This day marks the seventeenth anniversary of losing my fun-loving husband David and dedicated father to Andy and Ben. It was a Thursday much like today with lots of white puffy clouds against a sunny blue sky. The beauty of the spring day faded later around dusk. David suffered a fatal heart-attack on the basketball court while playing with Andy and some other boys after school. Even after all these years, my heart beats to a different rhythm as I rewind the events of that day. It is a challenging day, but time has given us ways to remember all of the goodness that David shared and lives on in each of us. I catch a glimpse of him when Andy and Ben smile. I hear his laughter when his best friend from childhood comes to visit. I feel the strength of his hugs when Ben or Andy give me a tight hug around my shoulders. I see his compassion for others lived out in all of us as we try to help brighten someone’s day. I jump with his sense of joy when his beloved Virginia wins the Final Four. I see his hope and radiance in his grand-daughter’s face as she sees a bird flying in the sky. I feel my heart expand with the warmth of his love when I draw closer to my family, friends, and even strangers on this journey of living life to the fullest! Seventeen years brings understanding to loss and gives me a deeper appreciation for the one and only David Butterworth.
The sun seems to shine more brightly this spring after our dreary winter. It’s really nice to wear sunglasses again! The rainy weather of winter dampened my spirit of hope in much the same way as the mighty waters flooded the banks of the James River. The sunny skies with bright hues of azure lifted the heaviness of the blues that were weighing me down. The greening of the trees has quickly filled in the emptiness of the barren branches of the trees and ushered in the transformation of nature and my heart. It’s amazing how good it feels to embrace life this spring.
Every evening as the sun starts to set, I go outside to marvel at the brightness of the sunlight striking the tops of the trees on the embankment above my deck. The darker forest green leaves at the top of the willow oaks are illuminated by the rays of sunshine and they appear chartreuse for those final moments before sunset. The warmth of their greenish yellow appearance causes me to pause in awe of the wonders of creation. I know that there is always light in the midst of darkness, but it is often hard to find that light in the shadows. I cherish the brightness of each spring day’s final bursts of sunlight that remind me that there is always light in every day. My perspective shifts, and I see hope in all circumstances.
I’m trying to break out of the negativity that the world news ignites in me.
I’ve decided to embrace two words that keep turning up on random corners in my neighborhood. Yesterday I noticed a hand-painted sign in a nearby gallery in plain letters saying, “Be Kind.” When I saw the same words on a white washed board with red hearts in my neighbor’s yard, I decided to find out if this was some kind of local movement. Maybe you have spotted some of these Be Kind signs too. My curiosity sent me to the web where all answers live these days.
I learned that this message is more than just a local movement. It was created here in Richmond by Gini Bonnell. After struggling with the myriad of bad news that enters into our daily lives, she responded by painting a white board with Be Kind and placed it in her yard. Her neighbors liked it so much that they wanted one of their own. Then the requests for more Be Kind signs snowballed with calls from not only our community but schools, businesses, groups, and individuals from as far away as Australia. An article appearing in Boomer magazine in July stated that Gini had now made more than 550 signs. She is really excited about how many people have joined her in carrying this message into the world including our Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney.
Seeing those Be Kind signs helped me realize that to be kind one must take action. Seeing and doing are not the same. I can practice the art of being kind in my small corner of the world. Even though I’d like to be kind, I’m skeptical sometimes. The homeless man who sits on a bucket even on rainy days near the expressway with his crumpled cardboard sign of “anything helps” haunts me as I turn the corner wondering if he is really homeless or just looking for a handout. My judgment and good intentions often limit my actions, but I’ve decided to take action on being kind for the next 30 days. Kindness to my neighbors or the strangers. Be Kind! I’m telling you so that I can be held accountable, and to invite you to join me in practicing the art of being kind. I’d love to hear your stories. Please contact me through my blogsite at www.heart-heels.com.
Seventeen years ago, my Mom died of a fatal heart attack. The melancholy that drifts in around the anniversary of her death threatens to overcome me each year. I decided to take a walk around the gardens at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts to shake the blues and the dreariness of this winter day. As I rounded the edge of the museum, I was surprised by the peacefulness that swept over me. The 24-foot-tall sculptural head of a girl named Chloe carved by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa summoned my attention. The gray barren branches of the large oak tree behind her stood in stark contrast to her meditational visage, radiant even with closed eyes. Chloe’s powerful pose reminded me of my Mom’s determination to raise her 3 daughters to be strong women. I could always count on her encouraging words whenever life became hard to navigate. She often ended those conversations saying, “Everything will work out, and I’ll be thinking about you. Hold your head up high!” These words have been implanted in my heart, and I often use them to encourage my sons in their own challenges. As I turned to leave, I took this picture that shows the strong presence of the oak tree next to the imposing presence of Plensa’s Chloe. These towering images both represent to me the reassurance of my mother’s words. Her comforting words are as permanent in my mind as the images of oak and marble that spoke to me from that image. Throughout the seasons of our lives, the words of loved ones can anchor us over time and space.
