Why did you write a children’s book about grief?
July 11, 2023
When we heard that our beloved son, Chris, had died it really wouldn’t be accurate to say that our world was shattered. It was so much more than that. A tsunami of change in most areas of our lives comes closer to describing it. Jan Richardson, a writer/artist who lost her husband in a sudden accident once said on a podcast I heard “Something has happened that doesn’t let me live only in this world.” Her words, which I have adopted for my website, come closest though - the shift in my world has been on many planes. Life without Chris in it any more often feels impossible. The only way I knew I was going to be able to survive, myself, was somehow to figure out a way to feel connected to him, still.
Buttons and the Butterfly, a children’s book (but for all ages) is the first product of these efforts to find a new way with him. The e-version of Buttons and the Butterfly is now available on Kindle, and the print book will be available on Amazon very soon. It has been a labor of great sorrow, great joy, and most of all, great love. I felt so close to Chris - and to God - in the writing of it. In Buttons and the Butterfly, I’ve tried to distill the beliefs that have sustained me to their purest that I possibly could. Then several members of my family helped with the edits so that every word and picture feels perfect to all of us. Now our trials are made a little easier as we share the words in the book with each other. Chris and God helped write this so that we have their voices in our minds to lift us up and carry us to a place where the rest of our lives without him doesn’t seem so impossible.
Why a children’s book? Some of the greatest truths expressed in literature are from the books we choose to share with our children. One of my most treasured memories with my boys when they were little was reading with them. They loved books and we would cuddle up on the couch and read at least every night, often during the day, too. They both became voracious readers perhaps as a result of the fun we had together reading, especially, picture books. So often the beautiful words and pictures transported me, the adult, to a different place and time where it felt that the beauty of the child’s mind, what’s good and right in this world, was what I was reminded of, and needed reminding of. We still have a huge collection of children’s books I will never be able to part with. Sometimes the only way I could feel comforted in those early days and long nights after Chris’ passing was to read these books to myself.
My Son is Not Lost
November 20, 2023
Since my son died I’ve talked with many other parents who have lost children. At some elemental level, we all seem to know that our children aren’t lost. But where are they? The deeply personal answer that we discern to this question may help us move forward.
Wildfires rained down ash at the graveside service in August 2020. It felt like the end of the world on so many levels. Almost everything I thought was solid was shattered. I felt there was nothing left of me. As a flock of white doves was released at the end of the simple ceremony, I imagined my son among them. But then we saw that one of the doves stayed behind. “He doesn’t want to leave,” someone sobbed. But this wasn’t a restless soul hanging back, I felt. This soul reassured us that he was okay, at peace, with God. In the chaos of that gray gloomy day, I saw a flicker of light.
My son was born perfectly healthy but three weeks early. As a young child, he would often say that in heaven he had picked our family to come to. I had stored up these words in my heart and felt strangely comforted remembering them. Perhaps the reason why we had to return his body to the earth, so early as well, was part of the mystery of his life, I wondered. What would it mean for our lives if he had indeed chosen our family to join, and who was to say that this wasn’t true? Struggling to make sense of this, I planted wildflower seeds. I needed reassurance that the world was still turning, and that growth was still possible. Within days little specks of green began lifting the dirt. When I raised my head, I saw butterflies darting about and caterpillars steadily processing toward their calling under the leaves of the milkweed bush.
Long a way to process my emotions, I wrote at night when it was quiet, and everyone was sleeping. Many times, I’d still be writing when the dark began to lift and the birds to awaken and be reminded: “Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when dawn is still and dark.” (Rabindranath Tagore). Faith again. As I became aware that God was gently guiding me forward through this tragedy, finding words for what was in my heart was not easy. Sometimes images captured those feelings. So, my writing evolved into a picture book illustrated with my photographs. As I examined my photos one day on a large monitor, I noticed an aphid hanging beneath a large caterpillar I’d spotted. Of course, it popped into my mind that the aphid’s name had to be Alex, and he and the caterpillar, Casey, had to have a puppy friend! The puppy had to be a labradoodle, my son’s favorite dog, and I would name her after my cherished childhood pet: Buttons. Sophia, representing Divine Wisdom, would be the wise owl who counseled the puppy. With words and images, I began to be able to express what had felt inexpressible in the tender story of a dog who loves a caterpillar that transforms into a butterfly and flies away to heaven. Making this little book transported me into the spiritual world, the only place I feel consolation. And so, the book Buttons and the Butterfly was born.
Initially just intended for me, family and friends found solace in the book, too. Encouraged by readers who said, “You have to get this book out in the world”, I published it and an accompanying activity book. I hold occasional workshops centered on the book, where I see firsthand the impact on others, and sometimes readers share the book’s impact with me. The grandmother grieving her grandson tenderly laid her hands on each page as if to soak up the content. The young boy whose beloved grandmother had died needs the book under his pillow to sleep. The girl exclaimed, “There’s Grandpa!” when she saw the butterfly on the book cover. I see that my son’s sweet, kind, and gentle soul lives on. I cry tears of gratitude for the comfort this brings me.
Now I understand that “we are spiritual beings having a human experience” (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin), not the other way around. For me, it seems that the truth tangled up in the mystery of my son’s out-of-order death is to be found not by asking God “Why?” but rather “What now?” The caterpillar to butterfly story of the miracles of life and life transformed is on display in my own backyard. The retelling of this familiar allegory has been a gift: I now know where my son is, and I am beginning to find my way too.