We have all lost loved ones at some point in our lives. The Bible tells us that for those of us with the hope of an eternal home in heaven, the death of a loved one is not something to be mourned like those that have no hope. We are to rejoice in the fact that our loved one is in the presence of our Savior, and celebrate the life lived as unto the Lord.
There is great comfort in knowing that those that have gone before me are just on the other side, waiting for me to join them; and knowing that one day I will see them again. There is also great joy in knowing that the God of all comfort will ease the pain of loss and fill the empty places with His love and grace if we would just turn to Him. Sometimes that comfort and joy comes in the most surprising form.
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This story was originally posted in 2012. For those of you that have not read it yet, I hope you will enjoy it. For those that remember it, I hope you won’t mind reading it again.
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Cassie sank onto the bottom step, her sneakers making a squeaking sound against the wood. The sound took her back to that summer when she had sat in this same spot watching for her best friend to come home.
The summer when her eight year old mind struggled to understand the concept of death and heaven.
As she had sat there all those years ago, she had leaned out as far as she could, trying to see down the street that stretched beyond her own small yard. She had counted the houses, imagining the people in each.
First there had been Mr. and Mrs. Talbot.
Mr. Talbot smelled like Grandpa Mason. Mama said it was something called Old Spice. Cassie had liked it, but had wondered what New Spice would smell like. She smiled now as she remembered.
Mrs. Talbot was always baking cookies and cakes and good things, making Cassie try to find reasons to go visiting.
Mr. Talbot had died a few years ago, and Mrs. Talbot had sold the big old house to a young couple with a baby so she could move across town to be closer to her son.
Next there was Mr. Palmer. Cassie had figured he had to be the oldest person she had ever met. A fact that would have amused Mr. Palmer if he knew. He had just turned eighty the week before, which meant back then he would have only been seventy.
And then there was Matt’s house. Even though Matt was no longer there, that house would always be Matt’s in Cassie’s mind.
Cassie remembered sitting on that step as if it were yesterday. She twisted on the step, angling herself so that she could look down the street better. She leaned her head back against the post at the bottom of the steps, and closed her eyes, remembering ….
As she looked down the street, her tiny face puckered into a frown. Matt was sick. Mama said that Matt was going to leave soon and go live with Jesus in heaven.
Cassie didn’t really understand heaven, just what she had learned in Sunday School. Miss Emily said that heaven was the best place. She had told the class that when Matt went to heaven, he would never be sick again and never be hurt, or anything.
Cassie liked the sound of heaven, but Mama said that when someone went there, they could not come back like when they went to the store and then came back home. Mama said that once someone went to heaven, they had to stay there because Jesus wanted them there.
She leaned farther, trying to see if Mrs. Newman’s car was in the driveway. Since Matt had gotten sick, he couldn’t come to play with her anymore. And when she went to his house, they sat on his bed and watched TV or played Candyland on the table in the living room.
She scooted forward some more, looking around the plant that grew at the edge of the steps. She could see Mr. Palmer’s car but not Mrs. Newman’s. She inched a little farther, careful to keep the seat of her pants on the step.
She was not allowed to leave the step. Daddy and Mama had said.
A butterfly came and landed on the flower next to the step. Cassie and Matt liked to watch the butterflies and she decided the yellow and black butterfly was the prettiest thing she had ever seen. She sucked her lower lip in and reached out slowly.
“Cassie, what are you doing, sweetheart?”
She pulled her hand back and turned around to look at Mama in the doorway.
“Mama, see the butterfly?”
Mama came out and down the steps just before it flew away.
“Oh! Isn’t that pretty! I’ve never seen one like that before.” Mama sank down onto the step. “What are you doing sitting out here all by yourself?”
“Waiting for Mrs. Newman to bring Matt home so I can go over.”
She watched Mama frown and knew something was wrong.
“Honey, I don’t think Matt will be coming home again.”
“Why? Did he go to heaven?” Cassie felt tears in her eyes and looked at her Mama as they fell down her face. “I didn’t say goodbye!”
