A week ago today my friends had a dual memorial service for their twins who were born very premature. The first girl, Olivia, died within the first day. The second girl, Audrey, struggled through five months of procedures in the neonatal ICU and still drew her last breath far too soon. The family and friends rallied around the second daughter’s fragile life every single day of those months, but finally had to accept losing her.
Along the way the symbol of a monarch butterfly came to them, representing the transformation process from one state to the next. Olivia and Audrey went through a true metamorphosis, and eventually that led to a state of life which we can no longer see: pure spirit.
On the day of the service there was live harp music by Patrice, who volunteers to play for infants while they struggle to live in the hospital.
There were beautiful readings by several family members, including words written by some of them, and even a children’s book on being loved, which the parents read to Audrey each day.
But the most stunning moment was when the parents decided to release a box full of new monarch butterflies to make their first flight around the courtyard garden and up into the sky. Accompanied by a reading on the symbolism of the butterflies, who call us all to embrace change and our own transformation, there was an immediate recognition that we were seeing what happens when life is lost in one form and found in another.
Some of the monarchs hovered nearby, like they were not quite ready to leave the premises. Others floated right past our faces as we closed the service and moved toward the family house. They were not helping us deny the reality of the losses. Losing babies is way too real and terrible to deny. They were saying the girls have changed form. And the butterflies sticking around the garden, and even flying around our faces, was like saying the girls are not far away.
There was a powerful lesson in all of that. What is lost is truly lost, including beautiful babies. There is no changing loss in our lives. But somehow embracing what is lost makes room to also embrace what comes next. After lost comes found. We found a new way to open our hearts and let the girls in.
Years ago I experienced lost and found in a related way. In the fall of 2006, the life I had known for many years was lost. A tugging at my soul called me away from the people and the work I had known and loved. Something inward was leading me to change forms. There was no way to discover what was coming without letting go of what had been.
An old way of leading my life had to end. Facing that change was very hard, confusing, painful, and yet invigorating. A new adventure awaited, even though I really didn’t know what was coming. In time, the people I met around New Orleans helped me find a brand new vision and passion and purpose for my life.
In the former life I primarily did pastoral care and counseling. In the new life I became a contemplative missionary. One way of life was lost. Another was found. Now one of my greatest sources of gratitude is for that transformation. The new life I found was truly like spreading my wings and trying new things. How many people get to start over and find a new passion and purpose for their lives?
Olivia and Audrey, two beautiful monarch butterflies, have such a powerful lesson to teach us. And it’s all about the willingness to move from lost to found, to transform from what was to what will be. They don’t promise us the change will be painless. We all know better. They do show us that what comes next will be amazing.
May the transforming One, who births butterflies and babies, be born in us too, and guide us as we move from the life that is lost to the life that is found. Amen.