The more you unfold, the less you will unravel – Rabbi Irwin Kula
Young love is so innocent; and yet, it too finds itself having to embrace the stark realities of a life of loss. Shortly after Lori is engaged to Chris, they attend the funeral of Chris’ cousin, a young man who dies after a tragic accident caused by a drunk driver. Although Lori has never met Chris’ Aunt Shirley, Lori’s heart breaks for a mother who is burying her son. Attending the services and visitation, the young lovers see first hand how the natural rhythm of life is so drastically upset when a child precedes a parent in death. As the mourners say goodbye to this young man at the graveside service, Lori notices a butterfly flitting among the remaining clusters of snow left over from a harsh winter. “Did you see it?,” Lori asks Aunt Shirley after the service. “Did you see the Monarch butterfly? You know what the butterfly symbolizes don’t you? It’s the sign of the resurrection, the sign of new life,” Lori explains.
Years have passed since that day, but Aunt Shirley often reminds Lori how the sharing of her butterfly sighting and it’s meaning continues to bring her comfort and peace. Lori’s ability to be open to signs, and to share her faith was a special gift to a grieving mother on the day of her son’s funeral. The simple presence of a butterfly as a symbol of hope, resurrection and new life brought a special gift to a bereaved family during their darkest hour.
Fast forward twenty-six years and now Lori has to say goodbye to her mother Nancy, whose cancer diagnosis comes only weeks before her death. Nancy was a devout Christian, and although she is at peace prior to her death, the physical effects of Nancy’s illness are not pretty . The bereaved often revisit those lasting memories when a loved one dies, and Lori is struggling and anxious about the images she carries.
Lori knows it is important to live in the moment and not dwell on the painful thoughts that fill her mind, so she retreats outside on this hot summer day. Sitting outside alone, she makes one of the multiple phone calls required as “executor of the estate,” and senses the cool breeze that is moving in as a cold front approaches from the north. While “on hold” she is startled by something out the corner of her eye and realizes a butterfly is flitting within her perennial garden and circling her head.
Lori describes a warming sensation that starts at the top of her head, washes out over her arms, down through her body and out towards her feet, while the butterfly continues her flight towards the cooler air. Lori is enveloped by a sense of warm calm that she feels viscerally and all she can think of is that this sensation has spread through her body in the shape of the cross! She is mesmerized by this second visit of a butterfly and is again reminded of eternal life. Lori tells of the “absolute peace” that overtook her that day on her patio. Now her lasting image is not of the ugly realities of physical death, but of the beauty of the resurrection promised to us through the gift of the cross.
Butterflies have always symbolized transformation to me. Beautiful story, beautiful witnessing and embodying of peacefulness.
Thank you Jill! The butterfly has such an incredible birthing process and so many strikes against them as they travel. I can’t help to think that their beauty must be a gift for the struggle? I hope that all of us can birth elements of beauty even through our struggles.
Still beautiful, thanks Kathy! True story…the Aunt Shirley you write about turned 80 a few months ago, and her loving family through her quite a “shindig” in Two Rivers terms. At any rate, I found a monarch butterfly mug, filled in with Hershey’s Kisses, and left if at the party for her. At another recent family gathering, Aunt Shirley ran up to me and profoundly thanked me for the simple gift, telling me she uses her butterfly mug every day and remembers!
Lori you will forever be an angel in your Aunt’s eyes – one of those rare, open hearts who walks in to the pain instead of walking out of the room. If I would want one thing for each person who is grieving it would be an angel like you who isn’t afraid of the pain and who remembers to acknowledge it forever. As you know, the griever NEVER forgets – what a gift you have been to Shirley!
I thought about this particular post on your blog when I sat down to read the Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel on Sunday, July 7, 2013. An article written by columnist Jim Stingl featured the story of a local woman who raises monarch butterflies from tiny eggs in her home. When the butterflies finally emerge, she releases each one in honor of people who have passed away. What a beautiful, tangible expression of releasing grief and at the same time a symbol of eternal life!