May 16, 2017 means that 15 years have slipped by since my husband David suffered a fatal heart attack while playing basketball with our son Andy at St. Christopher’s School. That day seemed to shatter our rose colored world of happy endings, but the hands of those surrounding Andy, Ben and me made sure that our tragedy didn’t define our destiny. There are no words in our English language that can ever fully capture our gratitude for the shoulders we leaned on or the hands that reached out to us during those darkest hours.
After spending the week-end on a scout hike with David and Ben at a boy scout hike, our friend Briscoe described David in a sympathy note. He wrote about the wonderful campsite that David and Ben had created where “everyone had a great time, and in the center of it all was a big guy with an even bigger heart making people laugh.” These words still ring true about my big-hearted husband who loved and lived life to the fullest. In some ways, he lived more life in his 45 years than many of us can fathom. It makes our hearts happy to know how much love David shared. We have found solace over time in hearing and sharing memories of his life.
We have surely grieved in agonizing ways, but we have found countless silver linings scattered along our way that have kept us moving forward one day at a time. From the first moments after his fall to the cold hard floor of the gym to this beautiful blue sky May morning, we have been privileged to receive glimmers of silver light lining the storm clouds that hover overhead.
The first shimmering silver lights were the first responders who worked on his lifeless body in spite of knowing full well that he might not recover. I recently met the man who gave my husband mouth to mouth resuscitation until the medical team arrived. It is odd that in 15 years, I never had met Brock Lively who tried desperately to revive him. You have to admit that Brock’s last name is interesting given his willingness to step forward to help David. You simply can’t make this stuff up. He told me about rushing over to help Andy and the other boys that huddled over David. Brock said, “It was like everything was in slow motion.” His description summed up our foggy recollections of that first hour.
Although Brock and I had never met until this January, his mother and I were friends through church. I knew that his own father had died at an early age leaving her a widow with 3 children to raise. When Brock and I talked recently, he told me that losing his own father at an early age had motivated him to learn C.P.R. He wanted to give others a second chance at living even though his father didn’t get one. Knowing that he tried to help David in spite of his own loss was a ray of sunshine I hadn’t expected to learn about fifteen years later. Helping others find hope in their stormy times encourages me to write about transforming our losses. My sons and I have helped others face adversity in their lives. Our compassion grew out of our own loss in much the same way as Brock’s.
There are so many connections or silver linings that have given us new directions and full hearts in these 15 years. This short blog can’t contain them all. We want to give you our thanks for lighting our path. Without these illuminations, we may have lost our way in the shadows of death. We know that silver linings really do exist! In memory of David, we hope you will continue to brighten another’s journey! A song written and sung by the Honey Dewdrops named “Silver Lining” inspired my title today. From their lyrics, “You’re my silver lining when it don’t look good, I’m always finding, you’re my silver lining.” (www.TheHoneyDewdrops.com)
After my husband died, hundreds of people came to see me to offer sympathy. After several hours I excused myself from the living room where some still were gathered. I just couldn’t shake another hand or shed another tear because I was exhausted. I fell across my bed as my son Andy came in to check on me. He wanted to know how I was doing. I swallowed hard and replied, “Right now I’m starving.” I asked him if he would go down to the dining room to make me a plate of food from the banquet laid out by my friends on our dining room table. He disappeared and returned moments later with a silver platter. As he sat the tray in front of me, I realized that he had brought me a tray consisting entirely of homemade brownies. I smiled at him as I reached for one of them. He told me that they were really good. It was one of those moments I can never forget. Eating brownies from a silver tray with Andy was a bitter sweet moment of grief. Grieving makes you hungry and why shouldn’t I eat a whole plate of chocolate brownies!
Several weeks ago, my late husband David’s cousin called to say that she found a box in their garage labeled “bowl of rocks…. Butterworth.” She had been in the process of moving some things out of the garage when she stumbled upon this treasure. She laughed as she asked me, “Do you think your son Andy would want these?” I replied with excitement, “Of course he would like them, he loves rocks!” I explained to her that David’s Aunts, known in our family as the “Weaver Aunts” because they were his mother Maud Weaver Butterworth’s sisters, had given him several bowls of stones from around the world already. Getting this call long after they had passed away was most unexpected.
