Today, my heart is heavy.
A back story:
Ten years ago a complete stranger showed me a random act of kindness that to this day still leaves me in awe whenever I reflect upon it. I was your typical broke college student who found myself in a situation where my current lease was ending several weeks before my new apartment would be ready. I was in summer school, working almost full-time hours for small-time pay, and had two cats in my care. I had friends willing to let me couch-surf for a few weeks but I had no idea what to do with my cats. I had a lot going on and, to anyone on the outside looking in, I probably didn’t need the extra responsibility of not just one but two pets. And they were probably right! But for what it’s worth, I hadn’t obtained my pets irresponsibly and without proper forethought and planning. It just so happened that they came into my care quite suddenly from a pregnant co-worker whom I was trying to help. I hadn’t intended to keep them but such as it was, they ended up staying with me for good and I now have very fond and loving memories of the many years following that we shared. At that present time of being in between apartments, however, it sure didn’t seem as if I would have a future with them, but rather that I may soon have to give them up. In a last-ditch effort, I posted a Craigslist ad on a whim, imploring anyone that could to please temporarily provide kitty shelter and promising as payment what meager funds I could spare. I scoffed at my foolishness even as I typed. Seriously, Cristina, I chided myself. Do you really think someone out there is crazy enough to actually respond to this?! But I was desperate and looking for a miracle, not believing for a single second I would actually get one. And then, to my open-mouthed astonishment, there came a reply. Somewhere out there, an angel quickly wrote back that she would be happy to help.
A few days later I packed up my skittish kitties and all their food and gear and drove to the angel’s house. This lady didn’t know me from Adam, yet she and her 11-year-old daughter greeted me warmly at the door and invited me into their home. And for approximately the next month she housed my two fur babies. She would email me once or twice a week with updates and pics. I returned to the house 2-3 times during their stay to bring fresh food and supplies. It was during these visits that her daughter would sit and talk with me while we played with the kitties on the floor. And each time before leaving, Angel would steadfastly refuse whatever payment that I would try to give to her.
At month’s end, I had finally settled in to my new place and came to retrieve my cats as promised. My angel helped me walk everything out to the car, I thanked her profusely again, and handed to her a what she believed to be a thank- you card (which it was, it just also included a small monetary token of appreciation that I had managed to scrape together, and to which I knew she would have again refused if I had outright tried to give to her.) I remember that she gave me a big hug, saying again how glad she was that she had been able to help. And then we parted ways.
That was the last time that I’ve ever been blessed enough to be in her physical presence. A year or two later, we found each other on Facebook and had a short swap of messages exchanging greetings and me filling her in on the cats’ current well-being. Since then, we’ve not been in any frequent, personal contact though we have remained Facebook friends with the occasional “likes” of one another’s pics, an action I always perceived as proof that she still remembers who I am. Or at least I think she does, anyway. Sometimes I wonder if maybe she doesn’t specifically remember me as its’ indeed been years since we’ve shared any personal and direct messages. She regularly posts public updates on Facebook as she is now courageously battling and blogging about lupus. I follow and read and every so often will send messages of prayers, love, and encouragement. Maybe she sees my likes and occasional comments and thinks it’s just from some random blog reader. But no matter; the point is that I certainly remember her. And every so often, particularly when her name and posts show up in my feed, I am reminded of her extreme kindness to me. I worry about her when she posts that she’s not feeling well, and it’s always nice to see a pic of her smiling and enjoying her life and family even on days when its clear she’s still not at her best.
Within the past year, I began following her updates and statuses even more frequently once she announced that her daughter, the sweet little girl who happily cared for my cats and chatted me up when I would visit, was now expecting a child of her own. Angel was ecstatic over becoming a grandmother and her posts showed it. Her excitement was contagious and it was so cute to watch her happiness and anticipation unfolding over the course of her daughter’s pregnancy.
Then, just a little over four months ago, her daughter had to deliver her grandson very prematurely due to complications with preeclampsia, and it has been an extremely precarious situation ever since. Her grandson has had many varied medical issues that have repeatedly threatened his life. It has been nerve-racking sometimes to see her name pop in my feed; I would always pray before reading, please don’t let her say something happened to her grandson. Please let him be ok. To make matters worse, her daughter had an extremely hard recovery and Angel herself ended up in the same hospital a time or two for lupus flares, no doubt in response to the strain, stress, and worry over her family’s situation. But no matter what, that baby always pulled through.
