7: Butterflies

7: Butterflies

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Touched by an Angel


Grieving is a necessary passage and a difficult transition to finally letting go of sorrow — it is not a permanent rest stop.


It had been a rough year for us. Within a month’s time, I had surgery for breast cancer and my husband, Jeff, had surgery for prostate cancer. Luckily, his follow-up tests showed no further signs of the disease and he didn’t require more treatment. I, however, received chemotherapy and radiation for six months. When my first MRI was scheduled for a year after surgery, I was in a state of panic. Not only was I still recovering from the treatments, but also beyond frightened about having to start the process all over again… or worse! Once again, we were lucky. My MRI was clear. I’m not a crier, but I did cry when I received the news. So much emotion in such a short period of time just couldn’t be contained any longer. But our relief was short-lived.

Three days later, my niece, Cathy, called. My sister, Nancy, was in the emergency room. She hadn’t been feeling well for several months but always seemed to have an excuse as to why. This time, however, there were no excuses. She’d been so ill that her daughters Cathy and Karen had taken her to the ER. The diagnosis shocked us all. She had leukemia and lymphoma. Once again, we began our cancer-fighting vigil.

For the next year, Nancy spent time in and out of the hospital. At home, Cathy left her job and did most of the caretaking, with Jeff and I taking the afternoon “shift.” A stem cell transplant was her best option for survival. After numerous setbacks, she was finally able to have the procedure. While she was very ill after, everything looked good. It seemed that, like us, she was in remission. She came home, tired but feeling hopeful about the future.

Unfortunately, that future lasted for less than a month. Leukemia struck again. This time, there was no treatment. Her heart and lungs were too weak for more chemotherapy. The best treatment available hadn’t worked. She was sent home for the last time with many medications to make her as comfortable as possible, but with nothing that would fight the disease. She would soon die. Eventually, the wonderful people from hospice took over all of her medical care along with providing a support system for the rest of us. My nieces Cathy and Karen, and Cathy’s daughter Carissa, took turns staying with her at night while her husband Ted tried to get some rest so he could continue working and pay the bills. We continued with our afternoon duties.

Things seemed to improve for short periods of time, but the inevitable happened. After a particularly difficult weekend, we received a call from Ted telling us that Nancy had passed away around six that morning.

The family soon gathered. We cried and laughed and were silent, lost in our own thoughts. I’d lost my sister and my best friend. Cathy and Karen had lost their mother. Carissa and seven-year-old Christian had lost their grandmother. Ted had lost his wife. My sons, Eric and Greg, had lost an aunt they’d been very close to. And on it went.

Several days later, Cathy had to pull herself together enough to go to the grocery store. With a seven-year-old, life gets a push in returning to some normalcy. I agreed to go with her — to get myself out of the house and hoping I could support her a little.

“Are you still sad, Mommy?” Christian asked as Cathy dabbed her eyes.

“Yes, Christian,” Cathy replied. “I’ll be all right. Just for right now, I’m still sad.”

“What would make you happy?” Christian asked with all the innocence of a child.

Cathy thought for a few seconds. “I don’t know. Maybe a butterfly,” she replied. It was too early in the season for butterflies to be out in profusion, but at least it gave Christian something to look for that would make his mother happy.

We walked around the store in a trance. Even little Christian was visibly upset, as he’d been very close to his grandmother and now hated seeing the other members of his family so sad. We finally completed our shopping and were getting into the car when Christian yelled, “Look!” He pointed to the parking space next to us.

There, to our shock and surprise, was a light blue Volkswagen bug. It was covered with painted, white butterflies of all shapes and sizes. Cathy and I just stared. Then a sense of peace came over us. Was this what we’d been looking for? Had we needed a sign that Nancy was, indeed, all right? We didn’t know for sure, but at that moment some of the sadness lifted. We’d been given butterflies.

~Jane Lonnqvist

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