Actress, producer and Irish native Roma Downey may not be a member of the heavenly host like Monica, the character she portrayed for nine years on the hit TV series Touched by an Angel, but she has lived a life that is deeply connected to God—and she continues doing her best to serve as one of His messengers. That certainly holds true in her new memoir, Box of Butterflies: Discovering the Unexpected Blessings All Around Us.
During an interview with me on Christopher Closeup, Roma recalled her mother Maureen’s shocking death from a heart attack a week before her 11th birthday. “Nothing could have prepared us for the absence that her loss created in our lives. It was as if the color had been removed and the lights had been turned out. My father leaned into prayer to help us cope and get us through that painful time. Of course, we had the promise and the hope through our faith that we would see our mother again. But I was still just a little girl, and I really missed my mom,” she said.
It was the first Mother’s Day after Maureen’s death that Roma developed her lifelong affection for butterflies. She and her father brought pansies to the grave because they were one of her mom’s favorite flowers. Suddenly, a real butterfly flew by and her father suggested it could be a sign from her mother that she was still with them. Roma said, “That was sort of the beginning of the butterfly helping create some sort of comfort. But I missed her all through my life… I don’t think you can be too old to feel the ache inside of losing someone that you love. I wrote this book hoping it would be a comfort to someone who has experienced loss.”
Though no one could ever replace Roma’s mother, she did find an adoptive mother of sorts in her Touched by an Angel co-star, the late Della Reese. The two hit it off immediately, forming a bond that could be called transcendent. It was also a bond that ultimately proved necessary to both of them. Roma said, “Della’s only daughter passed away unexpectedly while we were working together. Not long after, Della took me aside and said, ‘You know, baby, God is so amazing. I always knew that He brought me into your life because you needed a mother. I didn’t realize that He was bringing you into my life because I was going to need a baby girl. Will you be my daughter?”
“Yes,” responded Roma affectionately.
“Then I am your mama,” declared Della.
For 20 years, Roma says she benefited from Della’s “wisdom, love, strength, and courage,” and Della became godmother to Roma’s own daughter Reilly. But Della was a larger-than-life personality who loved everybody.
Roma said, “She would come on the set of Touched by an Angel, and we probably had to give at least 15, 20 minutes just for her to get around the room because she hugged everybody. It was like equal opportunity hugging, whether you were the star of the show, the director, the janitor, making a cup of tea, she came in the room and she said, ‘God bless everybody in here.’ She changed the energy in the room. She truly was an angel, one of the most remarkable women I’ve ever known.”
This Mother’s Day, Roma will remember both her biological and “adopted” mothers with love.
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