Silver Butterfly Wings is my story. It’s a story of transformation, of the many paths and decisions I faced while going through the process of grief. How I learned to cope in those early weeks; that ethereal time where it feels as if you’re drifting between two worlds, belonging to neither.
Shifting sands, flickering lights, a shadow in the hall. Signs from the Other Side? A butterfly’s silvery wings, a teardrop sliding down the kitchen windowpane as I stood there crying on a sunny winter day. A “hot spot” on his side of the bed as I turned over to hug his pillow. More signs?
At first I was sceptical. How could my dearly departed be sending signs and messages from Across the Veil? How could he know what I’m thinking, feeling?
Over time I learned to trust these signs, these gifts from Spirit. They brought hope to my weary soul, encouraged me to move forward and seek out joy.
I learned faith. There was a reason I was still here. I was meant to go on, to live my life with passion - not merely go through the motions of day-to-day living. I was to figure out who I was becoming in this totally different world and trust that life was taking me where I was meant to be.
In short, I was to transform - like a butterfly.
My daughter looked at me over David's body lying still in the hospital bed. Her eyes were filled with deep sorrow, mirroring my own. She gently removed her hands from his chest.
Mine still held fast, yearning for the echo of his last heartbeat.
I could not let go. His body was still warm.
"He's gone, Mom."
I was not ready to give him up. I wanted to catch the last rays of his life as they slipped through my fingers.
“I love you.”
Tears streamed down my cheeks. I kissed him gently, caressing his face with my own, knowing we would never have this time again.
I smoothed back his hair, and whispered loving words into his still ears. Could he hear me? Was he watching us somehow, from some other place?
The room was quiet; miraculously, no one had intruded during these last sacred moments of my husband’s life. Late afternoon sunlight filtered in through the windowsill garden I had created in an attempt to bring a slice of home to this sick room.
Time swirled around us, its calm softness meaning nothing.
"I want to wash his face."
Daughter looked up, eyes searching my face. Concerned. A flicker of something, then it was gone.
"All right, we'll do that."
Smiling now, she rose briskly from her chair, gave my hand an encouraging squeeze, then left the room to locate the linen cart.
While she was gone, I eased back the bedcovers and slipped in beside my husband, snuggling him close. I gathered his lifeless body into my arms wanting to give comfort, and at the same time needing to suffuse my soul with whatever was left of his life force. How odd, this final exchange, how strange to not feel his warm embrace in return.
Daughter swooshed into the room with fresh towels, ready to get on with end of life care. I could hear a fraction of hesitation in her step, a pause, then tiptoeing footsteps as she made her way around the bed.
She settled into her chair to wait, to give us time, as if watching her mother cradle a body was the most natural thing in the world. When I was ready, she handed me a facecloth.
I walked over to the tiny sink by the bed, rinsed the cloth in warm water and lovingly washed away the last remnants of my husband's illness.
Then I sat back down and just looked at him. I could not go. Could not leave him here. I wanted to do more.
So begins my journey of grief, that raw emptiness one feels after the death of someone close. Yet you can’t stay in grief forever. There is healing, although at the time you just cannot fathom it. There is hope - yet what kind of hope?
Hope that the person you loved and made a life with has not vanished, stamped out of existence completely? What a horrible, cruel concept.
But we know death is final. You cannot bring someone back from the dead.
Yet Love survives. How can that be? How can you love someone not of this earth?
These are some of the questions that tore at my soul, twisted my gut and shattered my heart. I had nowhere to turn. No one had any answers.
One sunny summer morning, two days after my husband’s passing. I was sitting on our back deck….
Another beautiful day had begun. The sun was up and the air was growing warmer. Summer - my favorite season. A carefree time of long lazy days, flowers and sunshine, swimming and picnics. I adore the heat and relish the freedom of stepping outside in flip-flops or sandals or barefoot as often as not. Shorts, t-shirts, summer dresses, toes in the grass, fingers in the earth, ice cream, friends popping over, outings, bicycle trips, holidays. I love it all and could not fathom, could not imagine dying in the midst of this vibrant time of year. It made no sense. But then nothing was making sense any more.
I felt lost. My focus, my direction, was gone. I had looked after David for so long. His needs became my needs. His care my primary concern. I cooked for him, cleaned for him, saw to all of his basic personal needs. I even learned to cut his hair! I picked up his medications, ran the household: shopping, laundry, bank, library. I was the liaison person. I took all phone calls and made all of his medical appointments.
And now there was nothing.
No loving man in the house to look after. No loving man in the hospital to visit. No worrying about his treatments, care plan, prognosis, medical condition.
