the time. I never met her. She was gone from my community before I even joined it. But I knew of her. I had first heard about her in 2011, when my eldest son was in Kindergarten. They were making Mother’s Day crafts and he came to me and said that a little girl in his class didn’t make the same project everyone else did “because her mommy is in heaven. So, she made a balloon and let it go to heaven instead.” A week or two later, I was at a birthday party with my son and I asked a mom with older children at the school about it.
“Oh, that was awful,” she said. And then she told me the story of the young mother of three whose youngest child (the little girl in my son’s class) was only 2 years old when she died of a brain tumor after only a few days in the hospital. One year after hearing this story, I myself was in the hospital with a brain tumor. I had thought of her the first time in the ER, when we called my friend Cindy to pick up our eldest. Cindy knew this mom. And I had thought of her many times since.
I thought of her in the dark hours before my first surgery, hoping and praying that my outcome would be different from hers. I remember feeling guilty for praying for such a thing. Who am I to demand a different outcome? Why would I be given what she wasn’t? Surely, in her hour of need, she was as deserving as I was, another Catholic mother of three with kids the same ages as mine? Why should I survive when she didn’t?
But I did. My tumor was removed and was benign. Stll, thanks to a “major hemorrhagic event” and hydrocephalus that would not resolve, I was trapped within myself. I couldn’t find my way out of the darkness.
She was the light. This Angel I Never Met was the light. I talked to her. I asked for her to watch over my children, to watch over my husband, to watch over me. She was there. I know she was there. I don’t know what I called her as I didn’t know her first name (I know it now). I think I called her “E’s mom,” using the name of the little girl in my son’s class.
The Angel I Never Met stayed with me in the neuro-ICU and she stayed with me in Rehab, where I was more able to recognize that I was simply asking her spirit to guide me in my journey. It didn’t seem so crazy then, but it also didn’t seem as real as in those long dark hours between my two surgeries when I was scared and alone. And she was there with me.
This is hard for me to write because I’m afraid I’m not doing her justice. There are people that knew her in life that will read this and I’m afraid of what they’ll think. Is it wrong for me to have shared this? Am I trespassing on something sacred?
Her daughter is still in my son’s class. She has two older sons at the school, too. I spoke with them briefly at the pool last summer and they seem fine young boys. I see her husband often in passing, but can’t bring myself to talk to him because I can’t figure out how to introduce myself “Hi, I’m Katie. We’ve never officially met, but I spent many long hours talking with the spirit of your deceased wife when I was in the hospital.” That’s a tough opening. Or I’m afraid I’ll just collapse in a heap of tears at his feet. I talk to her daughter whenever I’m in my son’s classroom and I’ve befriended the babysitter who picks the kids up from school every day, a young mother I like immensely, but that’s the most I’ve been able to do.
Thank you, Angel I Never Met, for your comfort and your guidance. You were my light in the Darkness. I will never forget. Thank you.