“Oh, honey. He didn’t go to heaven yet; but he is very sick and he has to stay in the hospital.”
Cassie began to cry.
“I don’t want Matt to go to heaven Mama. Why does he have to go to heaven? Why doesn’t God make him all better?”
“I don’t know, honey. I just know that sometimes people, even children like Matt get sick and go to live in heaven.”
Cassie was silent as Mama wrapped her arm around Cassie’s shoulders and pulled her closer.
“Mama, can we go to the hospital so I can say goodbye?”
“Yes, we can do that, but I’ll have to call his mom first and find out when it will be okay.”
Cassie leaned against Mama’s shoulder just as the butterfly came back and fluttered around their heads.
“Hold still, honey,” Mama whispered. “Don’t scare it away.”
They sat just barely daring to breath as the beautiful creature settled on Cassie’s knee. Cassie watched it, studying the beauty of the thin wings and the spots and colors.
When it flew away, she turned and smiled up at Mama.
“I wish Matt could see it.”
The next day Cassie sat on the edge of Matt’s hospital bed and told him about the butterfly she had seen. Even as she was describing how pretty it was, one came to land on the outside of the window.
“Look!” she cried to Matt. “That’s it!”
They both held their breath as the yellow and black wings fanned out as it clung to the ledge. Suddenly it turned its body as if to look in the window at them. They watched it in silence, not daring to move.
“It’s looking at us,” Matt whispered.
As it flew away, Cassie looked at Matt and said, “It came to see you before you went to heaven.”
At Cassie’s words, Matt reached out and touched her hand.
“Will you miss me, Cassie?”
Cassie nodded. “Yes. You’re my best friend.”
“I heard the doctor telling Mom and Dad that it won’t be long now. There isn’t anything else they can do to help.”
“Are you scared?”
Matt shook his head.
“No. Jesus will be there waiting for me.” He smiled. “So will Grandpa Newman. Maybe we can go fishing like before.” His smile slid away as he looked back at Cassie. “Don’t forget me.”
The next day, Cassie once again sat on the front step, asking God why He didn’t make Matt better. Suddenly, the butterfly was there again, landing on the sidewalk at her feet.
She heard the phone ring and then heard Mama talking. She watched the butterfly until Mama came out and settled on the step next to her. The butterfly flew away and Cassie looked up at Mama.
“What’s wrong, Mama? Why are you crying?”
“Honey, that was Mrs. Newman on the phone. Matt went to heaven this morning.”
Cassie leaned into her Mama’s arms and cried.
A few days later Cassie went with Mama and Daddy to what they called a funeral. Mama explained that it was so that everybody could say goodbye to Matt.
Mama had told her what would happen, about going to the place where Matt was and about going to the cemetery. She didn’t really understand it all, but knew that it was important.
As they stood outside and the minister talked about Matt, Cassie suddenly reached out and gripped Mama’s fingers. A yellow and black butterfly landed on the flowers in front of her.
Cassie watched it as it settled there, lifting its wings gently into the air. Suddenly, it lifted off the flowers and flew to hover around her face and head; then flew away.
Now, as she sat on the step and remembered, she found herself wondering about that butterfly. She hadn’t seen another one like it in all these years.
“I miss you Matt,” she said softly into the silent summer afternoon. “Even now I still miss you. I know that you are better there in heaven, but I wish you could have been with me all these years.” She lifted her chin and looked at the sky. “I thought about you today at graduation, wishing you were here to go through it with me.”
She sat in silence for a second, eyes closed, thinking about how Matt would always be an eight year old boy in her mind, even as she grew and aged. She sighed.
“There have been so many things that I wished I could talk to you about, so many things that I wanted to share with you. We used to have so much fun. Remember that butterfly that came to the hospital window?”
Just then she felt something brushing against her hair and opened her eyes. There in front of her was a yellow and black butterfly, identical to the one from all those years before.
It settled on the sidewalk at her feet for a minute or so and then flew away, leaving Cassie full to overflowing with gladness, joy and God’s comfort.
© Drusilla Mott and https://drusillamott.wordpress.com, 2012