the angel always comes. often in the darkness.
this angel story begins with a stuffy nose on a sunday evening, five days ago. the nose belongs to my second-born, the one tucked away at college in the age of COVID (on a campus where — wisely, prudently — no one — well, no interlopers, bystanders, or pesky parents — is allowed in or out).
a stuffy nose is barely bothersome, and no one — save for your mother — might notice it. i, though, am said mother. so i noticed it. and mentioned it — in an otherwise matter-of-fact sunday evening phone call. the stuffed-up one all but brushed it off, said he might go to bed a little early. that was about the drama of it. zilch.
next morning, though, the phone rang. early. before 7. which in college time is middle of the night. he’d taken his temp three times, he reported, and it was hovering around 101. to whiz forward in this angel tale, we’ll skip straight to the part where he called midday that day to say the college doctor had stuffed a swab down his throat, taken a COVID test, and was promptly dispatching him to quarantine, at the old comfort inn hotel the college has taken over for the year, for the sequestering of sick kids, COVID kids, to be precise.
until my stuffy-nosed sophomore was proven otherwise, he was stamped, “pending” for COVID. he had one hour to pack two plastic bins with whatever he might need for the next two weeks, and soon found himself in a room with two queen-size beds overlooking an empty parking lot. in the middle of rural ohio.
the stuffy nose was getting out of hand. it was doing fever tricks, making it climb straight up the mercury hill (in the old days, when i went to nursing school, mercury — that slippery silver element — was the thermo-register of choice). the stuffy nose was swelling up his eyes, and making dark circles all around.
by tuesday evening, when the fever crossed the line at 103-point-something, the stuffed-up one called the front desk, and talked to the football coach in charge (yes, two assistant football coaches — sweethearts! — keep watch over the comfort inn, which i now lovingly refer to as “the covid inn.”) the football coach made some calls, and suddenly an ambulance becomes the focus of this too-long-winded tale.
yes, it was decided that an emergency room was on the docket and to get there, an ambulance was called. the mount vernon fire department ambulance. egad. hearing the wail of a siren, coursing through small-town streets, heading straight to where your kid is cowering under the covers, shaking with chills and fever, is a sound you do not want to hear. it’s a sound you won’t forget. especially as it comes closer and closer to the phone on the other end of the line, the line you are clinging to, trying to squeeze yourself through via the itty-bitty invisible wires you’re sure connect you.
since we’re trying to get to the part of the story where the angel comes in, we can boil down the ER part to simply this: they started an IV, zapped him through the x-ray machine, drew lots of tubes of blood, gave him a giant dose of ibuprofen, and declared him a ripe and ready case of mono, as in mononucleosis, an infectious disease that comes in two flavors mostly — mild and wicked. looks like we’re in for wicked.
by 2 in the morning, he was delivered back to the comfort inn, where he slid under the sheets and tried mightily to sleep. the fever though was having none of it. and for the next two days, it teeter-tottered, climbing to the very edge of 104.
we’re almost at the angel part:
all the while, during his days locked in room 229, the college was sending over trays of food from the dining hall a few miles away. (this comfort inn is in the next town over, so the commitment to feeding any far-flung sick kids — ours was the only one in the whole hotel — suddenly entailed a car and driver.) problem was, buffalo chicken sandwiches and breakfast sausage don’t work so well with fever and swollen glands swelling to the size of apricots on either side of your neck.
in trying to zip this story along here, i skipped over the part where the dean of students had called us at home as the ambulance was whisking our fevered child to the county hospital. she was heavenly, and she certainly is among the angels of the week. (there are several; i’m singling out only one for the long-distance-mama’s gold-medal-of-the-week.) early the morning after the ambulance ride, i sent my new friend the dean a little note, and asked if maybe the dining hall could send over those mama staples, the things you always pulled from the pantry when a little one was sick: saltines and gingerale. and maybe a little packet of honey to boot. (ice chips and honey somehow became our cure du jour in this old house.)
well — cue the drum roll — when our sweet fevered boy finally awoke from his long and awful night, he stumbled toward the door of room 229, opened it just a crack, and lo and behold there on the table where they always left his tray, he found not one, not two, not three — but six! — bags of groceries, custom-fit for a fevered kid. it was filled with a veritable wish list of things you might try when you can barely swallow or lift the spoon. there were soups and teas and saltines! and gingerale and 7UP, to boot. there was a teddy-bear squeeze bottle of honey, and cups of instant oatmeal and rice and ramen noodles. someone, some holy blessed someone, had up and left the dining hall, driven 5.7 miles to the kroger super-store, strolled every single aisle, all but filling a cart.
