12: A Visit with Mom

12: A Visit with Mom

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Messages from Heaven

A Visit with Mom

Hundreds of dewdrops to greet the dawn,
Hundreds of bees in the purple clover,
Hundreds of butterflies on the lawn,
But only one mother the wide world over.

~George Cooper

“Take her to the emergency room, Dad. I’m a half an hour away — I’ll meet you there.”

I met my ailing mother and worried father in the hospital waiting room. The next day, we received the grim news: Mom had stage IV ovarian cancer. The next four weeks, I rarely left her side. Dad was in a daze. Yet, with an incredible calm, Mom told me, “Jean, if this is my time, I’m ready. I know where I’m going and I’m okay with it.”

In a weakened state from thirty-five years of rheumatoid arthritis, she was too frail for any treatment. After a reaction to pain medication, she slipped into a coma and passed from this world looking out the window, as if to another destination beyond.

The next day, our family circled around the desk of the funeral director. The choices that faced us — flowers, casket, and liner box — were easier than any in the last four weeks, but no less surreal. What would Mom like? What would she choose if she were here? But Mom was not here. How could that be?

We managed to make our decisions. The last choice was the cemetery plot. We piled in our vehicles and drove to the cemetery that T-intersected the end of the street of my childhood home.

As we emerged from our cars, a small brown and orange butterfly flew close to my head and seemed intent on staying close by. My family spread out, walking the grounds in search of just the right place. My husband was fascinated with the older Civil War-era head-stones in a more remote area. I followed my dad and brothers to the center of the grounds. It felt crowded and noisy, as it was closer to the street traffic. My husband joined us and I told him I just wasn’t feeling good about the more “populated” area.

“What about over there, where I came from? It’s quieter. Come on; come see it.”

As he and I walked over to the area, the butterfly again found its way to us and landed on one of two tall arborvitae trees nearby. Beside the two sentinel towers of arborvitae, blocked from the noise of the street, was a quiet open place that exuded serenity. “It seems like a private outdoor room, doesn’t it? Let’s go get Dad.”

I walked over to him. “I think we found the spot.”

Everyone walked to the protected space and agreed, as my dad said, “You know, I can see this being the place I want to visit.”

In the weeks after Mom’s body was laid to rest, Dad and I designed a headstone with a bench extension for this space to be enjoyed. It couldn’t be installed until spring, so in the meantime, next to her nameplate, we “planted” a fake arrangement of Mom’s favorite flower — pink roses.

One late afternoon, I stopped by the cemetery as I drove home from an errand. Driving up the long driveway, hundreds of monarch butterflies launched en masse from the fir trees lining the driveway. This rush of butterfly wings created an unusual ambience. Yet, I yearned to see the smaller brown and orange butterfly among them. I sat down on the grass in front of the fake roses and looked up at the arborvitae. There on the same tree as before, landed my familiar brown and orange smaller butterfly, its wings a bit tattered. It flew around and I said, “Oh, please don’t leave. Stay here a while with me.”

A few minutes later, the butterfly landed right on the fake roses, only inches away from me. It slowly opened and closed its wings, as if it were listening. In a child-like wonder, I imagined that this weathered winged friend somehow represented my mother, if not embodied her. I said, “Okay, I will stay here as long as you do.” I glanced at my watch — 6:00 p.m.

I spilled out all the conversations I had longed to have with Mom after she died. I caught her up on the family news, how Dad was doing, how my daughter’s pregnancy and my son’s college days were going. All the while, the butterfly’s wings kept their slow, steady pace — wide open, closed, wide open, closed — as if its body language was communicating that it was taking it all in. I suddenly realized I had been talking only about my life, and blurted out, “Enough about me, what about you? What’s Heaven like?”

Suddenly, the butterfly’s wings rapidly opened and closed like two hands clapping. Startled, I said, “Oh, I get it! You are praising and applauding. It must be so incredible! How exciting!”

Tears of joy for her filled my eyes, and peace settled in my heart, as I remembered Mom’s favorite encouragement to me: “Keep your eyebrows up, honey!” I sensed her spirit buoying mine up again with her signature pep talk, as if to remind me, “don’t cry for me — I’m happy. I can dance; I’m free.”

Then the butterfly’s wings flapped erratically, sometimes a rapid quiver, sometimes slow like drawing a slow breath. Time seemed to stand still. Before I knew it, fifty minutes had passed and I realized I needed to be somewhere else soon. I said, “Oh, it’s ten till — I need to go or I’ll be late.” In a split second, the butterfly shot into the sky and left my sight. I instantly recalled a comment my mom had made about not ever wanting to make anyone late. That was the clincher: I knew I had just experienced my own personal moment with Mom.

~Jean Vaux

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