Paula Kraus wasn’t afraid to utter the wish burning on her heart, the one that seizes so many preparing to lose a loved one.
The Minnesota mom yearned for some kind of indication that, though she and her dying father would soon be separated, they would remain connected. And being a Catholic, Paula had the vocabulary to express it.
She had come for a one-on-one visit with her dad on a Saturday afternoon. His death appeared imminent, so she knelt at his side and peered into his hazel eyes.
“Will you send me a sign?” Paula asked. “I really want to believe in the communion of saints. I want to believe that you hear my prayers.”
“I will if I can,” he whispered.
The next day, Paula brought her young children to see their grandpa. On the drive home, she explained to them that a metamorphosis was under way in him, much like a caterpillar turns into a butterfly.
Early the next day, Fritz Koshiol, a beloved 86-year-old father of 11 from Plymouth, Minn., died. Paula, his 10th child, was at his side. She promptly called her sister Maria, who exclaimed: “Oh, Paula, you just woke me from a dream about a cocoon changing into a big butterfly. It landed on a hospital bed in our old house.”
The following day, Paula and her mom met with their priest to plan the funeral. They took the back roads home, which led them by their previous house, where they had lived until Paula was 7. The owners were outside, so Paula felt comfortable asking for a walk-through.
As she entered the house, she felt a strong sense of her dad’s presence. Then they walked into the bedroom where Maria’s dream had taken place right as her dad was dying. The owner moved a file cabinet, revealing a poster of a butterfly taped to the wall. It said: “There is strength in loving. If you love someone, you must be strong enough to allow them to be.”
The day of Fritz’s burial at Fort Snelling was blustery. After the ceremony, as the group walked back to their cars and the wind whipped, a big black swallowtail flew between the group and up into a tree.
It felt like the sign she had asked her.
Finally she could truly believe in the communion of saints. She could feel it in her heart. She could feel her father close.
As the years pressed on, and Paula lost her mother and raised her children, this belief turned into action. It became a way to live, on this side of heaven, a state of being that remains attached to those on the other side.
“I don’t feel a separation from my parents,” Paula said. “I feel like I can access them any time.”
She talks to them regularly. She prays to them during Mass, when all the angels and saints gather. She speaks of them in the present tense.
She has turned her dad into a patron saint for her four young kids, invoking him whenever they depart on a road trip by remembering his penchant for taking the back roads. They pray an Our Father, a Hail Mary and a Glory Be, then say, “Grandpa, King of the Scenic Route, pray for us.”
As All Saints Day and All Souls Day near this difficult year, when COVID-19 has claimed more than 200,000 lives, we should embrace the communion of saints, Paula said. “The saints have experienced plagues and beheadings and riots. They know this human struggle.”
Look for little signs. Pay attention to that feeling of nearness. Talk to your loved ones in heaven. And utter those powerful words: “All you holy men and women, pray for us.”
Christina Capecchi is a freelance writer from Inver Grove Heights, Minn.