It took a butterfly to enlighten me about the possibility of an afterlife.

As a Catholic, I was taught to believe there was life after death, albeit not in the same form we know while alive. You must have faith, the nuns and priests preached when questioned about what happens after the heart stops beating.

But the pragmatist in me always induced skepticism.

The skepticism remained even after my wife’s mother died. In asking her mother for a sign, my wife came upon a ladybug in a most unusual place. Then ladybugs kept appearing in odd places – on a child’s toy left behind in the restaurant booth while visiting our son in Colorado, in the house, in our car, at the beach, in a golf cart. My wife took solace in believing her mother was telling us she was watching. But I wasn’t so sure.

Just a coincidence, I kept telling myself while marveling to my wife about her mother being present. A friend, like my wife a believer in contact in the afterlife, fueled the thought by giving us gifts with ladybugs. A key chain, a mug, wine glasses, a garden stone, refrigerator magnets. I was more awed by the variety of objects with ladybug themes than by the thought my mother-in-law was somehow near us.

My college buddy, Dave, was much like I was. A math major, he was wedded to numbers. To him, if it didn’t add up, it didn’t make sense. That why, as Parkinson’s slowly stole life from him, his wife, Kathy, talked at length about an afterlife. She bought books on the subject and read to him.

Finally, she told him to send a sign after his body gave out to tell her he was still with her. They settled on a butterfly – a butterfly of certain colors.

Dave died recently, ending his 12-year battle with the crippling disease. Three days later, his wife left the house for the first time since his death. She went to a drugstore she had never patronized to pick up a prescription. When she returned to her car, a butterfly was perched in front of the windshield. It sported the same colors she and Dave had agreed upon.

Kathy told us that story the night of Dave’s wake. My wife and I and other college friends who had traveled to North Carolina for Dave’s funeral were enthralled. After all, isn’t it comforting to believe that after you die, you’re reunited in some fashion with those you loved on earth? And vice versa, isn’t it comforting to those left behind to believe a departed loved one watches over you?

The next day, Dave was put to rest in a bucolic cemetery. I was honored to help carry my friend to his final resting place. As I got back into the car with our friends, a butterfly flew inside and rested against the window, inches from my face. We stared at it all the way to the reception hall where Kathy was hosting a funeral lunch.

We told her about the butterfly in the car, none of us ever recalling a butterfly inside a car. “What color was it?” Kathy asked. “It was brown,” one of our friends explained. “Any other colors?” Kathy asked. “Yes, it was also black,” my wife said. “Those are the colors of the butterfly,” Kathy responded.

I haven’t seen a butterfly since the one in the car. But next time I do, I’ll look to see if it’s brown and black, and I’ll smile a hello to Dave. The same with ladybugs and my mother-in-law.