It started with the butterflies. A dozen of them, all sizes, showed up on the front of our house the day Marrett got sick. These butterflies hatch in our neighborhood every year, but usually down the street near a neighbor’s house. But Thursday last, they took up residence at Broady Grund Hollow, alighting on our shoulders, tasting us with their crooked probosces. They flitted around my head Friday afternoon as I sat on our front porch, praying fervently while the EMTs tried to revive my husband.
Butterflies, left over from Vacation Bible School decorations, covered the altar for his funeral. They’ve greeted the friends and family as they’ve come to the house, gentle reminders that resurrection is real. A monarch accompanied Marrett’s best friend for three miles on his trail run this morning.
More mysterious than these winged promises are the ways Marrett has been present to our family in the last few days. He’s appeared to both his older daughters in those moments between sleep and wake where reality blurs. I awoke before the children this morning to a palpable presence next to my bed: Marrett watching me sleep, reaching to stroke my hair as he often did. It was a split second vision, but I have had enough encounters with the holy to know it was real.
Ceci too has seen him. The night before his funeral as I toweled off her freshly bathed body, she arched her neck to look out the window. The sun was setting, streaking the sky orange and pink, and she pointed in delight. “Daddy colors!” she said, “Daddy colors, daddy feet.” She repeated it again and again, pulling me toward the window for a closer look. I saw nothing that night, or during the funeral when she started gesturing madly at the ceiling of the sanctuary at church. “Daddy! Daddy here!”
I don’t know what I believe about spirits and encounters with the dead, but my own experience matches what so many grieving spouses and family members have told me. It always starts with a disclaimer, “Maybe you’ll think I’m crazy”, or a question (What do Lutherans believe about ghosts, anyway?). Then in hushed voices, faithful Christians tell me about their beloved deceased visiting them in body, voice or spirit. Every one of these visits brings comfort and peace at a time it is desperately needed. And everyone of these experiences goes mostly untold, for fear of sounding crazy or unChristian.
In my own time of desperate need, I am realizing we shouldn’t be surprised by such visitations, for Christ came in much the same way to his grieving beloveds when he was resurrected. When Mary Magdalene was blinded by her tears (as I am by mine), Christ spoke her name and stilled her grief. When his grieving beloveds had locked themselves in a room (like I want to) for fear of life without him, he appeared and spoke peace to their broken hearts. When Thomas was still stuck in the shock and denial phase of his grief, Jesus allowed himself to be seen and heard and felt.
If we believe that our God can do such things with the body of Christ, why is it so crazy to think God could attend to us in our desperation through the bodies and spirits and voices of our beloveds? It seems decidedly less crazy than believing in that event which is traditionally called The Visitation, wherein an angel appears to a teenage virgin announcing that she will bear the savior of the whole world.
We are part of a great cloud of witnesses who have trusted in just such visitations to sustain them. Maybe it’s time to join our stories to theirs, speaking loudly and clearly about the ways God has comforted us in our grief and tribulation, even if those stories sound a little nuts. Maybe, as my colleague said at Marrett’s funeral, it’s time to start expecting Christ to show up, be it in bunches of butterflies, palpable presence, or in the bodies of those who bear Christ’s name.