It was 5 or so years later before my brother, sister and I made it back to his gravesite. It was then that it all sank in. Through tears, we noticed a ladybug perched on the tomb stone. Trying to calm my sister, I quickly made up a story about how Heaven sends ladybugs to let you know that your loved one is safe and they are always with you.
My sister’s love of all-things-ladybug began that day and the story was passed around in our family. Ladybugs became a way to say “I love you” or “I’m thinking of you” or “I’m right there with you, wherever you are.” I did not know at the time how important that ladybug story would become in my life.
******************************I was on my way home from the Sloan Kettering Memorial Cancer Center in New York City, after a very expensive “third opinion” appointment with a doctor who didn’t take my insurance. I was barely 23 years old. The first doctor had already told me I’d likely never carry a pregnancy to term, even if they could stop the cancer from progressing. The second doctor recommended a complete hysterectomy to make sure we “got all the pre-cancerous cells” before they had a chance to multiply. Sloan Kettering was my last resort, before deciding for sure to tell the man I loved, the man whose ring I was wearing, that I couldn’t marry him since I didn’t think I could give him the children I knew he so badly wanted. The train ride home was a long one and even though this latest doctor seemed more optimistic than the first two, life as I knew it was over.
When we got home, I was rummaging through things on my desk and accidentally knocked over a box of old cards and note paper. Annoyed, I scooped everything up and threw it angrily back on the desk. What should happen to land on the very top, face up, staring right at me? A greeting card with a ladybug on it. It was a blank card that I had bought years before but never sent to anyone. BAM! There is was, right in my face, when things couldn’t have been any worse. Suddenly, I was not alone and it was all going to be OK. For the first time in months, my fear and anxiety subsided. What power that tiny little ladybug had to take the weight of the world off my shoulders. Over 12 years of marriage (to that same wonderful man), two healthy, perfect little girls and dozens of “no abnormal cells” test results later, I still thank that ladybug for reminding me not to give up hope.
******************************My (other) grandfather was a very simple man, a salt-of-the-earth kind of guy, the only person in this world I’ve ever called My Hero. We didn’t see each other often, but we had an amazing connection that words cannot explain. He was truly a gift, a man of God, a man who did not see race or religion or anything other than a person’s heart. He lived in Upstate New York, near the Finger Lakes. Having greenhouses his whole life, he once got into a debate with a neighbor about whether you could grow tobacco plants in that climate. The friend said “no way.” Grandpa said, “Oh yeah? Watch me!”
The day of his funeral was the hardest day of my life. Harder than the day I heard “cancer” at the age of 23. As the go-to-gal for the family, they were all looking to me to take care of things, to make sure everything was handled. I picked out and paid for his cemetery plot. I ordered the flowers. I (physically) held up my sister and my cousin as they said goodbye to him before leaving the funeral home. I gave a eulogy at his funeral. Physically and emotionally I was exhausted, I hadn’t had any time on my own to grieve and I felt like I was spiraling down a long dark tunnel with no one to catch me.
After the funeral, we went back to his house to spend some quiet time with my grandmother. I decided to take a walk through his now 8-foot-tall tobacco plants, growing so strong and so proud on the front corner of his yard. As I neared them, my eyes welled up with tears, I nearly collapsed to the ground in disbelief. Hundreds, thousands, of ladybugs covered those giant green tobacco leaves. They were everywhere. Countless little bugs that told me he was right there with me, loving me, supporting me and that everything was going to be OK. Once my legs steadied, I ran inside to get my grandmother and my cousins. We hugged and cried at those plants for an eternity, right there with Grandpa and his never-going-to-grow-in-this-climate tobacco plants, and his thousands of little ladybugs. My grandmother’s house was infested with ladybugs for months after that, she said it hadn’t ever happened in the 50 years she’d lived in the house. Of course, she didn’t have the heart to call an exterminator.
My next best option was to buy myself a giant cup of Starbucks, grab a cigarette and head outside behind the building to sob and hyperventilate. There I was, contemplating my career, ready to give up on everything I’d worked so hard for professionally. I looked down on the concrete step where I was sitting, and there was a ladybug. It was October in Atlanta and there was a ladybug. I was not alone, it was all going to be OK. I cried even more over the ladybug than I had over being yelled at, I think. But when I pulled myself together and went back to work, I really did know that I was going to be OK. I worked for that company for 6 more years (though never again for that same partner!).
Some people may think it’s just a random coincidence, that it’s just a little bug. But I know better. Those little ladybugs have a power I can’t explain, a healing power, a power of hope and calm that words can’t express. I only wish my writing was strong enough to do them justice.
Everything I make now… quilts, bags, even cookies… contain two very special ingredients. Of course, there is Love, but there are also Ladybug Hugs. May each recipient know that they are loved, they are special and they are never, ever alone.
~*~ May your day be full of Love and Ladybug Hugs ~*~
~*~ May your day be full of Love and Ladybug Hugs ~*~