I had prepared for the death of my mother for years, and yet when it came, when I returned to the church I grew up in and saw her gold colored coffin, when I heard her favorite song, the Ave Maria, being sung… I cried like a baby.
I sobbed uncontrollably and unashamedly.
I wept in front of my family, my friends, and my God.
My young wife, sitting next to me, was unsure of what to do except hand me tissue after tissue and hold my hand.
I was overwhelmed. My mother was gone.
I would never again be able to buy her some salt water taffy from the state fair. I couldn’t spontaneously call her up at Christmas just to get the names of the Three Kings. I couldn’t pop in for a quick weekend visit on my way to some fun, great, other place.
I couldn’t do any of those things, ever again.
And I was unprepared for the emotions I would suddenly have from out of nowhere, things people would innocently say or do in passing, or random objects that would remind me of her, plunging me back into that cold gothic church in Ohio, where I would again stare at that quiet gold coffin in the dim glow of candles. That box now held for eternity a person who had influenced my own life in so many huge and positive ways, and who now would play no role in the upbringing of my daughter.
It was a shame that my daughter would never know her grandmother. They had never met. Mom died years before.
And yet, they had a commonality…
I saw it in the delivery room. The first time I saw the face of my newborn daughter, I remember thinking that she looked like a combination of an old man’s face and my mom’s.
My wife didn’t care much for that description…
Then the routine doctor’s exam of the baby found a rare and potentially fatal heart condition; one that no doctor could ever have heard through a stethoscope – and yet this doctor did just that. He felt there was something not quite right with my daughter’s heart. Tests confirmed his uncanny suspicion – and off to the hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit we all went.
Then, as my daughter, just 24 hours old, clung to life in the NICU, I felt a presence that I had not felt before.
At a time when I should have been terrified, I was strangely calm.
My dad, also a physician, said it was a miracle. That there had been an angel on the doctor’s shoulder that day, whispering in his ear. If we had taken my daughter home, she might have died with no warning, like so many others with the condition.
We were lucky. There was an angel on the doctor’s shoulder that day.
And I would eventually come to learn who that angel was.
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