I felt empty. Worse, I felt totally off balance like the carpet had been pulled out from under me. I was dizzy, aching. My head spinning. My world turned inside out. Where do I go now? What do I do?
Overwhelmed with feelings of anguish, I put my head in my hands and sobbed. Great wracking sobs. Never had I felt such grief, such excruciating suffocating pain. I was frightened, lost, completely disoriented.
My breath came in short, painful spasms. Tight bands in my chest were squeezing the air out of my lungs. What was happening to me? Blackness lapped at the edges of my vision. Dropping my head to my knees I squished myself into a little ball, hoping to make the world go away. Hoping to dispel the blackness that was threatening to pull me under.
Something whispered to my soul.
Instinctively I looked up. A butterfly was resting quietly on the back of the Other Chair.
The empty one.
The one where David would normally be sitting. It sat quite still as if waiting to be noticed. Calm. Gentle. Serene. It was her peacefulness, her simplicity, her stillness that spoke to me.
A poem sprang into my head: Do not stand at my grave and weep….
Was that David's voice I heard in my head? I stopped crying to listen. There was nothing more. I turned my attention back to the butterfly. It was an elegant shade of orange with black markings on its wings, like eyes.
All at once I understood. According to Chinese belief whenever someone sees a butterfly, it is a soul come back from the dead to comfort those left behind. It brings a sacred message, "I am well. I am happy. Do not grieve for me."
I sat up in the chair and rubbed my eyes.
"Did you send me this butterfly?" I asked the air, feeling my spirits lift a bit. Somewhere from the depths of my being, I knew it had to be true. My sadness had shifted, hope was creeping in and I was beginning to feel better. Could this really be a gift or message from David? I'd never seen a butterfly with these markings before. Monarchs, yes, there were plenty of those, but this was not a monarch.
Today is Our Anniversary, dear David. Twelve happy years, even in sickness. I wish I could tell you once again how privileged I felt when you asked me to be your wife. How filled to the brim with joy. How blessed.
And when we were dealt that awful blow, your diagnosis of chronic lung disease, never once did it enter my mind to let you go. I held on tight; probably too tight, but I could not even think about life without you.
You could never, ever become a burden, and I know you worried about that, particularly towards the end of your life. There is no way I'd ever abandon you, my sweetheart. I love you to the very depth of my soul.
Will you send me a sign today? Something to let me know that you know today is Our Anniversary? Something with a special meaning for us? Something that only the two of us would understand?
He'd already sent butterflies, a caterpillar in the broccoli, herons, dragonflies, pens in the grass, what else could he possibly send me? I couldn't imagine anything else that would carry such a strong significance for us. Couldn't imagine a sign or message potent enough to be that link between his world and mine. And it had to be something I would instantly recognize, and know...
But that's just it. You don't know, you can't know ahead of time. And you certainly can't force things to happen. My only advice for people yearning for a message from the Other Side is to be patient and keep an open mind. It's just not possible to control what happens in the Afterworld, or plan a visit or message from those who have crossed over.
Today I would be spending the day babysitting my grandchildren; well half a day really, as the other grandmother and I share the time. She takes the early shift, and I the afternoon. Maybe there will be no sign today, as I won't be home.
Feeling a little low, I issued Spirit a challenge. Ha - I dare you to send me a sign, one that you haven't sent before.
Was I actually teasing and taunting Spirit? Oh the bad karma! Never mind, after the agony of losing David, nothing could hurt me any more. The worst had already happened.
I walked in to Daughter's house to find Irish Grandmother sitting in the rocking chair, by the window, little Alex cradled in her arms. He must have already finished his bottle and now it was nap time. Was I late? I looked at my watch (or David's rather). No, I was on time.
Older sister, Leeah, was putting together a puzzle on the living room floor. I plopped down next to her. She was doing well on her own and evidently didn't need any help. I sat for a bit watching her. I could hear Irish Grandmother singing little Alex to sleep. It was rather early for his afternoon nap, but maybe he was tired today. I’m usually the one who gives him his bottle and puts him to sleep after Irish Grandmother has gone home.
Things seemed to be flowing along as they should. The rocker rocked, little granddaughter quietly and skillfully fit pieces of her puzzle into place, the dog slept in a corner of the room, and I leaned back against the living room sofa to rest my head for a moment.
Nobody needed me just now, so I closed my eyes. I listened to the rhythm of the wooden rocker, back and forth over the hardwood floor, listened to soft doggie snores, and listened to the lullaby Irish Grandmother was singing.
Toora, loora, loora, Toora, loora, li...
My head snapped up. Could it be?
Toora, loora, loora, Hush now don’t you cry.
