93: Fourteen Angels

93: Fourteen Angels

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just for Preteens

Fourteen Angels

We are each of us angels with only one wing, and we can only fly by embracing one another.

~Luciano de Crescenzo

My grandma was diagnosed with lung cancer when I was only ten, but I didn’t really understand her illness until three years later, when I was thirteen and thought I had it rough. Between big crushes, massive amounts of homework, and arguments with my parents, I felt like I might just explode. I knew Grandma was sick, but it was merely a small thought in the back of my mind. At thirteen, I had enough to keep me occupied.

I’d been playing hockey since I was nine years old, and I loved it. When I was thirteen I played my first year of Bantam hockey. From the very beginning of the season in December, my team and I wanted nothing more than to win the championship, which would mean getting a banner hung up in the rink with our team name on it. We would become a part of hockey history in our small town. That’s what we worked for all year, and why we went out every game and played until we gave everything we had.

Finally, at the end of our season, we were close to winning it all. I was pumped for this game; we were playing the team that had been first in our league all year. We’d won our first playoff game against them, and if we won one more game, we’d win the banner. We’d be the top dogs. I was grabbing my equipment and my team jacket when I heard a familiar voice from the other room.

“What’s wrong with Mom?” I heard my mother ask. I walked down the steps to see my teary-eyed mother on the phone. As soon as I saw her in that state, I knew something was wrong. My mom’s been in the military her whole life, so trust me — she learned how to mask her emotions early on and she doesn’t show them easily.

“Rachael! Time to go!” Dad called to me and I scurried up the stairs, grabbing my hockey bag and sticks and heading out the door.

On our way to the rink, I asked what exactly was wrong with Grandma, since I figured that’s who Mom was talking about. He seemed reluctant to tell me, but I weaseled it out of him. Grandma was in the hospital, coughing up blood and having a hard time breathing. I wanted to be told that everything would be fine, that Grandma would be okay. When I asked if she’d come out of the hospital, my dad said what I didn’t want to hear: “I don’t think so.”

I knew I needed to focus, but after waving halfheartedly at the few girls who were already at the rink, I found an empty hallway and sat down on the ground. I tucked my knees up to my chest and soaked the knees of my jeans with tears. “God I hope she’s okay,” I prayed out loud in that hallway by myself. Somewhere inside of me, I didn’t think that my grandma was coming out of the hospital. Somehow I thought this was the last time she’d go in.

My legs were starting to cramp up from being curled into such a little ball in the hallway. I stood, and three of my teammates saw me and ran over to where I was. They asked in worried voices what was wrong, and I realized I needed someone to talk to.

I let my sorrow flow over as I told them how scared and worried I was. Part of me figured they’d probably just turn away; they needed to focus on the hockey game, not my personal misery. These girls weren’t my absolute best friends — we didn’t have sleepovers every Saturday. They were teammates, girls who knew me because we had similar skill levels at a sport we all enjoyed. I finished my story. I expected them to say they felt sorry for me, but I didn’t expect what was coming next.

Our team captain, with whom I’d had a number of spats, pulled me into a comforting hug. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. I have no idea how long it was, but each of those three girls helped to comfort me, gave me hugs, and surprised me with their warmth. We went to meet up with the rest of the team for the warm-up.

Even though I knew that I needed to focus on my game, I was still acting melancholy as we walked into the dressing room to change into our equipment. Apparently, my feelings were obvious because a lot of girls asked me what was wrong. Our team captain asked me if I felt comfortable telling the team what had happened. When I agreed to do so, she turned off the music and I stood in the middle of the room, all eyes on me.

“You all may have noticed that I’m... not quite myself,” I began. “Just before this game, I found out that my grandma’s in the hospital. She probably won’t be coming out.” Tears welled up in my eyes and rolled down my cheeks. I recalled a conversation I’d had with my grandmother over the phone a few weeks ago. “She told me she couldn’t wait to hear that we’d won the banner.” I was crying quite heavily now. The reality of the situation hadn’t hit me until that moment.

Every single girl hugged me. Lots of them were in tears as well, some because of their own experiences with cancer, some simply from compassion.

“We’re going to win this for your grandma,” the team captain said, and all the girls nodded in agreement. I was bawling. Their caring touched me more than anything else had.

When we started the game, I saw girls who were killing themselves trying to get the puck, and perfectly controlled shots hitting the back of the net. I saw girls who normally worked hard working even harder. I saw the numbers on the scoreboard for us go up. Even I felt the difference — when I felt too tired, or didn’t think I had the energy, I thought of my grandma and how every breath was a struggle for her. I found extra strength.

The buzzer sounded at the end of the third period and I basically tackled my goalie. Tears were streaming down my face. “We won for her,” I cried. “We won for her.” My teammates cheered with me.

“Your grandma is the most proud grandmother in the world,” one of my teary-eyed teammates said as she hugged me. I was the first girl to bring home the banner and I sent a picture of it to my grandmother.

My grandma died the day after we won the banner. From what I hear, it was only seconds after she received my picture that God took her away. My mom was with her and told her the story of what I’d done with my hockey team. She said she was proud of me.

After that day, I believe that love and friendship can help you accomplish anything. My teammates’ compassion and love for my grandma and me was the most amazing thing I’ve ever experienced. That day, God sent me angels in the form of fourteen Bantam hockey players.

~Rachael Robitaille

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