in the snow
Massachusetts father finds encouragement
in storm wind
story copyright © 2005 by Mike Colclough, all
photo of what Massachusetts mail carrier Scott O'Malley believes
is the Virgin Mary appearing in snow during the Blizzard of
2005. The appearance comforted O'Malley and his wife following
the loss of their daughter. (Photo courtesy Scott O'Malley)
Mass. - To many Boston area residents, the Blizzard of January 23,
2005 was a white curse in a winter that had already clogged their
narrow streets with enough snow. But in Salem, which tied Plymouth
for the storm's jackpot of 38 inches of snow, mail carrier Scott O'Malley
looked at the snow and saw the purity of a divine promise.
When the blizzard hit, O'Malley, 38, and his wife Sharon, 35, had
been grieving the loss of their daughter Alyssa for nine months. The
12-year-old had suffered with a brain tumor since she was 18 months
She'd been "In and out of Children's Hospital," for her
entire life, says O'Malley. "She had a real tough time."
She was blind in one eye, had a feeding tube, and endured radiation
treatments, chemotherapy, and two surgeries in her life.
But doctors said she wouldn't live longer than three years. O'Malley,
who still has a son, Benjamin, 6, calls his daughter, "My champion.
She fought, and amazed all the doctors."
One weekend in March 2004, spinal fluid built up in her brain. Alyssa
went unconscious and had to be put on a life support machine. The
O'Malley's had a 24-hour window to decide whether or not to keep their
daughter alive mechanically. They decided against it.
"We took her off life support at 11 a.m. Sunday," he says,
but she continued to fight for 23 hours. "She passed away at
10 a.m. Monday."
Despite the years of watching his daughter suffer, O'Malley says her
death was still hard on his family.
"We kind of knew," he says, "But you're still never
ready. Any time you lose a child it's a tough time and you're never
ready for it."
The O'Malleys had Alyssa cremated, and the urn holding her ashes sits
in their living room.
That was where they were on Sunday morning, January 23, watching storm
coverage on TV while snow blew sideways outside their sliding glass
That was where Sharon noticed the sign.
There, outside the sliding glass door, says O'Malley, was the Virgin
Mary. She appeared, perfectly sculpted into snow plastered onto the
glass by winds exceeding hurricane force.
"It was only there for like a minute," says O'Malley. "My
wife said, 'That looks like something.'" So O'Malley got out
his camera and took a picture. Then the subject disappeared.
When they looked at the image they'd just captured, they "Realized
it was the Virgin Mary holding a baby - not necessarily the Baby Jesus
but maybe Alyssa, saying, 'It's OK, don't worry about it.'"
O'Malley, a practicing Catholic since childhood, emailed the picture
to his mother, also a devout Catholic, in Florida. She saw the same
thing he did. So did his brothers, when he emailed it to them.
But Sharon - who is Jewish - had noticed it first.
The following day, Salem began digging streets and sidewalks like
canyons through their drifted snow. Removing it was such a problem
that the city's students got the entire week off. O'Malley excitedly
drove his Postal Service minivan through the streets, delivering mail
and eagerly showing off the picture to anyone who seemed in the mood
for a good story.
The appearance has healed some of the pain he and his wife had felt
from their loss.
"She (Alyssa) had suffered a long time, so I guess this was the
best thing that could've happened," he says.
O'Malley hopes people who hear his story will take something positive
from it: "I believe in faith. There's no such thing as a coincidence
and there's no such thing as a mistake."