My sister-in-law, Michelle, had cancer, which she had been fighting with chemotherapy for many months. On April 26, 2012, she had an appointment with her doctor to find out if the chemo was continuing to be successful at holding back the disease. It was the only time her husband, my brother, had accompanied her to one of her appointments. Always before, I had been the one to be there with her.

However, that day, my husband and I were in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Shortly before, I had received a dress that was made for me to wear to my son’s upcoming wedding. When I tried the dress on, it fit horribly, and I was quite upset. Therefore, we had driven eleven hours from Weerton, West Virginia, to the dressmaker’s shop in Myrtle Beach. The seamstress even came in on her day off to make the alterations.

However, when I put the dress on in her shop, it fit perfectly.

I was dumfounded. I told my husband that I could not understand what had happened. Understandably, he was feeling pretty put out, so he went golfing as a consolation. A little later that morning, my mother called and told me about Michelle’s prognosis: Michelle had 30 cancerous spots in her brain, 12 months or less to live, and my brother and sister-in-law needed to get their affairs in order right away.

Could it be that the dress fiasco was God’s way of getting me out of town so that my brother would have to be with his wife at this important moment? I believe it was exactly that.

Needless to say, when I heard the news I was inconsolable. Somehow, I found my way to the beach, thinking that the roar of the ocean would drown out my sobs. As I walked next to the waves, I began talking to God, telling him that though I trusted Him, I didn’t think this was fair, and that I didn’t get it, and was scared. After I cried myself out, I told God I needed to ask Him for a favor. I knew I couldn’t ask Michelle to be healed, because He was going to do what He was going to do. After all, He is God. So I said, “What I would like from you is a sign that you have her in the palm of your hand, and that she’s safe, that she’s going to be ok and I’m going to be ok.”

I said, “I know this is a crazy request because we’re on a beach, but I need an orange butterfly, because butterflies are Michelle’s favorite thing and orange is her favorite color.” I kept walking, and in a while, I came upon a patch of glistening sand. Lying atop it was a little, open clamshell, one of those that when it remains connected to its other half it resembles the wings of a butterfly. I picked it up – it was orange.

Of course, I cried some more then. I thanked God, and carried my little sign back to the condo to show to my husband.

“Look what I found!”

An orange seashell,” he said.

“No! Look again and tell me what it looks like.”

“It’s an orange sea shell,” he said. He couldn’t see it.

So I wrapped it in a tissue, put it in an Altoids box and brought it home. When we got back into town, I went right away to my sister-in-law’s home. When she opened the box and looked at its contents, without hesitation she said, “You brought me an orange butterfly!” She knew.

I said, “I need to tell you the story.” After she heard how the shell came to me, we both cried, and she told me, “Always remember that. Always remember.”

Michelle did finally pass, but about seven days before, she and I shared the butterfly story with another friend visiting the hospital room. Michelle asked me to show our friend the shell. I opened the box, unfolded the tissue, and found that the shell had separated and was turning black. Horrified, our friend said, “Is that an omen?”

“No,” I said. “It has just been away from the water too long,” and quickly closed the tin, not wanting to upset Michelle.

In reflection, I think it really wasn’t an omen, but a lesson.

It was showing us that day that our bodies also are shells, and that they will decay … but our spirits will soar forever.

As I believe, that Michelle’s spirit is doing right now.