97: Beyond the Cocoon

97: Beyond the Cocoon

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving and Recovery

Beyond the Cocoon

Unable are the loved to die. For love is immortality.

~Emily Dickinson

For years, my mom, Marie, dreamed of being published. She wrote and submitted articles, stories, jokes—you name it—in hopes of seeing her words in print and a check in the mailbox. She was a former teacher turned stay-at-home mom who always put her family before herself, but deep inside she had a longing to work and contribute monetarily.

Unfortunately, Mom passed away from complications caused by her cancer treatments. And, so too, it seemed, did her dream.

Or so I thought.

You see, from where Mom now stands, dreams always come true. She just enlisted me, her son, a writer, to prove that to all of you.

So here’s her last story, but one that never ends. The story of Mom’s love.

It was the day after the funeral. My sisters were bringing the last of the flowers to Mom’s graveside. The weather cooperated, as it often does in sad times, with gray skies, cold and rain. As my older sisters gazed at the mound of flowers, tears in their eyes and aches in their hearts, they both silently asked Mom to let them know she was all right. Almost on cue, and in spite of the pouring rain, a solitary white butterfly arose from the mound and fluttered effortlessly past their noses and out of sight.

Mary and Pat looked at one another and felt that chill you get when you know something extraordinary just happened, as seemingly insignificant as it might have seemed. When they came back to our childhood home, they related the story to my dad, myself and my brother Tom and sister Liz. Inside, I was jealous. I wished Mom had given me a sign too.

I walked outdoors with this thought and sat on the bench that only two months earlier I had assembled for their 45th anniversary. I cried uncontrollably as any son would who had lost his mother. But when I opened my eyes, a strange thing happened. A beautiful yellowish-white butterfly brushed past my face almost on cue, just as my sisters had related in their experience. In my case, however, I got up to follow the butterfly.

It fluttered left, then right, then up and down. It seemed to dance in front of me, almost coaxing me to follow. We rounded the corner to the side of the house when suddenly I was led into a small swarm of white butterflies! They all danced and fluttered around me and then whooshed away toward the front of my neighbor’s house, then over the roof until they disappeared.

I had a feeling about this continuing butterfly phenomenon but, through the days of grief that followed, had neither the will nor the strength to look into its significance.

Of course, Mom would not allow me to brush it off.

I went home to my wife and son but was regaled with further butterfly incidents during phone conversations with my oldest sisters—one story, in particular having to do with my mom’s first grandchild, Taryn. She is the oldest of two born to my sister Liz.

About a week after Mom’s passing, Liz went to visit our dad and two oldest sisters, who were still helping him around the house. Upon arrival, Taryn jumped out of the car and was greeted by a white butterfly landing on her head! At this point, we all decided to finally confront the phenomenon head-on and did a little research on the meaning of white butterflies. We discovered that the Japanese believe they are the spirits of the dead, while the Chinese and many Christians believe they are the souls of the departed, flying free.

This revelation only confirmed the feeling we all had. Mom was letting us know that she was still with us and that she was okay.

A few weeks passed with no other butterfly sightings. The numbing pain of Mom’s passing was still as fresh as the dirt on her grave.

A month after Mom’s passing, on her 74th birthday, my father and I went out to the cemetery to bring her flowers. We paused, said a prayer, held each other and cried. When we finally composed ourselves, we began walking toward the cemetery maintenance garage to get water for our flower vases. Suddenly and from out of nowhere, a spectacularly large and colorful monarch butterfly whizzed between my dad and me and bounced joyfully in the light breeze.

We’d experienced the white butterflies but never a colorful monarch. That’s when I looked at my dad with conviction and said, “Mom dressed up for her birthday.”

Which she always did.

Mom, thanks for staying close, and congratulations on having your story published. I always knew you could do it.

~Michael J. Cunningham

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