Did you know the monarch butterfly is considered the queen of all butterflies? Neither did I. One of nature’s mysteries is their winter migration when they leave the frigid air of Canada and are beckoned forward to the warm winds of Mexico. During this arduous journey they may travel a mile high in the sky, hitchhiking on thermal currents to ease their way forward. They are the only butterfly species to take this 3,000 mile trip every winter, and have even been known to cop a ride on an ocean freighter, patiently waiting for land to show itself on the horizon before beating their beautiful wings to their new home.
There was quite a bit I did not know about these silent majestic beauties before today. I attended a butterfly release ceremony held in memory of those who have passed sponsored by the funeral home that handled my husband’s burial. This is their 22nd year holding this event wherein they invite customers (sounds like an odd word, but apt) to pay tribute to husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, daughters and sons passed.
I was not sure what to expect. My sister-in-law went with me and had signed up to release a butterfly in memory of her parents. It was a nice ceremony but I didn’t realize they’d have us gather first in the very viewing room James had been laid out in a coffin five months prior. I tried not to think of that but of course that was pretty much all I could think of.
Before the ceremony got underway I turned to the elderly woman to my right and asked her who she was honoring today. “My husband,” she said, with a small smile. Murmuring my condolences I asked her how long it had been. “Three years.” I’m anxious to mine any nuggets of advice I can from widows. I know so few. The early morning internet searches I conduct daily to find suggestions on how to get through have yet to reveal the “aha” moment that I had hoped for. They all say things like, Get plenty of sleep, eat healthy, don’t spend too much time alone.
“Has it gotten any easier?” I asked quickly. “Not really,”she replied.
Sensing my disappointment she leaned in and with a conspiratorial voice provided the only advice she could muster. “You have to keep busy.”
I appreciated her kind words but was filled with dismay. I knew that my metamorphose had not happened yet. A never-ending vista of busy work loomed before me. I’m smart enough and rational enough to realize keeping busy is important. But it also connotes a lifetime of planning shit to do to pass the time so maybe I won’t notice so much that my real life is buried in that damned cemetery.
So back to the butterflies. After the ceremony we all filed out and were handed a folded piece of paper in the shape of a triangle. (It reminded me perversely of a larger version of the envelopes partiers in the 90’s kept their cocaine in.) We gathered outside and a roll call of the dead was read aloud. One by one as names were read, someone would release their small stash. The butterflies were sluggish, but soon warmed to the hot August air and flew into the blue sky above.
As they departed their paper prisons, we were instructed to whisper a message to our lost loved ones.
“I miss you.”
“Fly free to a better place.”
“I will love you always.”