The glass butterfly was a birthday gift from my sister. She remembered my frequent butterfly sightings after our mother passed away in 2016. Whenever a butterfly flitted by, I told her it felt as though I was being graced with a visit from Mom. Often these visits came as light hearted messages telling me she was ok and no longer hampered by faulty knees, a failing heart, and diminished eyesight. Butterflies always brought a smile and my sister knew this gift would be the perfect talisman to comfort me in the grief we both shared.
In some sense, my mother was a bit of a butterfly herself. A stewardess in the early days of air travel, she loved to fly. It was fitting she married an aeronautical engineer and that they both loved to travel. Towards the end of her life, she often referred to her columbarium as her “mailbox.” I suppose she thought of it as a launching pad from which her spirit would take off “par avion.”
The glass butterfly originally hung in my kitchen window where it greeted me each morning as it caught the rising sun. I often paused there gazing at the day just beginning or simply remembering Mom. When we moved last summer, I no longer had a kitchen window. So I hung the butterfly in my study using the same small plastic suction cup and nylon string. It still reminded me of Mom, but now often punctuated a deeper grief and missing.
As summer came to an end, I found myself writing less and less. No words bubbled up or even simmered below the surface. I often filled my days with consuming things for the new house, unpacking and settling in. In August my husband, John, retired. So now I used his constant presence as an excuse to not disappear into my study and write. I continued to hide behind a self imposed busy-ness.
When fall arrived, I stopped writing almost entirely. Occasionally I scribbled in my morning journal, but often it was full of pleas and complaints. There were many days I didn’t even go into my study. I missed Mom and her absence filled me with a yawning ache. Whenever, I called my Dad I so wanted him to say, “Let me get Mom on the line.” I missed our newsy chats and answering her queries about John, the kids, and her great grandchildren. However, what I longed for the most was the sound of her voice and now feared losing even the memory of it. I would have given anything to hear her say, “I love you, too, Sweetheart.”
In October, John and I took a ten day road trip through the mid-Atlantic states. I hoped it would jolt me out of my funk. The trip was a bit of a mashup and included sight-seeing, John’s 50th high school reunion, and visits with family. We didn’t stay more than a day or two in any one spot following my Mother’s adage of not staying long enough to “smell like fish.” After ten days of packing and unpacking, we arrived home a bit weary but ready to settle back into a rhythm that I hoped would include writing again.
The first morning back, I walked into my study and noticed an empty space in the window. The butterfly had fallen from its perch and lay in pieces on top of my sewing table. The suction cup lay guiltily amidst the bits of glass. I was heartbroken. All summer, I hoped for a message from Mom, but this was not it. Sarcastically, I muttered, “Thanks a-lot!” I gingerly picked up the two pieces and puzzled-pieced them together. Holding it up to the light, I realized it might be repairable, but I knew that it would never “fly” again. So, I salvaged the main pieces and added super glue to my shopping list. A few days later, the butterfly was patched back together and propped in a small easel on my window sill. No longer airborne, it looked forlorn with its cracked wing and chipped head.
Weeks later, I sat in my study rededicated to morning meditation and journaling. I glanced up as I searched for words. The butterfly crutched on its easel caught my eye, and I felt a tinge of sadness. However as I looked more closely, I began to think of my own cracks and chips some visible and some below the surface. I reflected on all the times I, too, stumbled and fell, but also the all the times I got up again. Often it was at those low times that I found the gumption to go on, seek something new, or simply begin again. Each time some good came my way in the form of healing, wisdom, or simply a new direction. I realized that I, too, was often repaired with a different sort of glue. It was the glue of God’s love…a love that knows no bounds and was reflected by my parents, my husband, my family, and dear friends throughout my life.
Like the old Grinch, I sat there in my study “puzzling” a bit more and then thought of something I hadn’t before. Maybe Mom was sending me a message. However, the message did not reside in the perfect glass butterfly flying in my window but in the patched up one leaning on the sill.
As a child, I was often anxious…anxious about going to school, to a birthday party, or to a friend’s house to spend the night. My Mom would often say, “Go…you’ll have a good time when you get there.” If I mustered the courage to go, I often found that she was right. I would forget my worries and end up having a good time. As this memory surfaced, I wondered if my mother was once again telling me not to worry and to consider the possibility of some good coming my way. While the grief and sadness I was running from had the power to break me into inconsolable pieces, it also might lead to a stronger, more resilient me.
As I stand now on the cusp of this new year, I know there will surely be struggles, disappointments, and losses in the years ahead. However, my mother still encourages me to look for good times as well. So, I am resolving to lift my chin up, listen to my mother, and find hope again. ~c.h.
© Catherine O. Hause