How her daughter's death brought her two unexpected angels

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Posted at 5:00 AM, Mar 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-04 20:32:03-05

CINCINNATI — The phone call came in the middle of night, unexpected and unwanted.

“I was laying in my bed and I got a call from her friend," Heather Stephens said. "She said, I think you should get to the hospital. I didn’t want you to see anything on Facebook. Your daughter has been in a terrible accident."

It was Oct. 24 and Stephens’ daughter, Ashlee Donshae Bingham, was hurt.

Stephens rushed to UC Hospital, where she found out Ashlee’s car had broken down on Interstate 75 near the exit for Paddock Road. Ashlee had run out of gas and was rummaging through her trunk when a passing car hit her and her car. She later died at the hospital.

Ashlee Bingham

“Complete shock. I’m actually still in shock,” Stephens said. “I’ve received the death certificate. I received her cremated remains. And I’m still waiting on her to call my phone and come home.”

It’s been four months, and it’s still tough for Stephens. Ashlee was a mother of five who loved the color pink, working as a security guard and eating food cooked by her mother.

But, there is one thing making her grieving a bit easier: a chain around her neck with two beaded angels.

“My daughter’s birthstone is red. This was actually her necklace that she wore every single day," Stephens said. "So I wear it every single day. I added these beautiful angels to it because she’s my angel. My daughter is truly my angel. She looks out for me.”

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Marilyn Grubbs' and Susan Setty's angels.

The angels were given to Stephens by two real-life angels: Marilyn Grubbs and Susan Setty.

“Marilyn deals with the spiritual; I deal with the body," Setty said. "And there it is, that’s just what we do."

Setty and Grubbs met two years ago while attending cardiac rehab at Mercy Hospital in Fairfield and became instant friends.

“We were a stand-up comedy team from the beginning,” Setty said.

Together, the two are taking their hobby of crafting and turning it into a lifeline for some people in Cincinnati.

For Susan Setty, it’s her hand-stitched masks, which she’s been making to keep people safe during the pandemic.

“Every time I give someone a mask, it makes me happy," Setty said. "It really does. It’s my way of fighting this COVID. It’s a way of saying, 'I don’t like this illness.' It’s my way of saying we’re going to beat this together. And that’s why I do it."

And for Marilyn Grubbs, it’s her hand-crafted angels, made out of beads, a wingnut and wire. The angel is a way to connect people to loved ones they have lost.

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Marilyn Grubbs shows how she makes an angel.

“It’s good that we can do it together,” Grubbs said. “And if we go someplace, if she goes someplace, she always takes angels. And when I go, and she’s not with me, I take masks.”

Grubbs has been making her angels for years but decided to start giving them away to people in need after running into a grieving family. After doing some research, she connected with the Trauma Recovery Center in the West End, which helps survivors of trauma cope.

Together, Grubbs and Setty have dropped off bags of masks and angels to the TRC, intended for victims coming in for treatment. They’ve also given them out at hospitals, schools and to people they meet on the streets.

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The angels hand out masks and angels with Sheila Nared, coordinator of the Trauma Recovery Center. L-R, Susan Setty, Sheila Nared, Marilyn Grubbs.

“I hope it brings a smile on their face and peace in their heart is what I’m hoping for,” said Grubbs.

The Trauma Recovery Center is where Stephens got her angels last year in the wake of her daughter’s death.

“An angel to me means protection. It means I have something to look forward to at such a horrific time in my life,” said Stephens. The act of kindness from Setty and Grubbs has earned the two women the nickname "The Angels" at the center.

“They’re basically ‘Miss Angels.’ They do a lot for the community,” Stephens said. “To know that there are people out here in the world that still care and do things out of the kindness of their heart and do things to bring joy to others, it’s just amazing.”

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Susan Setty hugs Heather Stephens after meeting her at the Trauma Recovery Center.

“What is it like to hear somebody talk about you guys like that?” WCPO asked Grubbs.

“She don’t know neither one of us,” Grubbs laughed.

"The Angels" continue their work not only because it helps others, but because it also helps them, too.

For Setty, it’s about service.

“It means a lot. I was raised with a family that believes in service. And we offered service throughout our community,” she said. “I think my Daddy is up in heaven just grinning from ear to ear proud of me.”

It also uplifts her own spirit.

“I feel stronger, I feel more powerful. And like I’m doing some good, when I do this,” said Setty.

Likewise, Grubbs said the work helps calm her down.

“It’s very peaceful," Grubbs said. "If I’m upset, if I just go and make 10 or 12 angels, I‘m good to go."

Both women estimate they’ve made about 5,000 masks and angels since the start of the pandemic, many of which they’ve given to the Trauma Recovery Center. They plan to keep making and delivering them as long as possible.

“As long as the Lord wants me, as long as my fingers will move, yes ma'am, I will,” Grubbs said.

The Trauma Recovery Center provides crisis intervention to trauma victims. It’s located within Seven Hills Neighborhood Houses at 901 Findlay Street. It can be reached at 513-407-5362.