n my box of sympathy cards lies a set of carefully wrapped monarch butterfly wings. I lift them out and look at them every time I need to send a card. They remind me of how fragile and precious life is.
I’d found the wings lying on the ground beneath our dining-room window. They looked as though the butterfly had simply taken off its pretty clothes and forgotten where it put them.
I remember that summer well. Two of my dearest and closest friends had died during the past 12 months. My father had written from the West Coast to say that his prostate cancer had metastasized to the bone and that he now knew he would not be able to outlive my mother and care for her in her final days. “When I die,” he asked, “would you come get her and bring her home with you and care for her there?”
Mom had progressive senile dementia, but she wasn’t ready for a nursing home yet—not until the point of absolute necessity. Could she and we handle the stress of incorporating her into our small home and busy lives? I’d have to give up my job, my interests, my “space”—and what else? It all seemed so imminent, so overwhelming.
I remember the chill in the air—or perhaps it was just a coldness in my soul. “Life is too short—for us and for butterflies,” I mused as I gently lifted the wings and laid them in my open palm. Despite my depression I couldn’t help feeling a thrill. All my life I’d been fascinated by butterflies. I brought the wings in the house and spread them on the table.
The more I looked at the velvety orange with the distinctive black markings, the more they seemed like a gift. A butterfly with but a single day to live had left its beauty at my door. Ought not my life be focused on the day and what I had to give instead of fretting fearfully for things that might not come my way?
As I dwelt on the miracle of God’s meticulous creation of such small, short-lived creatures, my spirits began to lift. God must have made butterflies out of sheer joy with no other purpose for their being than to inspire gladness and wonder. Rather than focusing on losses and impending losses, my thoughts turned to what I had left. My friends had died, but not the treasures they had brought into my life. I faced the loss of my parents, but not my heritage—not the gifts of their love.
If I had only one day left to spread my wings and fly, ought I not be as free and joyful as a butterfly? Could I not trust the goodness of my Creator and leave my worries in His hands? He had laid my friends down gently in their final rest. Would He not do the same for my parents and for me? What matters anywhere is not our length of days but what love and beauty we have left behind.
Several winters have come and gone since that day of the butterfly’s gift. We buried my father the following August. Two years later, almost to the day, Mom entered her final sleep. My younger sister, wanting to give something to them for the gift of their adopting her as an infant, had volunteered to care for them in their home until their deaths. God’s goodness and tenderness were ever apparent even in the midst of pain.
I keep those butterfly wings in my box of cards for a reason. They remind me to look for the beauty and goodness even in the midst of sorrow when a precious life has slipped away.
Lois Pecce is a freelance writer living in Dayton, Ohio.