When Autumn Ater’s son, Robert, passed away at the age of 14, his death had an enormous impact on her life.
Ater used that experience to connect with other grieving mothers across the world, founding her ministry, A Hole in my Heart.
“When you’ve lost a child, their death is so out of the ordinary,” she said. “It’s not the proper way that life is supposed to go.”
Through her ministry, Ater has helped other families through their suffering, and she organizes a memorial event each year with a butterfly release.
Thursday evening, despite cloudy weather, more than 100 mothers, fathers and families gathered at Chandor Gardens for the sixth annual event.
“I meet with some of the moms pretty regularly, but meeting so many other families was a very nice blessing,” Ater said. “There were literally people sitting in chairs, people standing all along the back walls and people in the dining area as well.
“It was packed.”
Among the families, several members of the community also came out in support, including Parker County REACT, the Weatherford Police Department, ministry board members Melinda Chance, Tiffany Lopez and Alma Sanchez as well as several businesses.
Entertainment was provided by harpist Brittany Doyle, cellist Don Ray Doyle, Jr. and singer Dianna Littlepage.
In what has become tradition, mothers receive a King Monarch butterfly, are asked to give the butterfly a special message and release them into the air.
“The caterpillar finds a secret hiding place and cocoons itself, which we perceive as the caterpillar dying. God then breathes new life into it and out of the cocoon emerges a new life, or the butterfly,” Ater said. “We tend to think of our children as the caterpillars and when they cocoon during their earthly death, they emerge into Heaven as a new being.
“The butterfly gives us that hope, and it’s a beautiful thing that God gives us.”
The butterflies not only signify a child’s journey but can also represent the child’s visit back to his or her parents.
Thursday night, a butterfly flew to Ater’s finger and remained there for several minutes.
“My son was profoundly handicapped, but he used to grab my finger and shake my hand really hard,” she said. “The butterfly began vibrating, and to me, it was a sign that Robert was still there with me.”
Ater hopes to continue her ministry, now in its seventh year, through the use of donations and sponsorships.
“It’s been a really tough year for us on donations and sponsors. We’ve seen better days coming and we’re struggling,” she said. “If it wasn’t for the kindness and some people’s contributions, none of this would be possible.
“These events are always about the moms, and I may have founded the ministry, but I’m really just a vessel for God.”
Anyone interested in joining or contributing to the Hole in my Heart ministry may do so by emailing Ater at firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 817-594-6148.
The group meets on the second Thursday of each month. The ministry’s next scheduled event is a holiday candle lighting memorial service, which will take place Friday, Dec. 14.