Originally published in October 2011.
As many grieving people know, keeping a loved one’s memory alive after they die can be a difficult task. There are many images, voices, smells and memories that you want to remember forever, but each day it can become a little bit harder to grasp on to what used to be. I have definitely been struggling with this ever since my mom passed away two years ago this December.
Since my mother’s death was unexpected, I have often worried about feeling disconnected to her or become scared that I’m going to start forgetting the little things about her. Thankfully I have found comfort in small “moments of grace” that reassure me that my mom is still with me throughout each day. These moments have been occurring within my family’s life through the appearance of deer and ladybugs.
Female deer symbolize caring, gentleness, intelligence, watchfulness, and most importantly to me, maternal traits. Some cultures believe that anyone who sees a deer has seen the animal so that they can look deep into their own heart and find their deepest treasure. When I was growing up, our yard always attracted deer. They would come to eat my mom’s Hosta plants even after she would try vigorously to cover them and make them seem less appetizing. So when deer started appearing more frequently after my mom died, my family saw it as a comical sign.
The day after she passed away, my aunt and I were in the foyer of my house. As we opened my front door there were six deer standing there, looking in. We knew right away that it had to be a sign from Mom. We felt that she was trying to tell us that even though she was gone, there would always be six people in our family.
The deer made another appearance when I woke up on the morning of what would have been my mom’s 50th birthday and heard our golden retriever barking loudly. When I looked out our side window, I saw four deer in the front yard. I turned to my dad and said, “You know this is a sign right?” He stood there as his eyes welled up, and he responded, “She must have wanted to make sure we were all up in time for mass.” That morning there were four deer, one for each family member that was in the house at the time. Since her death, my family and I have seen many deer, in some very unique places and times. I love seeing them because they remind me that my mother is always watching over us.
It is not only in one of God’s largest animals that I see my mom, but also in one of His smallest creatures. On Christmas Eve, about a week after my mom’s death, my friend Katy was in our church for midnight mass. After lighting a candle in memory of my mom, she felt something small touch her on the face. She thought it was a fly, but her mom told her it was a ladybug. Katy tells me that she knew it had to be a sign. In her head she said, “If it really is you, Mrs. Wilson, please fly by again.” Two seconds later, it did. Because it was in the middle of winter she thought that it was quite an odd and unusual coincidence. But she sincerely felt that the ladybug held a message for us, and afterwards shared her story with my family.
Since then, we have been seeing ladybugs everywhere. No matter the weather, I can find ladybugs sitting on the porch of my townhouse or gathering in the back room of a restaurant. On what would have been my parent’s 20th wedding anniversary, my family and I went to New Hampshire for a vacation. Upon walking into the hotel I noticed a ladybug cartoon on the bulletin board in the lobby. I was also graced with the presence of a ladybug when I was in Jamaica this past January for a service immersion trip. I was having an emotionally draining day working with burn victim children at a local children’s hospital. I was standing in the playground watching the kids play on the swings when I felt something on my hand. When I looked down I saw a ladybug crawling up my arm. I sat there taking in the moment of grace as I watched its short legs move underneath it. Even in another country, my mom knew just how to brighten my day.
After researching this little bug I learned that the name “lady bug” finds its origins in the Middle Ages. The insect was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and called the “beetle of our lady.” This name links the ladybug to spiritual ideals and religious devotion. It also holds a link to mothers. Because the life cycle of the adult ladybug is short it teaches us how to release worries and enjoy our lives to the fullest. It is often seen as a messenger of promise telling us that we need to release our fears and return to love.
For a grieving family, moments of grace can be the difference between a rainy day or a sunny one. I realize that seeing the deer and ladybugs is difficult because they are constant reminders that my mom is gone, but they also reassure my family that she is with us.
I challenge today’s readers to think about their loved ones and try to recognize ways in which they could be sending you messages: yesterday, today or tomorrow. Finding ways to connect with a loved one even after they passed can be challenging at first, but it can also bring comfort in difficult times. What ways have you found to stay connected?
Special thanks to guest author and HelloGrief community member Colleen Wilson for sharing this piece with us.