dying

The Butterfly

The life cycle of a butterfly has four main stages: the egg, the caterpillar, the chrysalis & the butterfly.

After hatching from the egg, the caterpillar begins to eat; so much that it often sheds its skin as it continues to grow. Then, once fully grown, the caterpillar makes a chrysalis, where over the course of a few days, it changes into a butterfly. That butterfly then finds a mate, lays eggs, and starts the process all over again.

As a baby, we are born into the world as nothing more than that little caterpillar. We are taught to eat, to feed on everything. Words, images, sounds, feelings, food. We eat and grow and eat and grow and as the years go by we shed different ideas and appearances as we find those that better appeal to who we are becoming. We grow and shed and grow and shed, all the while continuing to feed off of what our world has to offer.

At some point, we’ll think we’ve done it; we’ll feel the fullness of it all and weave our own chrysalis, ready to emerge the person we dreamed we would be, or at least someone better than we believe we are. We weave and we wait, hoping our wings grow as fast and as beautiful as they can. Hoping the world soon welcomes us into its wonder.

For some, that day arrives quickly. Those wings emerge in a bounce of color and light and they flicker their way into the sky, flying freely. But for others, those chrysalis walls seemingly remain sealed. They wait and they hope, wondering when it will be their turn to bloom, but the hard walls remain constricting and the sun stays quiet.

I think we all hatch and grow and change and blossom multiple times throughout our life. We always find new ways to feed our hearts and minds, and constantly discover people and things that change us. But while it is never easy to be the caterpillar inside the chrysalis, it is equally difficult to understand how many of those around us already see us as the vibrantly beautiful beings we wished we were.

A while back, I was sitting on the couch at my parents’ house reading a book while my brother rocked back and forth in my dad’s recliner watching a movie. The sun was setting, and the room had just turned my favorite shade of gold when I heard my Grammie sigh deeply next to me. I looked up and saw her eyes fixed upon a single Monarch butterfly floating across the blue sky outside our window. She took a deep breath, and without looking at me said,

“One day I’ll be a butterfly, I’ve been a caterpillar for so long.”

I was puzzled by this. Speechless even. Though I could tell she was not looking for a response. I gazed at her, at each wrinkle and worry I saw in her expression, and I wondered what she meant. I looked over at my brother, at my mom, at our house. I looked back at my Grammie, at her bathrobe and her cannula. To me, she already was a butterfly. Over the course of her life she’d blossomed into one of the most beautiful women I’d ever seen. A butterfly with a pattern all her own. She’d found love in my Papa and blessed the world with my mom and her two brothers, giving my siblings and me the chance to later see the world with our own eyes. But I knew she sat there, unmistakably trapped in an ill shaped chrysalis she’d weaved for far too long. She missed the days she felt like someone people admired, adored and envied. The days when she could see her wings spark wonder in the eyes of the world. For now she sat trapped on that couch, hungry for the day the sun would welcome her back into the light.

Yesterday, that day came. She is now free from the sickness and the pain, finally able to feel the beauty she’d long thought was gone. Now we’ll look for her in the sky and in the breeze, just like that Monarch she saw in the window. We’ll smile, remembering the way her wings brought wonder to the eyes of the world; forever able to recognize the vibrant patterns she wore so well.

We love you.

I know.

My sister walks into my Grammie’s room and sets her dinner plate on the table. She has the Oscars on.

“She just announced she’s pregnant,” she says, motioning to the woman on screen in a long red dress.

“I know,” my Grammie responds with a smile.

My mom walks into my Grammie’s room and sets a series of pills out for her to take.

“You have to take this one at 6 and this one at 9,” she says as she fills my Grammie’s cup with fresh water.

“I know,” my Grammie says flatly.

“Your mother in law is a kick,” the doctor says to my dad, motioning to room 2302.

“Oh, I know,” my dad says, shaking his head with a smirk.

“Grammie I hear all the doctors love you,” my brother says charmingly.

“I know,” she responds, slightly blushing.

“Kimberlee you’re so pretty.”

“I think it’s in our genes Grammie, we can’t help it.”

I know and I started it all!” my Grammie says as she tilts her chin up and curls her hair behind her ear.

There are things we know about this life, and things we don’t, though if you asked my Grammie she would disagree with the second part.

Among these things to know are two major components: the “what” and the “why”.

When we’re young and curious, both questions demand to be answered. They follow one another around in endless circles because everything is new and undiscovered. Every what unlocks a why and vice versa.

As we grow up, we find that the “why” is often more important. People get confusing and disappointing and amazing and inspiring. A what unlocks a why provoking endless rounds of how.

Over the past few years, as my Grammie’s health has continued to decline, my family has constantly tried to match the what with the why so we could take it to the doctors and find a solution. As time went on however, and things got worse, there was only so much we could expect to know, including the when.

And while we don’t know which day the when will come, at the end of each day that it doesn’t, and each day after, we can go to sleep knowing the only thing that’s really important:

“Alright we’re going to head home for the night Grammie, we love you.”

“I know it, I love you too.”