our holy blessed angel’s name is melissa. and as she wrote to me later in a note:
I have a 10 year old son. I cannot fathom him being away from me in a “normal” world let alone in this crazy world we are currently living in. For [T] to be so far away and going through such a terrible time must be excruciating. My heart hurts for you and I wish we could do more! I’m sure it is a constant worry and this is something we can do to take a little of that burden from you. We will do whatever we can to help ease your stress and give [T] a little TLC.
her words — her heart — make me cry, even now, two days later. she lived the holy heart of it all, of every holy book and ancient text ever inscribed. she literally slipped herself into the holy act of “what would make ME feel better if I was far from home, burning with a fever, all alone and stuck in a hotel a few miles from all my friends?” the very words i made sure to write, and sent straight up her chain of command, straight to the desk of the college president, so he’d hear firsthand just what a bunch of saints he was shepherding.
so that’s the story, and here’s the holiness: even in a world where every day the headlines tear us apart, and leave us gasping for breath, even in — especially in — those spells of darkness that surely come, right when you’re teetering at the precipice, worried sick and feeling more helpless than in a long long while, the universe always makes room for an angel to squeeze in, to slip in through the cracks. to bring bucketfuls of light. to adorn us with the blessed healing touch. the simple act of reaching beyond the borders of our sorry selves. of going the extra mile. of loving as we would be loved.
melissa, the director of catering at kenyon college, a mom whose job it is to feed the fancy folk and fuel the everyday special occasions, she slipped herself into my scared shoes this week, and she doled out love and saltines in an act of kindness and goodness and through-and-through heaven-ness now seared into our hearts.
angels always seem to come. this world is filled with them, though most often they go about their business without so much as a wink or a nod — and certainly not with trumpet blasts.
but if not for the angels, those messengers of real-live, in-the-flesh blessings, we’d all be piled in the dust. exhausted, hopeless, worried out of our wits.
as i type, my sweet boy is finally asleep. the COVID test finally came back: negative. and today he leaves the quarantine hotel, and gets a ride — via campus security — back to his little cottage in the woods, aka his dorm away from home. if needed, we’ll motor down and bring him home, where i can be like melissa, and ply my boy with whatever his sweet and blessed hurting heart desires.
who are the angels in your week this week?
and, dear melissa, to whom i just might send this, a hundred thousand thank yous till the end of time…..bless you, bless your heart. signed, the mom whose shoes you filled this week.
❤ ❤ ❤ xox
Having a hard time reading this through tears. What a scary week, and what glory to know that close brush of angels.
sending a giant hug. i miss you.
I am moved to tears with such a beautiful sentiment. God Bless you and your Teddy. I am blessed to have crossed paths with you and your family.
oh, dear angel melissa!!!! i am finding this just after getting home from the ER with teddy. we drove down to fetch him yesterday (high fevers wouldn’t stop), and got home a little after midnight. he said “the cavalry coming” (us in our old red station wagon) was “the answer to a prayer.” he wrote that as we were zipping down the interstate and country highways, on our way to gambier, and i think it made teddy’s dad push his usually-cautious foot a little closer to the pedal. looks mostly like a walloping case of mono, and for the next week or so i can ply him with home-made chicken “zoup,” and all the saltines in the world. we now call it the Melissa Diet, synonymous with TLC on a bedside tray. ❤ ❤ <3. xoxox
For sure, send this to Melissa, for even angels need to know the difference they make in our too-mean world. My friend, this is your tikkun olam returning to you. Praying T heals quickly … I had that in high school … but in a much less scary, non-pandemic time. Love to all of you, the worried, the recovering, and the blessed angels. ❤️
indeed, i just sent it to beautiful melissa. i am always shy about sharing things i write, but i did want her to know that her goodness spilled over my heart and landed here where i write from the depths of it……
wishing my sweet boy felt a whole lot better this morning. man, this is nasty.
Poor bubala… 😕😷🤧
Oh Barbara, I’m so glad to hear Teddy is doing okay and out of quarantine. What a sweet, sweet gesture of love for Melissa to deliver groceries and care. I am lifted this morning, reading your words. I think of you often and I am sending my love always!
i know, isn’t she — like all the Melissas in the world — something wonderful!?!?!? i THINK i saw you at the farmer’s market, i was waving like crazy, but you were taking care of a customer. i have been so quick into and out of the market. i was there to buy a pie for T, and then i zipped away. but the sight of you soared my soul. i hope the world is being kind and gentle to you, one of the kindest and gentlest. xoxoxo love, your old friend.