With each day, Angel’s daughter finally began to get a little bit better. Angel also mended enough for her own release. And I nearly jumped for joy when just two weeks ago she posted that after these four long and arduous months, her sweet grandson was finally coming home! She has (understandably) been a bit quiet on Facebook since then, eventually resurfacing just all of two days ago, on the morning of this past Tuesday the 4th of July, to inform everyone that they are all adjusting to and enjoying life at home with Baby. She shared the sweetest batch of pictures of Baby snuggling with Mommy and a swarm of adoring relatives. I was sitting on the couch at home, enjoying the holiday off with family and friends, when I first saw the photos early in the afternoon. My heart instantly melted to see a beaming Gigi Angel in all her grandmom glory, her pride and happiness literally radiating from the pictures. I was so moved I went beyond my usual standard “like” and left an actual comment of how stinking precious those pics were and how I was just so happy for them all.
At the time that I left that comment around 2pm, mere hours after Angel had posted those joyful pics, her daughter lay down to rest and never woke up. Not the baby, not Angel, but completely, unexpectedly her daughter. A beautiful, young, new first-time mom that had just brought her sweet preemie baby home. I was still at work yesterday when I first saw the words fill my screen and my heart simply dropped.
I didn’t even have a moment to excuse myself from the work call I was on before immediately bursting into tears (the customer expressed concern and thankfully was understanding). But from that moment since, I have been so unbelievably overcome with grief and emotion. I simply cannot pull myself together. I don’t even fully understand myself why this is hitting me so hard–other than the fact that it’s terribly sad and that I would imagine any person with half a heart would feel a moment of sorrow upon learning the news. But with the way I feel right now, just so broken and helpless, one would believe that I was extremely close to the family, and in truth, that is an honor I can’t rightfully claim. Yet this is hurting me to my core. Maybe its the horrifying thought of a mother losing her child, any parent’s worst nightmare, that is just completely overwhelming me right now. This stark, harsh reminder of just how quickly things can change in the blink of an eye. To be over- the-moon elated one moment and then in the very next instant… I can’t begin to fathom the pain and grief they are now experiencing. Knowing that sweet baby no longer has his mother, a mother who was by his side every moment and worked so hard to bring her baby home… Knowing how ecstatic Angel was to be a new Gigi, ready to provide loving guidance to her daughter as needed, eager to pamper and spoil Baby rotten, yet all to be done from the elevated and revered status as grandmother, not the role of 100% primary mothering. And though she will without hesitation nor doubt now take those reins and cherish this baby with every ounce of her being, health-wise she is still not completely well herself. It is just a devastating and heartbreaking situation to wrap ones mind around.
I couldn’t sleep last night. I just couldn’t stop looking through the sweet, beautiful pictures of this lovely young mother and her dear tiny baby and reading through the heartfelt and moving tributes being posted from friends and family. Wondering if the initial death announcement had yet been published, I took to the web for a quick search. And in doing so, I inadvertently pulled up an obituary for an entirely different person: a girl from a neighboring town that shared the same given first name and who passed away all of two weeks ago. And this girl, my god, was only thirteen. A link to her story brought me to her mother’s anguished posts over her baby girl’s suicide, apparently behind alleged bullying. Post after post, picture after picture, the mother’s heartrending, unconstrained grief was so raw, so honest, so angry, and so breathtakingly sad and painful…My heart ached as I read every line. I don’t know at what point I eventually sobbed myself to sleep.
This morning, I woke up still sad. Needing to try to process these intense emotions, I just started to write. I realize this post has been long and meandering and maybe a bit incoherent. If you’ve made it this far then I thank you for reading and I apologize that I don’t even know where it is that I’m going with this or even what point it is that I’m trying to make. I guess I just simply wanted to share a personal story of a stranger’s kindness. You never know just how much of an effect you can have on someone to the point that a decade later they still reflect in awe and appreciation of your actions.
This woman has touched me and I feel deeply for her and for what has transpired. I would ask for anyone that is reading this to maybe say a prayer tonight for this family and/or to keep them in your thoughts. And to also give thanks for and to hug your own loved ones tonight (and every night) as well. And maybe, in memory of and out of respect also for that dearly departed thirteen-year old girl, we can all try to be a little more kind to one another, a little more selfless, and show a little more love. Much like Angel and her sweet daughter once did for me.