Signs. We talk about them quite often in our bereavement groups. We see them, you see them, but really? Are they signs? Or what are they?
Stephanie talks about one fall day when she went to see her son at the cemetery. After she spends her time at the graveside, she walks back to her car. Arriving near the car, she sees a beautiful butterfly fly in the open passenger side window. He lands gracefully on the steering wheel for what seem quite a long time, then flutters out the other side and flies away slowly. She smiles and knows her son is there – in that butterfly. It seems pretty normal to most people, but she interprets it as a sign from her son – she knows it was him. What is interesting is that this happened in late fall – way after all the butterflies have disappeared.
Lea’s daughter’s favorite thing was ladybugs. She had ladybug trinkets, ladybug pictures, she drew ladybugs, and loved to see them around her. After her passing, Lea even got a ladybug tattoo to memorialize her daughter. Now she sees ladybugs every time she is sad or is having a particularly bad day. She knows it is her daughter saying hello and telling her that she is still here. Ordinary ladybugs now mean so much to Lea – that is her daughter’s sign.
A few weeks ago I was sitting at my desk, home alone, working, and having a particularly hard day. Missing Andrew. The wind blows a little, then again. A picture of Andrew blows off the shelf next to my desk where I have his pictures and lands face up onto my desk. Then the wind stops. The picture is sitting there next to me; Andrew is looking up at me with a smile on his face. It has happened more than once. I say thank you and go back to work.
This is just a few instances of what I hear bereaved parents see during their normal days. is it signs from our lost children, or just a lot of coincidences? Do we think these things up in our heads and create them, or are they truly our children communicating with us the only way they know how? I also hear signs that come from parents, or spouses, or friends. But not as much.
When we lose a parent, or a spouse, we miss them just as much. We loved them equally as we love our children. But we know they will pass, maybe unexpectedly, maybe suddenly, but their passing is not devastating – as that of a child. I am not minimizing or comparing losing a parent or spouse at all – just saying that the loss is very different from that of losing a child. When we lose a parent, our minds can deal with it much better. We can still live and go forward. It is not unconscionable to lose a parent – like it is to lose a child. Do our parents send us signs? Are we as open to them or in need of them? My sister sees signs from my father all the time. When she makes jokes and the lights in an ordinarily flicker free room start to flicker – she knows it is my dad laughing with her, telling her he is still with us. It is nice to see signs from our parents. It gives us some comfort that they are still around and looking over us.
But the words “nice”, and “comfort” are not what the parent of a lost child is looking for – no matter how old that child was when we lost him or her. We are more in need of seeing a sign. We desperately need to know our child is alright – wherever they may be. We lost the most precious thing in our life. We lost the thing that gave us meaning, the purpose of our existence, something we gave life to and nurtured. We cannot just move on without knowing. We want to know they are somewhere – in a better place, in a different place, whatever, we need to see something. We need a sign from them.
Some people believe in signs, others do not. Some of us are more open to them than others, or just more accepting of them. Some people seek them out and everything becomes a sign. Every time a bird chirps, or a raindrop appears it becomes a miracle. But they find peace in that and it helps them get through this terrible journey we are on. It is hard to say if something is a sign, or just a coincidence. Why did that happen on the way to a special place? Why do we see something so much more now than before? We never really know. But in our minds it is a sign. It is something that gives us some peace, that we find solace in. We are looking for a reason why our children were taken from us – which we will never find. But a sign is something that we can find, and we can find hope in that sign.
Butterflies appear when and where we least expect them, and where we have never seen them before. Ladybugs land on our arms and just stay there. A rainbow appears in the sky on the way to visit them. For me, I find quarters. Not just regular quarters, but Colorado quarters or Vermont quarters, never a Nevada one or a Florida quarter – but the quarters from where Andrew loved to ski. A light flickers when you talk about them. Someone walks past you and says something your son would say. There are so many signs. You just have to be open to them.
A few days ago I was sitting at my desk having a harder than normal day, upset. This is the week that our family, all four of us, used to go on vacation. We went to the same place for many years – East Hill Farm in New Hampshire. Andrew and Nicole loved the farm, and Todd joined us on vacation there many times as well. They made many special friends at the farm who we still keep in touch with. I have posted many pictures of the kids smiling, laughing, playing Bocce Ball, making friendship bracelets, and having a very special week. Andrew was also at peace on the farm. No anxiety, no school issues, just smiling for an entire week. It is truly a special place. So on this particularly crappy day, I am sitting at my desk looking at pictures and the scrapbook from the farm, trying to work. All of a sudden a small straight line rainbow shows up on my file cabinet next to me. Never before has it been there. Probably never will again. But I know it was Andrew saying he misses the farm as well, and that he was enjoying looking at the pictures with me. It was a sign, the sign, I needed to get on with my day. Thank you Andrew.