Today marks the seventh anniversary of my son Maxwell’s death. He died in his sleep at a church day care around lunchtime on Monday, Aug. 14, 2006. He was two and a half months old.
The days after Max’s death were a blur of funeral arrangements, visits from friends and family, and lots of food. By Sunday, the last guests had departed, and my wife and I drove to Powell Gardens, a sprawling nature sanctuary about 45 minutes south of Kansas City. We sat on a bench overlooking the gardens and wrote down in a journal everything we adored about our son: how he looked, how he felt, his growing array of baby expressions and baby sounds. Then we walked a meandering path through the beautifully manicured trees and bushes, which were tended by scores of little yellow butterflies. We’d noticed those butterflies on previous walks over the week, as we tried to make sense of what had happened and contemplated what we would do with the rest of our lives. My wife saw them as a sign – God had put Maxwell in charge of the smallest butterflies, and Max was sending them down to us as a way of saying that he was okay and in Heaven now.
On the one-year anniversary of Max’s death, my wife prepared a large care basket for the workers at the day care, who had grieved with us and had done some nice things to honor Max, including building a small memory garden outside his classroom. My wife’s basket was filled with flowers and food and other goodies, and its centerpiece was a large, ceramic sculpture of a baby angel. We brought the basket to the day care on Aug. 14, and had a tearful reunion with Max’s teachers. They told us they wanted to put the angel sculpture near the garden arbor they had built in our son’s memory.
The next day, we got a phone call from the manager of the day care. As she walked into work that morning, she glanced toward Max’s garden and saw that the angel was covered with dozens of little, yellow butterflies.