Angels come in our lives in unexpected ways. Tragedies always have silver linings.
During the early morning commute in January 15 years ago on a State route in Massachusetts, my wife lost control of her SUV on black ice and hit another vehicle head-on. Both drivers were alive at the scene.
I spent the next 36 hours watching her slowly decline. At one point, I received a telephone call from the man she collided with. He escaped serious injury, only a broken foot and a broken arm. He said he had been passing her on the highway for 10 years, knew her car and often talked to his wife about the people he saw every day during his commute. His wife knew someone who worked with her which is how he found my phone number. He voiced his concerns. I was suspicious. But he asked just one thing of me, to let him know how she was doing.
A day later, I called him with the news of her passing. He was devastated. I was numb.
A week after her death, he called again and said he wanted to visit. I said no but he was adamant. Finally, he convinced me his intentions were to be there for me, for our family, nothing else. He just wanted to be supportive to our family who suffered a major loss.
His son drove him to our house, and he hobbled into my living room on crutches. He stood about seven feet tall. We were there, silent, in deep grief. He stood in front of a chair and, like a grasshopper with bowed legs, eased himself down with difficulty.
The conversation was awkward at first until I realized he was the last person on the scene. He heard everything. I asked questions and he answered, filling in details about her last coherent moments. It was comforting.
A few weeks later, he insisted on taking me to a butterfly farm. I wished he would go away. With reluctance I agreed thinking this was the last time. His presence reminded me of the loss. My lawyers admonished me to not engage. I was confused and comforted by his presence.
We sat amidst the beautiful flora and watched the butterflies flitting about, so delicate and pure. We talked easy things. I felt lost. He was kind. I felt abandoned and he kept calling. At times he would talk to me with tears in his eyes.
I eventually heard his experience. He thought his life was over as he experienced the oncoming vehicle. He saw flashes of everything he would leave behind. His wife, his two sons, his love of hiking and his curiosity. He accepted it was over. He looked directly into her eyes before impact. It all happened within 10 seconds.
Little did I know that outing was just the first of many. He was steady and consistent with his friendship. His wife joined us when she can. Our friendship continues to this day.
He has become the big brother I always wanted. I resisted at first. Now I call him my Earth angel. He speaks about how the accident changed his life. It happened two days before his birthday and he felt he was going to die that day. Instead, he became a hospice worker. He keeps a picture of his wrecked car on a bookshelf to remind him life is precious.
I didn’t trust him at first. I didn’t trust life. I’ve changed over the years. I believe we each have the capacity to care deeply and yet because of fear, we close our hearts to protect ourselves. Who can blame us in today’s world?
The truth in my safety is in opening my heart to others. I could have chosen to close my heart and deny him the opportunity to share grief. Instead, I listened to his words and felt a truth I couldn’t deny. That choice allowed me to grow and heal from this devastating loss, gain a true friend and acknowledge there is a great unseen force in this world called love that works in a mysterious way.
With awareness and openness, we can witness this love, connect more deeply with people speaking truth and build a stronger community.
“Angels come in many forms. If you are waiting for the white winged, fluffy, newly laundered ones, you might miss the kick-ass muddy angels who literally move things along in useful ways.”- Clarissa Pinkola Estes
Thank you for sharing your story. Thank you for helping us to put pieces of life’s puzzle back together. I found out yesterday a former partner fell and had a compression fracture. It’s not her first fracture. We’re pretty sure she is in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s. I’ve been angry with her. She’s never made a will and I thought she was a procrastinator. But now we realize her memory has been going. During the meditation, I began thinking about all the wonderful things we experienced. I never knew what a snow angel was and she showed me. The first Christmas tree we put up, I had my first experience of lying under the tree and looking up at the lights. I’ve been wanting to cry since yesterday and I’ve been sobbing since you shared your story. I’m crying because I was so harsh with her understanding now maybe she was developing Alzheimer’s. I am sending my prayers to her.
Thank you so much for your beautiful heart-felt sharing. My floodgates opened as well. I hear you say often that you’ve stunned everyone into silence. I know for me, it’s actually the reverse. I could sit and talk with you for days for what your readings invoke in me. I was struck by so much. Particularly when you said his life flashed before his eyes. That experience happened to me when I was attacked. My life flashed before my eyes. A professional told me that only happens when you are certain you are going to die. It was a miracle I didn’t die, like it was a miracle about your friend. I think his purpose was to be your angel.
Thank you so much for sharing and reinforcing the fact that grief is a lifelong enrichment. It’s not a process that we heal from, because healing implies we are going to return to our original state. When we go through grief and experiences at this level, we don’t return to a previous state; we don’t get restored; we get transformed and enriched. When my husband was passing, it was torture. In his last three days, one night I looked out the window at the black and all I felt was nothing, no god, no love, no nothing. During today’s meditation, that huge void was transformed into a vast expanse. You are my angel.
I liked the line about the kick-ass muddy angels. We often have this sweet female angel in our minds. I made a soul collage card with a guy with brown angel wings. It’s a regular guy standing there. Anybody could stand there and put those wings on. One of my angels was a Harley-Davidson guy. I asked him for directions in the days before GPS. I was lost and all turned around. He could tell I was really flustered. He was so sweet. He said, “I’ll get on my motorcycle and you follow me, I’ll get you there.” He was so nice. The other wonderful angel I cried about—they seem to show up when feeling vulnerable—I was grieving about my son being an alcoholic. This man was in my graduate school program, not a typical student. He was a teacher, designer, had ADHD, and was an alcoholic. He was there for me with reality-based compassion. These people show up. They can be anybody.
I know what it means to be frustrated with someone with Alzheimer’s. My mom had it. I felt manipulated by her. I didn’t recognize what she had. It was just a circus; it was classic. She hid her checkbook and credit cards. I had to keep putting out these fires. She was fiercely independent. I realized I was very grim about it all, and what she needed was love and cheering up as she went through this horrible experience. It was hard to do both, to take care of the medical and financial things. I was working full-time. I appreciate what was shared. I would get mad at her and later realize it was because of the disease.
Thank you so much. What came to my mind was an experience that happened when I was a young adult. I was on a bus in the pouring rain and the bus hit a woman. A nurse ran out of the bus and then yelled out for a raincoat. I ran out and put my raincoat over this woman who was clearly dying. I got close trying to protect her face from the pouring rain. It was the first time I’d ever been with someone who was dying. Just being with her and close to her—I felt like I was an angel and she was an angel. There was a communion going on. It felt like such a privilege to be there for her, and I think it opened a door for me because I worked with hospice. I’ve had clients I’ve carried through hospice and what a blessing that was.
I thought about the little squirrel that hit my windchime with its paw the other day. I think he’s an angel. I think animals are angels. The woman who became my mother was an angel—she was the first person in my life who loved me and supported me and guided me. Without her, I don’t know where I’d be. Also, many years ago, my family member was ill and we were living way out in the woods. Our driveway very long and a snowstorm was coming. The person who plowed it backed out. A police officer from another town, who did some plowing, came and plowed the driveway. He wouldn’t take any money. He came back 4 or 5 times. He was an angel too. Thank you so much.
Thank you all. This was a hard subject. There are tragedies but there are silver-linings in tragedies even though it may take years to discover them. Thank you all for receiving this. Thank you for being here. Thank you for spending time with yourselves. Thank you for trusting this process. I hope you all have a gentle day.