The angel on my shoulder

I’ve never been much of a believer in ghosts. Nor do I put much stock in “summoning spirits” and talking with the dead. However, I suppose that when I really think about it, I do believe in spirits of a different kind. Call me naive, but I believe that when our loved ones die, they still remain with us. At times, we don’t realize they are there, but other times, they let us know in a way only we could identify. I’m not talking about showing up in ghostly apparitions-I’m referring to the little moments in our lives that seem miraculous or almost too good to be true. Almost like there was a special angel helping us out.

My maternal grandma, Irene Aleva, could have been considered a special angel on earth. She lived with me, my mom, dad and sister, and she was an integral part of shaping the person I became. My sister, Rhonda, and I always called her M-ma because when I was little, I couldn’t say “grandma” and instead I called her “M-ma.” The name just stuck.

M-ma was an amazing woman. My mom shared with me stories of how she used to bake for hours, especially Hungarian pastries. She often made so much food that she enjoyed giving it away-to churches, to friends and even to strangers. At the age of 60, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a radical, double mastectomy. The procedure barely fazed her-she was back at her usual routine in no time.

Not only was M-ma giving and strong-willed, she was also nurturing. My dad worked all the time when I was growing up, at times at two jobs, so my mom and M-ma took me and Rhonda everywhere. They took us shopping, to dinner, on vacation, to the movies . . . if we were out and about as kids, mom and M-ma were right there with us.

I’m not really sure why I was so lucky to have this wonderful woman in my life for so long. She was with me through high school and college. Eventually her health began to decline and a few weeks before I turned 30, M-ma died at the age of 87. It was an exceptionally difficult time for all of us, especially for my mom, who had been taking care of M-ma in her later years as her health failed her.

Of course, life doesn’t stop, and eventually we all slowly moved on, although we always thought of M-ma. Sometimes, when I needed to vent my frustrations, I’d stop out at the cemetery and yap away in front of her stone about my issues. I knew she was listening. And it felt good just to get some of that off of my chest.

Two years later, in 2006, the second anniversary of her death had a much different feeling about it. The day before her anniversary, I had a biopsy to remove a suspicious lymph node from my collarbone. The family was especially somber, because even though we were all hopeful that things would be ok, we realistically knew the news would not be good. The worst part of all of this was waiting for one week to hear the official diagnosis. I was anxious and upset. I just wanted to know the diagnosis so I could formulate a plan of attack and get better.

The night before my doctor’s appointment to hear the results of the biopsy, I tried to settle into bed a little early since I figured I would have trouble sleeping. While M-ma was still alive but in declining health, she was unable to go up and down the stairs to her bedroom, so we moved her to the downstairs bedroom and I moved in to her old bedroom.

As I sat down on the bed, something on the floor by the closet door caught my eye. Mind you, I’d been in and out of my room at least several times already that evening, and I walked past the closet door every time. Mom even said she was in there a few times. There had been nothing on the floor.

I reached down and, to my surprise, found a pin. It was an angel. The pin was about an inch high and less than an inch wide. The angel’s head was a blue circular gem, and her body was a long red gem. She had pretty gold wings and a gold halo.

I just stared at the angel. I wasn’t exactly sure what to make of it at first. It just seemed too coincidental that not only was it in M-ma’s old room, but it was also an angel and I was the one to find it.

I took the pin downstairs to show my mom. When I explained to her where I found it, she said, “I don’t remember your grandma having any kind of pin like that.”

At that point, we realized that M-ma sent that pin to me as a way to tell me that she was with me and that she’d be watching over me during what was about to become a three-plus year struggle with Hodgkins lymphoma. From that day forward, I carried the pin with me. M-ma was with me at every doctor appointment, every test and every dose of chemo.

In 2010, after I was almost a year in remission, the thought crossed my mind, “What would happen if I ever lost that pin?” I would certainly be devastated. However, I thought of a way to commemorate that pin as a part of me forever. I had some scars from surgeries related to my cancer diagnosis near my left shoulder. I decided to have the exact likeness of that angel-same colors and size-tattooed over some of my bigger scars. The angel’s little blue head covers up a part of the scar where my mediport was underneath my skin, and her long body almost completely covers the scar from the large central line I had while I was in the hospital for my stem cell transplant. M-ma was there to help me through all of it, so it only seemed fitting that she could help me turn something ugly like a scar into something beautiful.

I’ve been thinking a lot about M-ma lately, especially with my wedding coming up in less than three weeks. She’d be so excited. I really wish she could be with us that day in the church, but I know she’ll be with us in spirit. Besides, she already has the best seat in the house. She’s the angel forever sitting on my shoulder.