A Heaven-Sent Sign from Above

After her mother passed away she couldn't enjoy much. Until she found a symbol of a new beginning.

by
- Posted on Apr 22, 2019

A monarch butterfly on a flower.

“Look for butterflies,” a friend told me after my mother’s death. “They’re symbols of life after life and of new beginnings. Signs from the loved ones we’ve lost, letting us know they’re okay.” 

Mom would have believed that, I’m sure. She was in touch with nature. She loved walks by the lakes and woods near her home in Indiana—a love her failing body denied her near the end. To me, butterflies were just bugs. Watching Mom’s health collapse over the past seven years had only hardened my belief in the world around me. She’d suffered from multiple system atrophy—a cruel neurological disease that robs its victims of movement, their independence and, eventually, their lives. How could any loving creator allow that to happen to my mom? 

Mom was granted custody of me after my parents divorced. Until I left home and started a family of my own, most of the time it was just the two of us, our own little team. She was my “go-to,” my sounding board, a source of wisdom. A best friend. Since her death, I couldn’t enjoy anything. I couldn’t feel anything. It seemed like nothing would ever change. 

I was in no mood for my family’s annual summer vacation. But we all knew I needed one. We were headed to Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Good Morning America had named it the most beautiful place in America. Finally I agreed to go. I even brought a camera. 

The Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive was seven miles of thick forests and views of Lake Michigan and the mighty dunes. There were 12 designated points of interest where visitors could stop. Is this really the most beautiful place in America? I thought at Number 3, peering through my camera lens at the sunlit stretches of water and sand. Pretty, but so what? 

I could practically hear Mom telling me to enjoy myself, to lose myself in the awesome beauty. But I couldn’t stop thinking of how much more beautiful it would be if she were here. How much she would’ve appreciated it. 

We reached stop Number 9—Lake Michigan Overlook. I expected more of the same in terms of views. I walked the sunny sidewalk that turned into an inclined sandy path, shaded by beech and maple trees. I heard the waves crashing against the shore far below as I made my way through the wooded maze. Finally I emerged at the crest of a sand dune. I gasped. 

The cloudless sky was a radiant crystal blue, mirrored by the water, which reached all the way to the horizon. The sun reflected off the white sand, almost blindingly. Something flooded through me. All at once, I knew this was the most beautiful view I had ever seen. I closed my eyes and let the cool breeze off the lake caress my face. My body relaxed and I felt something break loose within me, ascending from the darkness and joining with the beautiful light around me. It felt like I was opening to the world again. Mom used to toss around the phrase heaven on earth—this place truly was. 

Does Mom have a view like this? Does she feel what I feel now? The thought comforted me. I felt free from my grief. I felt joy. 

I whipped out my camera and snapped a few photos. But no photo could capture the power of that moment, the healing I felt. I was ready to start living again—Mom wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. 

While my family explored a bit further, I walked back to the car alone, still astonished by what had just happened. It was something beyond reality. As though Mom’s spirit had been lifting mine. Maybe my friend was on to something. There were wonders that seemed to reach from heaven, to comfort us in our pain. 

I sat in the car and picked up my camera, scrolling through the pictures I’d taken that day. Even on a tiny screen, they looked pretty much like what I had seen. Except for one shot, at stop Number 9, Lake Michigan Overlook. There was a little dark blotch in the foreground, right in the middle of the photo. Did I get something on the lens? 

I looked closer. The dark blotch on the screen slowly resolved into focus. It wasn’t a smudge. No, it was a single monarch butterfly.

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