I couldn’t believe my ears! This Irish Grandmother was singing the same lullaby that David's father had sung to him when he was a little boy. David adored this song. His mother had been French, his father Irish. It had been his father who'd sung lullabies to David, rather than his mother and I don't know why.
I just remember David telling me how close he was to his Dad; how much he loved him. It seems his father was the one to look after him throughout the illnesses of childhood. His father had stayed with him at the hospital when he had his tonsils removed. And it was his father who had passed on his love of education and books to David.
Mom was simply Mom, loving and kind. But Dad was extra-extra special.
I was filled with awe. Could this be the sign? Really?
“David - how did you manage that? Irish Grandmother never puts the little ones to sleep. I always do! Thank you, Sweetie! This is one of the best anniversary gifts ever!”
And it came from the Other Side.
It was because of these signs I managed to survive. Managed to struggle through days and nights of confusion, emptiness and pain.
I am possessed. There is a woman inside of me who is taking over. It's somebody else.
I'd never behave like this.
I walked into the bank, demanding to see the bank manager. I had checked my statement on-line earlier in the day, to discover that the account was overdrawn. Not by a few dollars or so, but by a rather large amount. How had this happened? Who was responsible? The bank teller was an experienced and kindly lady. She knew me.
"The manager is at a meeting," she said, eyeing me shrewdly.
"Why are they always in meetings when you want them?" the other woman who was invading my body demanded in a loud voice. I heard some shuffling of feet behind me from those standing in line, but I ignored them.
"Let's see if we can solve this ourselves," offered Nice Teller, turning towards her computer screen. With a few clicks she called up my account and identified the problem. In a quiet and professional tone of voice she informed me that I had instructed my investment company to withdraw this exact amount of money.
I was taken aback.
I did? When? My widow's brain was blank. And then something clicked. I remembered. It was at a meeting earlier in the month...
I was back at the notary's office as there were more legalities to be sorted out concerning the Estate. What a horrid word. I hate that word. It means that David is dead and I don't want David to be dead, but I sucked in my breath and entered the conference room.
Earlier in the day, before leaving the house, I made a point of checking my purse. I wanted to be absolutely sure I had a good pen to sign all the documents and forms which would undoubtedly be presented to me over the course of the meeting.
I checked my purse again. Yes, it was still there. And, just to be on the safe side, I reminded everyone right before the meeting to make sure they had their pens handy.
Notary L stared at me as if I had 5 heads. She had obviously forgotten our last meeting where nobody could find a pen. I was sure David had hidden them all. Financial Advisor, who was sitting on my right side, must have remembered, for he gave me a quick conspiratorial grin.
The meeting began. A document was produced for me to sign. With a flourish, I whipped out my pen, placed it on the paper and .....nothing......but a scratch!
I could not believe it.
Did David do that? Could David do that?
Embarrassed, I tried again. Still no ink. I looked around. Everyone was waiting for me. With a nod of encouragement, Good old Financial Advisor leaned over to offer me the
use of his pen. It worked just fine and I signed what was to become the first of quite a few documents that morning.
"You can keep it," he said with a warm smile.
So focused was I on the pen situation (was David really being mischievous?) that I did not read the contents of each document properly, and one of them must have been my permission to withdraw funds for The Investment.
As time went on I grew and evolved. Signs and messages became my Lifeline - something to kindle a flicker of hope, something to keep me afloat in the deep, dark waters of grief. Each sign strengthened my faith, encouraged me to move forward and try to find some happiness, some purpose as days blended one into the other.
Even the grandchildren received signs, but they didn’t realize it, of course.
In February of 2012, Daughter, her family, another grandchild and I went to Fort Myers for a winter escape. We stayed at the Pink Shell Resort, a beautiful hotel right on the beach.
One morning about half-way through our vacation, we were on our way to breakfast.
“Who’s Missing”? Asks Five-year-old Granddaughter, as we step into the hotel elevator.
I was taken aback.
Heads swivel around as we check each other out. There are six of us. Grandmother, Daughter, Son-in-Law, and three of my grandchildren.
"Nobody's missing, Leeah."
The elevator doors whisk open and we step out into the hallway and on towards the dining room. A huge buffet breakfast is waiting for us and we're hungry.
Another day. Palm trees sway in a lazy breeze and a strong sun warms and nourishes my winter weary soul. Every morning I rise early and walk the beach. The sand is unbelievably soft and powdery underfoot and I revel in its smoothness as I head straight for the ocean. Waves lap at the shoreline with a rhythm of their own and I take my time wading into the shallow, cool waters. Shells crunch under my bare feet here, but I don't mind.
