February 14, 2014
Once when I was a faithful church-goer, a gentleman spoke one Sunday about how he encountered an angel. The story involved a broken down car and a life-threatening illness and a mysterious stranger who brought hope. The particulars of which I’ve since forgotten, but I always wondered if this seemingly reasonable man was telling the truth. I remember asking God to give me an answer about this – and hoping he would choose to do so through a Discovery Channel documentary rather than a bonafide, heavenly being standing at the end of my bed.
After my father passed away, I would often look up into the sky and try to see him standing there looking down among the clouds. I imagined a scene similar to the opening credits of Highway to Heaven in which my dad would emerge on Earth with a blinding light behind him. I never did see him, but whenever I walked in the woods I had a distinct inkling that his presence was nearby.
In recent years I haven’t thought much about the existence of winged cherubs or grown men with bad eighties hair sent here on a mission from God. The only times I would think about the concept of angels was when a tragedy would happen to a little kid and someone would say, “God must have needed another angel in heaven.” And I would subsequently have to restrain myself from either punching that person in the face (difficult task to accomplish when it’s posted on FB) or wave my middle finger at heaven while saying, “F-you!”
When I found out about miscarrying two weeks ago, I prayed that no one would say the comment about God needing another angel. Though I tend to just retract into a crying mess rather than be aggressive, I didn’t know how I might react. And that lack of control scared me. Luckily, no one said anything like that. Rather I was surrounded by the kindest of words and prayers for peace from family, friends and even strangers who understood what it meant to be initiated into the “miscarriage club.”
On the Thursday before my D&C, I went to get lunch at a grocer café nearby. I chose a lentil and kale soup and some organic cold-pressed orange juice (that was super expensive and hopefully squeezed by the Dalai Lama himself). If I couldn’t control my world, I would control the things I fed myself. And that day I took on a rather OCD form of nutritious food selection. Believing that just maybe the warm broth, hearty winter vegetables and expensive Vitamin C might heal me from the inside out.
Looking around for a place to sit, I spotted a small table in the far corner. The place was packed with families and their carts, elderly couples reading the newspaper over a cup of coffee and staff members taking their “fifteen” and playing on their phones. I claimed the last table available and sat numbly by myself. Listening to the buzzing of people around me, it felt like I was underwater.
After a bit, a woman in purple slacks and a floral blouse shuffled up to my table carrying a coffee and a tiny sample size soup. Her hair was perfection. Silvery gray, smooth but bouffant. I noticed a piece of kale stuck in her front teeth when she opened her mouth to ask me a question. “Do you mind if I sit here?”
I replied, “Of course not!” with a smile. She settled into the chair and commented on the crowd. I politely tried to gauge if we were having lunch together or just sharing a table.
It was quickly clear to me that we would be conversing. At first it was painful to make small talk, but she made it easy. All I had to do was just listen and she proceeded to tell me her entire life story. From her mother – who was thirty when she came to the United States from Greece to marry her father (a marriage that was arranged by her uncle). To her husband – who had a giant Italian family and too many Aunt’s named Angie. She weaved in and out of details, with no concern for time or getting to a point.
Feeling underwater, I drifted along with her wherever her stories would take me. It was nice to float away.
“Do you have any children?” she asked me with kindness in her eyes.
I quickly responded no and was relieved to hear her steer us into another tributary of her own story. She had three children, only one was still living. One boy died because he fell off his bicycle on Sauvie Island and broke his neck. Her other boy died shortly after he was born. Her daughter was alive. But she didn’t have much to say about that and her eyes were wet with tears as she drifted off into painful reverie.
“Do you plan to have any children?” she asked casually but this time the question pierced me. An accidental injury that caused me to burst into tears. I apologized for my emotion and explained my recent events. Her eyes became wet again and she trembled with empathetic apology.
She went on to assure me that we will have children someday and that this time, maybe it will be twins. I told her that when we went in for the ultrasound at eight weeks, I was crossing my fingers for twins but I found out later Mikey was crossing his fingers for no twins. She said we must have canceled each other out. She chuckled at that notion and I smiled for the first time in a day or two.
At this point my soup was gone and the lunch crowd was emptying out. I thanked her for her company and explained that I should probably get going.
“I never told you my name,” she replied. “My name is Kiki. Well, my full name is Angeliki but I’m no Angel so Kiki is my name.”
I told her my name but with the noise all around, I had to repeat it three times and spell it four and I’m still not sure if she ever quite figured it out. As I extended my hand out on the table to thank her again for the chat, she reached out and patted it three times. “Good things are going to happen soon,” she assured me and did the sign of the cross.
The next day as I prepared for my surgery, sadness and fear settled like low-lying clouds around my heart. As I waited to be admitted, I daydreamed about placing black cloth over everything that added salt to my wounds, like some cultures do over mirrors after a death. The Birthing Center sign on the walk in to the Day Surgery unit, the pregnant woman I saw walking into the bank, the pregnancy books and baby blanket that I tucked into the corner of the guest room in the neatest of piles. Maybe I could just blindfold myself for the next few months…
They called my name and it was time. I shook as I made my way down to the hospital room. A few logistics were shared with me by my admitting nurse but soon I was in a purple gown and cozy gripper socks under heated blankets and watching the clock tick closer to 9:30 a.m. I’ve never felt more nervous in my life.
With every new person who entered the room, however, I felt a distinct new level of peace. My nurse made sure I was warm and softly rubbed my shoulder when I got emotional. My doctor came in to answer any questions I had. She was the gentlest spirit and assured me that the utmost respect would be taken with the procedure. The anesthesiologist’s words felt like she had wrapped her arms around me, “You are going to do great. Everything is going to be ok.” I had had my tonsils out just a couple years before but I did not feel this same envelopment of care.
As they wheeled me down for surgery and I “went to sleep,” tears dripped down my cheeks. I still felt pain and heaviness, but I knew I didn’t have to bear it all on my own. In fact, it felt as if I was being carried through each step by protective angels and soon I would wake up from this nightmare. Everything is going to be ok. Good things are going to happen soon.
I wonder if angels are real people that carry you in the moments you can’t seem to walk through on your own? Maybe it’s with their words, prayers, actions or simply their presence. And perhaps the prayers that people say for you lead to accidental conversations at just the right time or the gentleness of a team of people taking care of you. I just don’t know, but I suspect there’s some truth in these conjectures.
In light of these things, we decided to give the baby a name. Sometimes it feels silly that we did it. Other moments, it seems pretty perfect. I always “felt” like it was a girl, though I know now it was probably more complicated than that due to lab results indicating “chromosomal abnormalities.” But the name we gave it was Angeliki which means “angelic messenger.” Or Kiki for short, though we won’t have occasion for nicknames.
This experience has strengthened my belief in the idea that sometimes we are carried through the depths of things by the humans in our life. For me, this has been in the arms of my friends, family, sisters, mothers, husband, and the countless women who have experienced this same pain. And there is something other-worldly or angelic about these interactions. At the very least, I am thankful that the 12-week long life of our baby helped grow my faith in that. If I’m being honest though, “thankful” is definitely not at the top of my list of emotions right now. I’m navigating anger, sadness, fear and loneliness which wash over me in predictable waves every day. But I’ll take my smidgen of gratitude and count it for today. It is a tiny seed out of which will grow hope, love, peace, joy, and strength.
© 2014 D. Willson
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