Posts Tagged ‘grief’

“You’ll be a beautiful butterfly – we’re all waiting for you!”

On Thursday, October 15 of this year, at 2:00 pm on a beautiful sunny fall day in North Carolina, a watched my oldest sister, Kathy, take her final breaths, ending a very short but well-fought battle with cancer. This past Sunday, November 22, family and friends gathered for a celebration of her life.

I had just returned from a two-week art retreat, total immersion in process and freedom to create without distractions. What came out of that time was a better understanding of the themes that are so prevalent in my art, those of transformation and liminality, and it provided me the comforting space to grieve. I was thinking about that day Kathy passed so peacefully and thought about the memories I would want to share at her memorial. Just days before she died, she was moved from her home in Burlington to the UNC Cancer Center, palliative care providing wonderful support to her and to our family. She was safely wrapped up in a cocoon of warm blankets, finally pain-free.

A cocoon…that’s what I kept thinking of as I watched her sleep, the idea that death wasn’t an end, but just a transformative event on the journey of life. With that in mind, this is what I shared as a eulogy and memorial to her and how she impacted my life:


Kathy, here holding me as a baby, was my hippie sister, a  creative, down-to-earth presence who had the best record collection I could imagine. We spent what seemed like hours listening to Three Dog Night, the Rolling Stones, Carole King and the Beatles. Thus was the beginning of my love affair with Paul McCartney! And one of my favorites was her Beach Boys Endless Summer album that I took from the stock when she left home. I played it over and over until is was worn and scratched.

Kathy loved being in nature, instilling and sharing that with us and her children. We shared a love for animals and she could sew and craft anything, a Bohemian Martha Stewart. She, like my other siblings, gave me wonderful books as a child. These books were my escape, the illustrations inspiration for me to become an illustrator and artist. One in particular that has meaning to me is Hope for the Flowers, by Trina Paulus, published in 1972. Kathy gave me this book for my 8th birthday.

It is a story of two caterpillars, friends on the journey of life, seeking “more,” as well as meaning. Of course it is a story of transformation, of growing in love, vulnerability and trust. One day, the yellow caterpillar comes upon another spinning a cocoon, hearing him mention the word “butterfly.” This is their exchange:

“Butterfly – that word,” she thought. Tell me, sir, what is a butterfly?”

“It’s what you are meant to become. It flies with beautiful wings and joins the earth to heaven. It drinks only nectar from the flowers and carries the seeds of love from one flower to another.”

“Without butterflies the world would soon have few flowers.”

“It can’t be true,” gasped Yellow. “How can I believe there’s a butterfly inside you or me when all I see is a fuzzy worm?” 

“How does one become a butterfly?” she asked pensively. 

“You must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar.”

“You mean to die?” asked Yellow. 

“Yes and No,” he answered. “What looks like you will die but what’s really you will still live. Life is changed, not taken away. Isn’t that different from those who die without ever becoming butterflies?”

“And if I decide to become a butterfly,” said Yellow hesitantly, “what do I do?”

“Watch me. I’m making a cocoon. It looks like I’m hiding, I know, but a cocoon is no escape. It’s an in-between house where the change takes place. It’s a big step since you can never return to caterpillar life. During the change, it will seem to you or to anyone who might peek that nothing is happening – but the butterfly is already becoming. It just takes time!”

“And there’s something else! Once you are a butterfly, you can really love – the kind of love that makes new life. It’s better than all the hugging caterpillars can do.”

And so I take solace in the butterfly she has become. This is what I celebrate most.

I will continue to cherish my copy of the book, a reminder of Kathy’s gifts to me and all those she touched. That beautiful day, as the sun streamed in to that hospital room, I was reassured in the love that gave new life, new blooms.

Rest in peace.

I miss you.


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