Andy’s interests in rocks began when he was a toddler. Whenever we visited the three Aunts’ home, a home that was far more formal than our own, Andy would make his way to a beautiful mahogany book case with glass doors that were always locked. He would persuade one of them to get the tiny key and unlock the case so that he could begin his examination of its contents. As Andy pulled out the rocks one by one, the stories of faraway travels attached to each one would follow. The rocks taught Andy about places like Australia, Hawaii, New Zealand, Russia, Norway, England, Scotland, and Canada.
Our journeys in life are meant to be shared through the stories and collections that we pass along to one another. As a young mother with very inquisitive boys, I marveled at how a collection of rocks could capture their attention for such great lengths of time. I also appreciated the fact that the Aunts allowed the boys to examine the many valuables scattered throughout their home which was a lot like a museum. Those rocks shaped Andy’s love of geography, travel, environmental science, geology, national parks, and climbing…rocks!
When I received the box and opened it, I found a paper adhered to the bottom of one of the rocks in the bowl that said, “Bering Sea, July 1975.” I recalled seeing this rock some 25 years ago in Andy’s tiny hand as we sat listening to the Aunts tell us about their visit to Alaska. We watched with great interest their slideshow of Alaska not long after that. I wonder what would have happened if Andy had not been so interested in the contents encased in the Mahogany cabinet with glass doors. I am so grateful for the lessons he received from opening those doors. The development of Andy’s passion for the great outdoors was an amazing outcome of those visits. He now works in the natural world nearly every day as a field guide in Utah surrounded by some much larger rocks! The old rock collection that we inherited, while small, is wonderful, and the Rocky Mountain collection he works with today is vast but no more valuable than that “bowl of rocks…Butterworth”.
While my husband David and I were in our wooing stages of getting to know each other, he sent me a card that had a crayon box on the outside. Inside the card a blue crayon drawing said, “Color me blue when I’m without you.” Whenever I see a crayon box, I remember those words. Time spent together was never long enough and times apart seemed like forever.
That card pops into my head whenever I’m having a rough day since he died. Rainy, cloudy, and cold days can really stir up the color blue……. color me blue when I’m without you…it will soon be 15 years and that’s an ocean full of blue! A whole blue sky with no puffy white clouds kind of blue. Blue-footed Booby bird kind of blue for keeping one foot in front of the other after his death.
But, life goes on and we learn to color other shades of blue. Turquoise blue to give you hope on winter days. Steel blue for standing tall at funerals. Tiffany blue for falling in love with someone else. Superman blue for seeing your sons become strong men.
Color me blue when I’m without you! What if I had known how much blue there would be in my life? I’m all about the color blue!
The winter winds gave us another burst of cold air just as spring arrived this week in Virginia. Just as the golden buttercups beckoned to me, it became necessary to bundle up in my down jacket to gather them in mason jars where they could shine brightly indoors. The yellow ruffles encasing their trumpet faces seemed to smile in spite of winter’s final attempts to squelch their grandeur. I grinned in response to their golden glow knowing that the warmth we feel in our hearts is not determined by the winds that surely find their way to us either.
The ushering in of spring in spite of the bleak gray skies and cold winds of winter reminded me of a celebration of marriage that I attended in January. As the days drew closer to Kelly and Steve’s big day, the meteorologists’ forecast included the dreaded words of “wintry mix” and “blizzard!” Knowing my fear of driving in snow, sleet, and freezing rain, I decided this was now a destination wedding, which required staying in Smithfield, Virginia for 3 days.
Attending a wedding is always cause for merry making, and being snowed in with 200 others sharing in this “wintry mix” of merriment created much excitement and new ways of bonding. The details of the weekend were beautifully planned and implemented by their friends and family while the weather made maddening attempts to dampen our spirits with snow, sleet, rain, and even flooding.
Trying to describe the joys of being gathered together under such extreme weather conditions is hard. A concert dedicated to honor them given by their singer/songwriter friends on the night before their wedding best exemplified this happiness and the connections to one another that we cherish. There was a synergy of hope and abiding love that was given not only to Kelly and Steve but also to each of us who huddled nearby. The musicians filled our hearts, minds, and spirits to overflowing that snowy night. As we left the venue, one of the songs kept rolling around in my mind. This original tune by Karl Werne helped me preserve these memories and inspirations of this destination wedding during the blizzard entitled, “How much love?” The words, which spoke to me from this song, were: “How much love can one heart take? Let’s find it out!” The discovery of the abundance of love that can fill one’s heart was an unexpected gift to us all.
When I returned home after the wedding, the record snowfall of 18 inches greeted me as I tried to turn into my driveway. This required several hours of shoveling between my son and me. The main roads had been cleared but my neighborhood was a winter wonderland of snow-covered homes with icicles draping from the gutters. We were able to make a small enough path at the edge of the driveway where my car could sit until the snow started to melt.
