Gloria Hunniford has just released a new book about bereavement and was on TV last week to promote it.
During the interview with Richard and Judy, in which she talked about coping with the death of her daughter, Caron Keating, she said something which really struck a chord with me: “Caron believed feathers were calling cards from angels. It's extraordinary because I am constantly finding isolated feathers, including one in the studio today. One feather fell at my feet the day of Caron's funeral ... I find it a great comfort.”
To many, this would seem like a coincidence. Like the poor woman is delusional, clutching at straws to find some scant consolation during a very sad time. But not me. I can empathise absolutely.
Let me explain.
In December 2006, two months after being diagnosed with cancer, my mum died. She was a wonderful woman who had lived an amazing and inspiring life, being one of a family of 16 and having brought up eight children herself before she finally put pen to paper and became a bestselling biographer at the age of 65.
She also loved butterflies.
On the day of her funeral, even though it was only a few days before Christmas, the church was packed, as literally thousands of people turned up to pay their last respects.
The service was concelebrated by three priests with all the solemnity associated with a traditional Requiem Mass. As the Angelus bell struck at midday and the priests stepped down from the altar for the consecration, a remarkable thing happened.
A spectacular red admiral butterfly, which must have been sheltering somewhere inside a floral wreath on the top of the coffin, suddenly awoke from hibernation as it was sprinkled with holy water and flew upwards, circling the altar again and again until it finally came to rest on one of the stained glass windows high above the congregation.
As it went up, so did a thousand gasps as everyone gazed at the spectacle with wonder and disbelief. Even the priests stopped what they were doing and stood there, agog, looking up at the unexpected and unseasonal guest while their incense burners swung aimlessly. It was amazing the comfort this brought us. At the reception afterwards everyone was talking about the amazing sight.
We all agreed that it was a highly moving, deeply spiritual experience, as though mum had arranged the whole thing to convey her fond farewell to all her family and friends.
Two months later, in early February, I made my first trip back home to England to visit dad and help my sisters sort through mum’s belongings.
It was a very sad occasion, packing away all mum’s clothes into suitcases, stacking her shoes into boxes, sharing out all her treasured bits and bobs until her entire closet was as empty as if she had never been there.
I managed to hold myself together, for dad’s and the kids’ sake, until I finally got back home to Bangor, whereupon I shut the door firmly and the floodgates finally opened. As I sat there on the living room sofa, sobbing into one of mum’s hankies and feeling totally and utterly bereft, a tortoiseshell butterfly flew past me and landed on the windowsill.
Never in my life have I felt so uplifted. My tears turned to joy as I reached for the camera and the telephone simultaneously, convinced that this was another message from mum: “Everything is ok, I am with you whenever you need me so dry your eyes, be happy and tell everyone else to do the same.”
According to Collin’s Guide, the Small Tortoiseshell butterfly first emerges from metamorphosis in the last week of March.
Gloria Hunniford talks to Gail Walker in this Saturday’s Weekend magazine