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Tiny Blessings with Shimmering Wings

A grieving mother, struggling to retain a connection to her departed daughter, is comforted by a host of insects.

A pair of red dragonflies/ Photo credit: Eyeem/Getty Images
Credit: Getty Images/EyeEm

The insects live underwater, wondering what exists above. One brave bug offers to climb the lily pad and report back. He makes his way up the stalk, breaks the surface and feels the sun’s warmth. Suddenly his body is transformed into a beautiful four-winged creature—a dragonfly. After soaring through the air, he tries to return home but discovers he cannot dive beneath the water. He’s unable to tell anyone about the wonders of the world above…

The story wouldn’t leave my mind. I pulled my jacket tighter against the late-October breeze, hurrying from my office to the drugstore, where I intended to buy a card. Occasionally I glanced up into the clear blue sky for those shimmering wings.

It’s just a story, I thought. A parable about heaven in a book that a friend had put in my hands after my daughter’s funeral, four months earlier.

Kari was only 27 years old when she died in an ATV accident. She occupied my every waking thought. All it took was a simple “How are you?” from a coworker and I was lost. Or the sight of gerbera daisies, her favorite. Whenever the phone rang early in the morning, I remembered Kari, who always called me on her way to work. “Sunshine walking through the door” was how a friend described her, and that was spot on. When she died, the darkness took over.

I tried to remember every detail about her. The way her shoulders shook when she broke into that infectious laughter. The faint cherry blossom scent of her body lotion—sometimes I used it just to feel closer to her. In the middle of the night, exhausted but unable to sleep, I sought refuge in my sewing room, stitching bib after bib for my grandkids, just as I had made pink dresses for Kari when she was little.

Take care of me, God, I prayed as I sewed. I’m hurting so bad.

Rounding the corner to the drugstore, I thought of the dragonfly pin Kari always wore on her winter coat. Gold with tiny amber rhinestones that twinkled in the light. Maybe that pin was one of the reasons the story stayed with me.

A few weeks after the funeral, Kari’s husband, Donnie, came to visit. We’d put on forced smiles and tried to say the right things without losing it. We took a pontoon boat out on the lake, the lapping of the water filling the gaps in our conversation. Then I looked over at Donnie and gasped. A dragonfly with delicate blue wings was hovering just above his shoulder.

All summer long, I saw dragonflies wherever I went, not just by the lake. In my backyard, a dragonfly landed lightly on my wrist. A swarm of dragonflies even surrounded my car on my drive home from work one evening. With every sighting of those slender bodies darting through the air, I felt as if God had poked a needle through the darkness, letting Kari’s light shine through.

Now it had been weeks since I’d seen one. Dragonflies couldn’t survive the harsh Minnesota winter. The darkness returned.

“Think of the good times,” everyone kept telling me. “She wouldn’t want to see you so sad.” But how could I not be sad? I faced a gloomy winter—and the rest of my life—without my daughter.

I reached the drugstore and opened the door. A little bell chimed. The cashier glanced in my direction. That’s when I froze, unable to take another step.

Everywhere I looked—the aisles, the displays, the discount bins and the card racks—translucent wings glimmered in the store’s fluorescent light. On wind chimes and garden stakes. On trinkets and souvenirs. On merchandise tagged for sale with one common theme: dragonflies.

“A late shipment of summer items,” the cashier said.

They weren’t late for me. The timing was perfect.

I felt myself emerging then, slowly breaking free. Out of the muddy waters below. Finally able to catch a clear glimpse of the sky above, where dragonflies go.

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