Looking up, I see a V-formation of brown pelicans flying quite close to the water. Suddenly one of them dives headfirst into the ocean, no doubt to spear a poor unsuspecting fish.
Back at the hotel, the family is waiting for me. I quickly change out of my beach clothes and into a summer dress. We leave together for the breakfast feast. All six of us step into the elevator.
Little Granddaughter turns to look at me. "Who's missing?"
Once again, I'm taken aback.
Once again, Daughter and I look at each other, then glance swiftly around, although we know everyone is here.
Daughter bends down and looks her daughter right in the eye.
"Nobody's missing sweetie."
A strange feeling comes over me and I shiver a little.
"Could it be Vincent? Katie? Lara? Stella?"
Leeah shakes her head.
Having eliminated her playmates, I try for cousins. "Is it Simon? Ryan? Owen? Adrian?"
Light is beginning to dawn on me, but I decide to keep quiet.
Weather here in Fort Myers, Florida has been absolutely perfect. There is a kind of serenity, a warmth and peaceful feeling to the air as we spend our days walking in sunshine under clear tropical skies. It’s such a relief to leave bulky winter coats at home and slip effortlessly into sandals and flip-flops, kicking them off with careless abandon to walk barefoot in the sand or around the pool.
The children were delighted to spend each day splashing about in the Resort pool, or making sand castles and sand mermaids on the beach. Twice during our trip, we watched a pair of young dolphins swim so close to shore we could almost touch them.
It was a welcome change for me to take a vacation with my family, rather than going alone.
It was good for my family to take a break from their work and school routine. Although we'd had a mild winter this year, there seemed to be a lot of viruses going around. Everyone had been sick off and on since before Christmas. It was definitely time for a change of venue.
All too soon our vacation was over. This was to be our last day. The children were eager to get back home to familiar surroundings. They missed their pets, toys, and friends.
We'd had a wonderful time and were ready to go home. I think we were all getting a little weary of restaurant food (with the exception of those sumptuous breakfasts).
The elevator seemed to be slow this morning, but we didn't mind. This was a day to take things easy, to savour our last moments here in Florida.
Finally it arrived. Doors opened with a whoosh and the children surged in - all wanting to "press the button" for the appropriate floor.
Leeah turned to look at me.
"Who's missing?" she asks yet again.
Mother makes a decision. It's time to get to the bottom of this.
"Is it a boy or a girl?"
"A boy," she replies.
I take the plunge. “Is it David?"
Life will never be the same. It’s not meant to. But I have become stronger as a person and in my belief that you can Love someone not of this earth. For they are still with us. They haven’t disappeared entirely, they’ve simply transformed.
FAQ Silver Butterfly Wings
Well actually, the butterfly chose me. According to Chinese belief, butterflies are souls from those who have passed on, reassuring loved ones that all is well. It was a butterfly that appeared to me a couple of days after my husband passed away and it was butterflies I saw in abundance all that first year.
Symbolic? Yes. Absolutely. Spirit has a way of placing her gifts in our path, for understanding, for support, for learning. If we are open to receiving these gifts, then they bring comfort. If not, we miss them. It’s easy to get caught up in a downward spiral and close up emotionally.
My advice for anyone yearning for a gift, a sign from the Other Side is to remain open. And be patient.
One summer evening, a few weeks after my husband’s passing I was out walking. I had seen butterflies earlier on. Strange ones that were not native to my region, exquisite in their stillness, with an otherworldly aura as if their sole (soul?) mission was to wait for my notice.
On this particular evening I looked up toward the sky to catch the last rays of a setting sun. Out of nowhere a butterfly appeared - quite far up. I was not expecting to see anything more than the sky painted a beautiful rosy glow.
Suddenly, the butterfly’s wings changed to silver. I know the fading light had something to do with it, but silver? Not grey or dark purple or mud?
Very strange to be up so high in the first place and then to transform from yellow/orange to silver. Another evening the same transformation happened to a bat.
Yes, plenty. Feathers in my path (that’s a common one for most). But this was a turkey feather reminding me of a time when I saw a wild turkey in my driveway. I ran in the house, grabbed my camera and followed closely behind while snapping its pic and looking like a complete fool. Hubby and I laughed over that all afternoon. I’m sure when I stumbled across this feather at the top of my driveway, it was telling me to remember the good times. The happy times. I never saw another turkey feather after that.
It was tough, very tough, but with baby steps, with reaching out to others trying to come to terms with losing a loved one, giving into tears when they happened, and finding hope in knowing my husband was still around somewhere, I survived. I grew spiritually and developed a deeper sense of compassionate for others. I learned to find joy in the moment and not take anything (particularly good health) for granted.