Oh my goodness! I didn’t see your comment until now, and it is such a sweet, sweet surprise to find your words here tonight! I’m so sorry and so sad I missed seeing you at the market. I am sending so much love to you and your family, Barbara. You are a wonder.
i know, sweetie! i thought i saw you that one time, and i waved like a crazy lady, but i dashed in and out of the farmer’s market like a lightning bug. i dashed to buy my sweet boy a pie each week, and then skedaddled. took me quite a few weeks to work up the COVID courage to adventure there. i wish i could have given you a giant hug. or even stood in the long henry’s line. but those blessings will wait till next summer, when this all begins to fade in our rear view mirrors…..sending love. always. xoxoxo (seeing your name pop up on my phone made my heart skip a beat….)
!!!DEEPLY DISTURBS!!! the negative status quo!
Thank you Melissa ♥️ I [a priori] wrote an accompaniment to your intentional act of kindness! Was titled “Where Wisdom Gathers”—non I thought “AngelSong” is more apt!! THEN I read PUAC while in line at DMV Elston Avenue. Ha ! GOD IS THE GREATEST SIT DOWN COMIC ever.
Wish we could all PUAC pass the Kleenex and listen to my audio recording “AngelSong” hmmm♥️
Nina is wrapping things up @ DMV !
Breathe Michael! Calmate – mi corazon.
xoxoxoxoxoox i can imagine AngelSong in my heart…..sending love. and blessings for the DMV. xox
So glad T had an angel watching over him.
I’ve thought about what I’d do if my youngest now 1000 miles west of here were to come down with the virus or some other thing. She thought of it too. Wondered what would happen and shared those thoughts as we motored out there just a couple of weeks ago. I’d have those angel Melissa groceries delivered right to her front door; I’d call the aunt of my dear friend Maria who lives out there if the need for serious stuff arose. Maria is an angel and I hear her Aunt Pam is too. I’ve got the plan. I hope I don’t have to use it.
One year when Danny returned home from college for February break, he came down to dinner that first day after an extended nap. I took one look at him with his swollen neck and called the doctor stat! It was mono too. No magic cures – just advil and soup and tea with honey – but he was home and I could tend to him myself.
oh, sigh, for tending to your sweet one…..so glad you have a plan for your 1000-mile-away-er. i don’t think i knew she’d traveled quite so far from home. if portland is 1750 miles from here, i am thinking maybe 1000 is somewhere near colorado or nebraska (here’s where my bad geography is coming into play…..)
sending love, to you, who so often plays in the leading angel role. xoxox
What Nan said… ❤
I find words inadequate. Just know my heart and my prayers are with you night and day. xx
i know. you’ve been a hand to hold all week. xoxoxo
thank you, thank you….love, b.
Oh darling! Remembering how I administered to my mono boy years ago, I understand your longing to be with him. What a saint Kenyon has in Melissa! Drink your electrolytes, T!
St. Melissa. xoxox
bless you, mono mom, PJT. you always understand….xoxo
Oh my gosh I love this story so much. Bless that Melissa.
So glad your sweet boy is better.
Oh, dear susie klein, i am melting to find your blessed name here! it’s been so so long. your babies are probably in college too! bless that melissa, indeed. and all melissas everywhere. xoxox they are rare and not uncommon all in the same…..
The Melissas of the world are our essential workers, too many to name, all reminding us of our best selves and held in thanks and prayer!
Amen!!!!!!!! Our saints and heroes. Essential to the core.
… and for every angel we recognize and appreciate, for every “Melissa” we notice and thank, for every act of kindness that lifts our spirits, there are hundreds (maybe thousands?) that will be overlooked. May we use this tender prompt to become the angels for another “Teddy Bear” and mama, knowing that the acknowledgement may well remain as hidden as the blessing.
(Yes, I’m typing through tears as my heart sings in harmony with yours, sweet Barbie!)
oh, dear joanie<3 <3, may we indeed be melissas, be outside-the-box sowers of love. may we be the healers of broken hearts — and sagging spirits — this world so deeply needs. sending love to you in the mountains. xoxox
“When you look for the helpers, you’ll know there is hope.” Oh how I miss Mr. Rodgers!