The next morning as I bundled up and began walking my dogs, my neighbor was also walking her dog and said to me, “You’re the first person I’ve seen since we’ve been snowed in!” I paused for a moment as I pondered that thought and wondered how many people I had seen during the blizzard. I’m thinking at least 200 if not more in my mind, but I decided this would be too much to share given the tundra surrounding us. After chatting to her for a few more minutes, my dogs tugged their leads and we parted ways. I found myself singing, “How much love can one heart take? Let’s find it out! Let’s find it out!” The warmth in our hearts is not determined by the winter winds that surely will blow!
My husband David wore tennis shoes most of the time. His favorite shoes were his white leather Converse Chuck Taylor high tops with red and blue trim. He wore them to business meetings, work, church, basketball games, and even to his weekly shopping trip to Costco. One day someone asked him, “Why do you always wear your basketball shoes?” He smiled and said, “They remind me to keep moving forward by taking one step at a time.” The woman who asked this question had a puzzled look on her face. Sensing her confusion David explained, “Sometimes it’s hard to get going at all, but when I look at these shoes I’m reminded to put one foot in front of the other and walk.”
Several months later, David wore those infamous Chuck Taylors to play a game of scrimmage on the basketball court with our son Andy at his school. After blocking a shot, he collapsed onto the floor in front of Andy and the other boys. The stillness of this moment traumatized Andy and these young men as they scrambled to get help for David. Although the details are blurry, the memories of witnessing someone suffering a heart attack cannot be easily erased. While waiting for the doctors to tell us more about his condition, I thought about David’s conversation of putting one foot in front of the other. How would I even move one foot if the unthinkable were to occur? Upon learning that the heart attack killed him instantly, we sank into the depths of despair that sent my sons and me in different directions to find solace for our brokenness.
Instead of putting one foot in front of another and walking, I spent most of my time waiting for the other shoe to drop! The trauma of losing someone suddenly, and knowing that Andy couldn’t forget watching his Dad die changed my role as a mother. The more I tried to console him, the more he pulled away. The darkness that engulfed him pointed me towards finding a doctor who could treat depression. Unfortunately it’s difficult to find the right approach or therapy for an adolescent who faces this disease. While the doctors and I sought to strike a balance between counseling and prescriptions for easing his pain, Andy began to look for answers on his own. Much to my surprise, he found remedies in cabinets and closets right in our home. Our lives became very entangled and complicated as we looked for ways to manage our suffering and grief. It seemed like our family was drifting apart instead of moving closer to heal.
Somehow we managed to keep moving forward against many obstacles during those years. There were times when one step forward really took us two steps backward. Time became our friend and constant companion no matter where our feet landed. The people who reached out to help us gave us signs of hope whether we went sideways, backwards, upside down, or forward. Thinking back to David’s words, I longed for a way to avoid taking one step at a time. I wanted our pain to be relieved instantly. Yet, there were no short cuts to our recovery. Each step took us places that would change our outlook on life forever.
During one of Andy’s recent trips home, he asked me to walk with him around the campus of St. Christopher’s School. It seemed like we had the grounds to ourselves, as it was a cloudy and damp Sunday morning. We wove our way towards the new Field House and gym, which was completed after David died. I could feel my body tense as we stopped to peer inside at the newly designed space. I confessed to Andy that even though it had been 13 years since his death, I experienced anxiety whenever I approached this area of the campus. He said, “Mom this is probably where he played basketball the day he died.” Tears spilled down my cheeks as I took in that he had estimated the approximate place where his father had died. He told me that he found comfort in coming here and standing with me in this space.
I felt goose bumps as we turned towards an outdoor basketball court where two basketballs were nestled together on the sidelines. Andy started to shoot baskets, and I began to rebound for him. So much had changed, but our love for David and one another had remained solid.
Walking further across the soggy grass, we happened to see Charlie Stillwell, the Head Master of St. Christopher’s School, walking his puppy under the tall pines near the cafeteria. It was incredible that we saw him after so many years had passed. After catching up on school news and our families, we talked about our eternal gratitude for his kindness that helped us through some of the most difficult times of our lives. He and the larger community of St. Christopher’s School had given our family guidance, love, support, and stability in extraordinary ways. While looking for a new home after selling ours, Charlie and other colleagues arranged for us to live in a home on campus until we could find a place to call our own. In addition, he helped Andy transition back to campus after leaving for a year spent at another school. Andy, his brother Ben, and I were fortunate to make friends here that stood beside us over the days, months, and now years since losing David.
As we departed, we heard the flapping of wings and snapping of branches overhead. We peered upward to see a large red-tailed hawk take flight and circle above us. In that moment, I realized that we had come full circle in our healing by taking one step at a time. We walked back to our car in silence knowing that our hearts would always hold the tender memories of David who taught us to remember to move forward one step at a time.