It has been a hard time for my family lately, a time to turn to each other and extend comfort.
I cannot imagine a bigger heartbreak than a perfectly appointed nursery, pictures on the wall above the wicker toychest, the comfortable nursery rocker set right next to the book shelf jam-packed full of children’s books. The crib is made, the diaper genie set right next to the changing table which is set right next to a closet full of diapers. It’s all there. Nothing left to add but the baby.
But then the baby does not come home. He struggles for 15 hours and he’s gone. The little nursery sits empty, and everyone tiptoes past the closed door with teary eyes.
Something that happened immediately is that I was flooded with messages intended to comfort, assurances that little Keegan was now our guardian angel. That he was a rainbow baby. Stories about butterflies being visitations from his little soul.
I did not understand those things. I believe in heaven. I believe that our Keegan is safe in God’s realm, but the rest of it? I took those things with grace knowing that I meant enough to people that they would reach out to comfort me at this time. That thought brought me great comfort, but rainbows, butterflies, and angels did not.
After a few heartbreaking calls, I went back to Blandon for a week with Dylan and Brittani. I just had to be sure that they were okay. Or at least as okay as they could be under the circumstances.
Brittani told the story of standing at her child’s grave, weeping and asking God why, She looked at his name and saw a beautiful butterfly perched on his grave marker. As she watched, that butterfly lifted up and it circled her. Twice. As it flew away, she said, “I felt like God heard me and gave me a hug.”
I listened to her story, and I thanked God for that butterfly.
On Sunday, I attended church with them. As we sat there in our pew, I opened the bulletin and saw that the first order of service was a baptism. “Oh, Brittani~” I said, but got no further. She was staring at the same page, and her bulletin trembled in her hands. I couldn’t bear to look any longer, the real danger being that I would begin to cry as well, but I put my arm around her and patted her back in a comforting way.
Her shaking ceased and the service went on. Later she told me that she stared at that bulletin and tried to blink back her tears right away. At one point, she looked down, and across the top of her bulletin was a rainbow of color, thrown there by the sun showing through though the stained glass window at the back of the church. She said, “I felt like God heard me, and was promising that it would be okay.”
We picked out the baby’s stone, while I was there. Laurentian Rose granite. A beautiful color. Dylan extended the paper with their choice of wording. “Keegan Joseph Powers, August 17th, 2016 – August 18th, 2016” followed by a wise quote from Pooh. The marker could hold no more words.
The stoneworker and the funeral director looked at that. They consulted. They came back. It turns out that the stoneworker and his wife and lost a baby of their own. He knew full well the heartbreak. He told us how the stone would be done. Because there were so many words, it would need a base to lift the stone up, to prevent mower damage and to make the words always visible.
Dylan began to demur. Markers are very expensive and another large slab of granite would very nearly double the price.
“Tim and I will pay for the base,” I said, but at the same time, the stone mason said, “No. That will be free. That will be from us.” We all stared at amazement.
The funeral director had refused payment for Keegan’s funeral. He had cried with us at the cemetery. His father, a minister, was so moved at the story that he drove an hour to do the graveside service. Now his friend the stone mason stood before us with tears in his eyes. He remembered his own pain, and offered to Dylan and Brittani a tangible comfort.
You know, that stone will remind them always that angels walk among us and I thanked God for that.
It doesn’t matter whether I understand butterflies, rainbows and angels. What matters is that God DOES understand. He knew how to comfort Dylan and Brittani. In his perfect wisdom, he sent them butterflies. He sent them rainbows. He sent them angels.
In her imperfect wisdom, Keegan’s grandmother stood silent and thanked God.
Debby Hornburg is a parishioner at Trinity Memorial, Warren. “Butterflies, Rainbows, and Angels” originally appeared in the Episcopal Mission of Warren County’s newsletter.