Your Melissa was not just an angel, she was a champion and a helper who brought comfort, assurance, sustenance( that could actually be useful), and peace to hearts aching with worry, fear, and the stress of too much distance. She must have been well cared for as a child and perhaps the letter to write is to her parents who showed her the way. You yourself have modeled such behavior to your boys who have been those same helpers in your own home and undoubtedly in the world around them. Champions of hope, help and kindness.
I’m so grateful T’s COVID test was negative. I know the challenges of mono and that is enough!! Prayers will continue for his full recovery and for all of you as you attend to him and bring him hope. Blessings.
i was thinking of that very line this week. oh, the helpers indeed. i LOVE your brilliant idea that i should in fact send a note to melissa’s mom and dad, who taught her love through to the marrow. since dear melissa has in fact found her way here to the table to read “her story,” perhaps she will grant our wish and show this to those she loves, those who taught her love (though she told me she is NOT used to being the star of anyone’s story, and she finds it an uncharted landscape; i asked her to PLEASE soak it in….)
and i love the particular read you bring to this, looking toward the ones who teach love, and who empower the melissas among us to play it forward.
i’m so grateful, too, that T remains COVID negative. at one point this week, i feared he would be battling both, which i’ve read sometimes happens…..
blessed friday to all. thank you for so beautifully and emphatically pulling up chairs today. xoxox
Oh no! I wish T the speediest recovery possible. Thank goodness for Melissa! I’m sure Melissa’s act of kindness is etched in T’s memory. I have a feeling he will perform such acts for others in the future, just like Melissa did for him, and just like his mama has done for so many! Thinking of you all and sending hugs!
in fact one of the earliest kindnesses etched in his sweet heart is his beloved Kerren and her bubble gum. you are the definition of kindness to that sweet boy. to me, too. to gazillions of us most likely. feeling your squeeze from across the continent. sure wish that boy felt better this morning…..
WOW, Barb… what an amazing story. So sorry to hear that Teddy got mono! And how very scary for him and for all of you.. You are right about this angel…It is truly a place filled with loving wonderful people. Please send him all my best. Thinking of him and of you! Jacqueline >
i’m so glad you get to know there is a Melissa hanging out in Peirce. there was a whole string of lifesavers this week. KC is true to its word of keeping watch over this motley crew of curious kids. it was the one sure thing that sold me — hook line sinker — from the get go. hope you and yours are good. xoxo
I am moved tears with such a beautiful sentiment.
Go’s Bless you and your Teddy!
I am grateful that our paths have crossed and will remember your beautiful family for the rest of my life.
ohhhhh, dear beautiful M, for some reason just finding this beautiful note here, and sending back a giant giant hug. love that the whole “chair” got to read of your excellent, amazing, most blessed big heart. xoxoxox (when i ran through the grocery store tuesday morning, i channelled you and got “what melissa would get.” xoxo
I’ve been speechless for a week. This story is overwhelming. How is Teddy doing? I shared your post with Sam and he was flabbergasted. He sends his thoughts from Kenyon. We’ve all been so focused on keeping him there and keeping him healthy. Mono was not even on the radar! I’m glad you could rescue him and provide love and saltines. All our best to you.
ah, jenny, so sweet. it’s been a long week, with a long monday in the evanston ER. but a great doctor is on the case, and pulling out plenty of gusto. kenyon professors and deans and nurse practitioners and catering directors are truly being phenomenal. teddy said he almost fell off the gurney when they told him it was mono. and apparently a whopping case thereof. it’s a good thing to put all my old nursing skills into action. i am the queen of germ theory, so those ol’ mono germs dare not trespass. so sweet of sam to send thoughts from storybook gambier. praying he — and all the “lords and ladies” — stays well, and germ-free!
[…] last week’s episode, we had a sick sophomore in college who’d been quarantined in an old comfort inn somewhere in […]
Thank you for your kind words. I am so proud of my daughter Melissa. This doesn’t surprise me about Melissa. She is a kind, compassionate woman. She is definitely an Angel! Tears are flowing she doesn’t always tell Mom everything.
Oh, dear gracious!!! Now I’m the one in tears!!! You’re Melissa’s Mom!! We had hoped that somehow magically we could tell melissa’s mom and dad what a magnificent loving light she was in our lives, and as inspiration for all of us to live with fuller, bigger hearts! The wonders of the cyber world never cease to surprise and delight me. I feel so blessed that you found not only the original post but also the long string of comments. You must be a beauty, and we thank you. With all my heart, B.
[…] Melissa, Queen of the Sick Call Grocery Delivery, the guardian angel of my college kid’s dining hall who went way beyond the call of duty when she […]