When Ronnie Lomonaco got the first text message from a stranger last November — something about “thanks for breakfast” — he figured it was sent in error. Besides, the Delaware County man had a much weightier thing on his mind: The third anniversary of his wife’s death was approaching.
Michele Lomonaco had died unexpectedly from a pulmonary embolism on Dec. 7, 2016, at age 36, just four days after she and Ronnie had returned from their honeymoon. Time had done little to ease Ronnie’s grief. So he paid no heed to that odd message — or to a second similar one he received from a different number shortly afterward.
But then he received a third message from yet another number. This one mentioned Michele.
“I was starting to get upset,” said Lomonaco, 37. “I thought maybe it was a scam. I thought, ‘That’s kind of low.’”
But when he called the number, the person who answered explained that he and his family had been in a diner when their server told them that someone had paid for their bill and left behind a card. On the front, it identified the mysterious benefactor only as “Michele’s Angel." On the back was printed Lomonaco’s number and the suggestion that the recipient call or message Lomonaco to say that an act of kindness had been done in Michele’s name.
“I was shocked,” the widower said. “I had never heard of anything like this.”
He would come to hear a whole lot more.
From those first few texts, Ronnie has gotten calls and texts from scores of people — close to 90 at last count — who say they have been the recipients of random acts of kindness by individuals who have left behind no name, just a “Michele’s Angel" card. Lomonaco, who is director of sales and marketing for his family’s business, Guida Door and Window, said he does not know who started it or how many others have picked up on it.
“I believe it has really picked up legs, with other people doing it as a pay-it-forward kind of thing,” he said.
Numerous people have had their tabs picked up at diners. One grandmother with cancer had a child hand her $100 with a Michele’s Angel card in a Walmart. Someone received a Michele’s Angel card from a kind stranger who stopped to change her flat tire. Another person was short on cash at a Giant supermarket when a Michele’s Angel spotted her the difference — and a card.
M.R. Carter, 29, a SEPTA bus driver, was in line at Leandro’s Pizza in Upper Darby when the guy in front of him seemed to not have enough money to pay for his order. The man in line behind Carter piped up, “I got it. Buy whatever you want.” And then he insisted on paying for Carter, too.
“He gave me a card,” Carter said. “Somebody’s Angel.”
Some of those who contacted Lomonaco to describe the acts of kindness they’d received in Michele’s name were all too familiar with personal grief, like Mazel Lewis, 66, who told him she had lost a son. Lewis had been buying sheets at a Big Lots store when she realized she left her bank card in her car. She told the cashier she’d be right back when the young man behind her offered to pay.
“I’m from New York,” said Lewis, a retired budget analyst. “I thought, ‘What’s up with that?’”
But the young fellow seemed sincere, and as they walked out together, he explained what he was doing. Then he gave her a Michele’s Angel card, and she called Lomonaco to tell him what had happened.
“I gave him my condolences,” Lewis said.
From the start, Michele was Ronnie’s angel.
“She was definitely my better half,” he said.
They met through Match.com and settled on Dave and Buster’s in Philadelphia as their first date. When they settled at the bar, he finally got to take his first good look at her.
“It was at that point I realized, here are the most beautiful green eyes I had ever seen. I’ll never forget that look she had when she turned toward me in that moment, the way the light hit her eyes,” he said. “It’s not that I fell in love with her at that moment, but I was just, ‘Wow, I need to see her again.’ I just wanted to see her again.”
The day was Dec. 7, 2012, four years to the day before Michele died.
But they were four full years. Love came pretty quickly. The couple got to have their dream wedding on Nov. 19, 2016, followed by a wonderful honeymoon in Mexico. On their fourth day home, Ronnie was hurrying to get to work. Michele, 36, a billing coordinator for Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, didn’t have to be up early, so Ronnie let her rest.
“I was almost at work when I received a call from her, gasping for air, saying, ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe!’ Those were her last words to me. I could hear the fear in her voice. I could hear her struggle,” Ronnie said.
He rushed home in time to see an ambulance pulling out.
The first year after Michele died, Ronnie said, lots of family and friends tried to keep him busy. “The second year was actually more difficult. I got depression, and I secluded myself from everyone. I was in self-quarantine pretty much. I just didn’t move forward at all.”
On social media, he told his and Michele’s story. He devoted a lot time to documenting what a kind, lovely person she had been.
He also felt “like a traitor” — like he should somehow have been able to protect the woman he loved. By the coming of the third year, Ronnie found himself asking Michele to help him find some relief from the guilt he felt.
And then an angel stepped in, and created that mysterious Michele’s Angel campaign.
“Whatever they sought to do, they succeeded because I have a renewed sense of life,” said Ronnie. “Seeing people recognize what a beautiful person Michele was really has changed my life. It’s renewed my outlook.”
He said he doesn’t need to know who started it.
“There’s something beautiful about not knowing. I don’t even want to try to figure it out,” he said. If the person ever wants him to know, that person can come forward when he or she is ready, he added. “I’m sure I’ll be very grateful.”
One person who had an angel encounter thinks the angel may have needed healing, too.
Natasha Lee, 38, a stay-at-mom who also happens to be a medium, was a little short of funds at a gas station in Upper Darby when a man offered to pay for her gas. He wouldn’t tell her his name, but he gave her a Michele’s Angel card. Lee said the man told her he didn’t know what a medium was, so she told him.
“I said, ‘I know [Michele] is very happy for what you did, and she thanks you,’” Lee explained. “I said, ‘I think you knew her personally, and you knew her heart, and you knew she was a good person.’ And he was about to cry, and I was about to cry. It was a beautiful moment.”
And with kindness leading to more beautiful moments, perhaps even broken hearts may begin to mend and lives can start to heal — “even with the coronavirus,” Lomonaco said.
“It’s all gloom and doom everywhere you go, and yet there is still beauty out there," he said. "There are still acts of kindness going on. You can’t stop this world from having beauty even with a pandemic.