I didn’t notice the butterfly; my mind was racing toward too many other things. We filed from the van, hoping to be ready for something for which there could be no adequate preparation. As I entertained visions of hollow eyes lining the hallway and the overwhelming smell of something slipping away, my presence was clearly elsewhere. It was one of my girls, and then the other, that extended hands as welcome perches for the sunshine yellow butterfly. Passed from one youthful hand to another, to a tiny boy and back again, the small butterfly lifted its wings ever so slightly as it was set to rest, seemingly perfectly content, on the reddest flower in an urn of bright and mighty annuals which nearly beckoned the heavens. A man of eighty-something, slumped to one side of his vinyl-and-metal push cart, stared past my children, and the butterfly, but I know he saw everything.
After an hour of off-key camp songs offered to comfort or, at least, soften the crawl of the afternoon’s clock; curious wanderers scouting out a good time and inviting themselves to join our circle of activity, hoping to find whatever meaning there might be left to find; pleas for help (“let me out!”); and feelings that this could be our last time visiting grandma, we are going to get a pizza. As the sliding door opened and the summer air mixed with emotions that had no definition, I saw that the butterfly had gone.
My son could have been a small child, his nearly six-feet-four-inch frame curled to rest on the twin-size mattress on our basement floor. Here he is, for ten days, on the bridge between his childhood and the future’s unknown. He has left home, he has done university studies, he has lived in his own apartment. But this time, he will travel thirty-two hours by car to pursue his passion. He will not be home for Labor Day weekend. He will not be home for Thanksgiving. He will be in California for five years, which is more time than his youngest brother has lived. I support him wholeheartedly, and the angst of letting go is, as are the feelings that brew within my soul at the nursing home, undefinable.
Another son is packing up his coffee machine, towels, frying pan, frisbee, and even the coveted velvet estate sale love seat that his older brother cannot take on his journey. This boy is returning to college, moving to a house with his friends. Today, the mounds of laundry, displaced chairs, and random piles of paper that clutter our bungalow are strongly reminiscent of the chaos that certainly fills my brain. I don’t remember a time where more transitions loomed, bringing with them unwelcome gifts including anxiety, overwhelming sadness, and a sense of pining for where I have gone before. There, too, is great joy in realizing that this is actually what is supposed to happen. Your children are destined to grow strong, and to find their wings, one way or another, and for however long.
I have a wise friend who has taught me much about the value of simplicity, the beauty of nature, and the importance of sharing these gifts with our very youngest. With visions of milkweed and monarch butterflies, Mary’s gentle stories and actions bring a bit of peace to my tumultuous thoughts of recent days as she teaches, perhaps even without words, of the parallel between loving so hard, so fiercely, and letting go, while taking time to notice the glorious beauty of the wings.
Today, I am grateful for my friend, for my dear ones, for one more visit to see Grandma, and for the hope that I may remember that there is so much more for each and every one of us. I am remembering the sweet days when I was all that my three little boys needed, and I now have no choice but to embrace the passage of time and move onward, just as they do when they are ready to fly.