Of Butterflies, Black Moths and Angels

I sat with Joy on the back patio on a sunny afternoon in May 2017 as we talked endlessly about our sons. Her son, Kekoa, passed over to heaven in July, while our son Ian passed in October.

We had met each other only weeks prior at Griefshare, a grief support group we attended at a nearby church. Joy is a deeply spiritual woman with a solid footing in her faith. We grieved together with hope, knowing that our sons are now among the Lord’s saints in heaven.

Nonetheless … there were tears and pain.

When two butterflies suddenly started to dance on and around our hedges that afternoon, we chuckled about it. It was tempting to say these two dancing butterflies were our sons visiting us, but we knew better than that. Our children did not turn into butterflies, black moths or angels. They are still the magnificent souls they were here on earth but in a new and improved physical state in heaven.

Yet, as these two butterflies brought smiles to our faces long into the afternoon, Joy suddenly asked, “Do you see two butterflies hanging around like this very often?”

“Not really,” I replied.

We stared at those butterflies in silence for a bit of time, and then we laughed.

It felt good to laugh.

Something felt very special about those butterflies.

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A Smile to Remember

The hospital bed in the middle of our living room was surrounded by sofas that served as seating for those who came to say goodbye. Hospice workers came and went, addressing Ian’s “comfort” needs that changed drastically with each passing day.

Pastor Glenn arrived on Monday to pray with us, again. This time, he gently told Ian that while we continue to pray for a miracle, it was time to consider that God was preparing a place for him.

But, Ian was not ready…

Even Jesus asked God to “let this cup pass from me” before going to the cross.

Pastor Glenn later reassured us that even if Ian wasn’t ready to leave, God had him – his child – by the hand and would not let go.

Six days after returning home from our Hail Mary attempt at the naturopathic treatment center, the good Lord dispatched his Angels for our precious Ian.

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Our Little Yellow Flower

Dave was walking a bit ahead of me as Rosie pulled him quickly towards the park she enjoyed so much. He was a good 20 to 30 feet ahead, and this provided an opportunity for the emotions that were simmering inside me to explode like a mishandled pressure cooker.

“Why, Lord? Why Ian?” I cried out. Questions I asked often in those very early days.

“Lord help me,” I cried out audibly, but not loud enough for Dave to hear. I wiped away tears that surged and receded violently like tsunami waves.

Rosie stopped to sniff around and soon we were walking as a group again. I’m sure Dave didn’t notice my sad condition because happiness was altogether elusive back then.

We reached the center of the large open field as my thoughts swirled. I had a severe ache inside my soul. I missed our boy so much I thought I might die. As tears began to well up in my eyes again, I diverted them towards the ground hoping to spare Dave the trauma.

When I looked down, at my feet was a little yellow flower. I plucked it from the earth. This was not just any little yellow flower.

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Grief Stalks Me

The voice over the car radio promotes a Champagne Brunch. The word Champagne sticks. And, it festers. Champagne. Champagne. Champagne Ponds…on the Big Island. Where we took turns swimming to literally keep our sanity while you lay nearby in bed at the naturopathic treatment center – fighting for your life. Fighting for the chance to one day swim in the Champagne Ponds. Our salty tears forever mixed into the Champagne Pond.

Champagne Brunch. I change the channel on the car radio.

I walk by the television and hear World Surf League commentators analyzing the pro-surfers in the line-up.  I didn’t even know the contest was “on”. Our lives once revolved around WSL events – like other families’ lives might revolve around baseball or football. And, when John John hit the line-up, it was time to stop the presses. Drop what you’re doing. An adrenaline rush for JJ’s #1 fan. You paced the living room floor and yelled at the TV if the judges didn’t get it right.

I hear the WSL commentators, but I have to keep walking.

I run into the store. Just looking for one thing. A quick in and out. There she is struggling with the zipper on a piece of luggage. Two young sons hover nearby. Actually, they hover right over her. Perhaps trying to be helpful. Perhaps not. She’s engrossed with the suitcase. The boys are being mischievous. Just little boy stuff. She’s oblivious to their wonderful presence. Just caught up in her task. I wish she’d notice how adorable they are. How wonderful. How precious. She continues to struggle with the zipper.

I turn my gaze away from the woman I don’t know; the woman I can’t stop thinking about for hours.

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Old and New Friends

The Gift of Lorna and Keene

Ian had been diagnosed with a rare cancer a few months before I got a text from my old college friend, Lorna. We had also worked together for several years at the phone company but had lost touch for many years – decades, actually. A mutual friend, however, had heard that Ian was undergoing chemo and radiation treatment and suggested that Lorna contact me since her son, Keene, had recently battled cancer as well.

It was truly good to hear from Lorna after so many years. We texted back and forth, but when I realized that Keene didn’t win his battle, my heart dropped and it broke. Cautiously, I asked Lorna what kind of cancer her son had. A rare cancer she told me: rhabdomyosarcoma.

That’s what our son had.  

I then asked which of the two types of rhabdo – embryonal or alveolar? Lorna said it was alveolar, which is the deadlier of the two.

That’s what our son had.

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Thankful for the years…

One year ago today, we got the best news possible.  The doctors said that Ian’s first evaluations were “remarkable.”  The cancer cells were no longer visible on the MRI. It felt like a miracle, and words can’t express how overjoyed we were with the news.  I can remember Ian’s large, slow-motion fist pump when we got the news over the speaker of my cell phone! The doc advised that he’d have to continue the 10-month chemo treatment plan to be sure we killed every last cell of the aggressive cancer.

While our prayers were not answered the way we wanted them to be last year, I remind myself this morning that our prayers were likely answered about a dozen years before that…

Below is a post that I made on my personal Facebook page a few months ago (before I started this blog) where I shared about the gift of time that I believe Ian was given.

This post and many of my early FB posts were written directly to Ian…

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This is one of my favorite pictures of you. It’s just so … you! You were on a Big Island trip with your classmates – maybe in the 5th or 6th grade. Your extra-large looking forearm makes me think of that funny episode of the King of Queens where Doug and Carrie get that portrait and Carrie’s arm looks enormous and Doug has rabbit-sized front teeth. That was one of your favorite episodes of that sitcom. You would laugh and laugh and laugh, nearly jolting out of your seat.

You had a very sweet childhood filled with lots of laughter. But, at around the age of 10 or 11 we had a quite a scare when a quickly growing lump on the front of your right thigh appeared out of nowhere. It doubled in size in about a month and the doctor decided to have it removed, although he expressed no serious concerns about it initially.

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The Gift of Lei

I know we’re not supposed to “compare” grief and rank them. I know that.

Yet, as I consider the depth of my broken heart, my mind sometimes does exactly that before I can stop it. And, when I believe someone else’s loss could possibly be even greater than my own, I wonder how can they bear it?

In my own life, there is someone whose grief, I believe – in many ways – could outrank mine.

It’s the beautiful, strong, and vibrant love of Ian’s life and fiancé, Lei.

Yes, I am Ian’s momma and it’s easy for me to believe that no one (besides God) could love him more than I do. But, the truth is, if there was such a thing as a loss-meter, I think Lei’s grief would easily measure up to mine (if not surpass it) because her loss comes at such a young age.

Yet, in the months that have passed, I’ve watched Lei handle her grief with strength, grace and wisdom beyond her years.

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