Joy Rigberg, MEd, MA, CC
Recovery & Life Coach
Certified B.E.S.T. Practitioner

An Angel in Disguise

I write this post today with both a heavy and a light heart, if that’s at all possible.

The world lost one of it’s most beautiful young angels today, Yaneli Rios, 14 years of age.

I was given the news yesterday, by a wonderful teacher friend of mine, that Yaneli would be taken off of life support today. I don’t know the details, but I’m guessing that it was related to the menengitis that she had contracted at the age of three, resulting in frequent seizures, limited speech, partial paralysis on one side of her body and a whole slew of other medical issues that I am unaware of.

One thing that was not affected by the menengitis was her infectious smile!

Some quick history

The year was 2004 and I was working as a first grade bilingual teacher at Cartwright Elementary School in Phoenix, Arizona. I was informed that I had been chosen to teach a young girl who was disabled in a wheel chair, and with her came a full time aid, lots of equipment and a stand up chair that looked eerily similar to the one used by Hannibal Lector.

In my 10 years thus far as I teacher, I had not yet had a physically disabled child in my room, and I was pretty nervous about it.

Now, prior to the day of my first face-to-face meeting with Yaneli, I had already created a huge scary story in my head, in anticipation of how all of the other kids would react to Yaneli and her equipment and how she would fit in, physically, emotionally and mentally. I couldn’t understand why I was chosen to be her teacher and honestly, I was scared to death.

My incredible discovery

It was the night of my school’s Open House. I had prepared my classroom the best I could, with the space I had. Thirty five desks all lined up into 6 rows of 6 and a huge stand up chair in the back corner row. I tried to make it look as warm and homey as possible, but in the end I threw up my hands and let it be.

Before the parents and children were scheduled to arrive I decided to go to the nurse’s office and read through Yaneli’s file so I could become more familiar with her symptoms.

It was then while glancing at her basic information, age and year of birth, that I saw her birthday, September 11, I gasped and knew right then and there that Yaneli had been sent to me for a purpose, that this was no chance happening. You see, Yaneli and I shared the same birthday, and that was all I needed to know.

Our first meeting

Shortly after returning to my room I hear the door open and I walk over to greet whoever was there. I smiled at the mother and then I looked down to see the most beautiful child with the most radiant smile I have ever seen; I kneeled, introduced myself, gave her a big hug and welcomed her to her first grade room!

Our connection was immediate and my fears were gone.

Recap of an amazing and tough year full of love & lessons

 Some constants in my classroom that year:

  • Seizures
  • Vomit
  • New Aids (Or Instructional Assistants as they were titled) – Including the one who stole my purse and my identity while I was in the library with my students. That’s another story all together.
  • The nurse
  • Laughter
  • Tears
  • Raised voices and not just mine – What can I say, they were 5 & 6 years old, and there were a lot of them!
  • Teachable moments
  • Stories – Including one that I wrote, inspired by Yaneli called, Nelly’s Second Chance. A story about believing in yourself.

Throughout all of this constant craziness, the most memorable constant for me was Yaneli’s incredible resilience and her SMILE.

The following years

I never had another year quite as impactful as that year with Yaneli.

I would see her less and less as the years went by, walking my entire class out of the way when I saw her in the hall to give her a hug. And I always made it a point to give her a birthday card and a tootsie pop on September 11th.

Even when I left Cartwright to pursue my coaching practice I would either visit the school or ask my friend Kathy to give Yaneli a birthday hug for me.

Yaneli’s legacy

Today, 8/8/12, as kids all around the valley are attending their first day of school, my heart and blessings go out to Yaneli and her very devoted and loving mother.

I believe that Yaneli’s purpose on this planet was to spread love with her smile. Now I believe she is being cared for and loved, and spreading her love in another dimension.

What I’d also like to believe, and what brings me a lot of comfort, is that Yaneli will now be able to walk, run, skip, jump and play with a perfect body!

Her earth life was cut short and I will really miss her smile. Yet her Spirit and smile will never fade as I carry them both with me  in my heart.

Yaneli is eternal and she is free!

Rest In Peace Yaneli.

All of my love,


One Response to “An Angel in Disguise”

  1. […] This is a repost from the blog I wrote the other day entitled An Angel In Disguise. […]