A Boston native, I recently moved to Tampa suburb in search of more sunshine, literally and figuratively. The perfect storm of a pandemic, a divorce, and a medical scare facilitated a half-life crisis I could not ignore.
I am currently living in a town I had never even heard of a few short months ago. I originally put an offer on another home, sight unseen, before I even stepped foot on Tampa soil. I didn’t get it, thankfully, but that bold move prompted me to get on a plane to explore my possibilities.
During that trip, there was one home that greeted me with seemingly endless butterflies. It was like nothing I had ever experienced in my 48 years of life, and instantly made me feel like I was finally where I belonged. I felt compelled to share how those four walls brought me full circle in my grief journey, in the form of a letter.
To the family of the woman who owned my new home,
As soon as I walked into your beloved mom’s beautiful home, I knew it was the one for me. The sky high ceilings, distinct layout, architectural flair, and tranquil pool all made an everlasting impression, but the little butterfly decal on the sliding glass door was the thing that got me. As I approached the door in disbelief to take a closer look, brilliant butterflies artfully fluttered in the backyard, gracefully making their appearance known.
It gave me the chills. I’ll explain why.
Before my mom died of ovarian cancer in 2013, I asked her how she would communicate with me after she passed, knowing how desperately I’d miss her. “I’ll send butterflies,” she said, her eyes welling up with tears.
Sadly, I didn’t see a single butterfly for more than one year after she died. One day, I was so overwhelmed by grief that I drove to a butterfly place just to be around them, hoping for a sign. That sign eluded me until I walked into your mom’s home, almost eight years after my mom’s untimely death.
My mom delighted in butterflies; she devoured books about them, traveled to Costa Rica and the Galapagos and everywhere in between to find them, and talked about them incessantly; so much so that there’s a butterfly etched on her grave. I know she is with me here, applauding my bold decision to move to Florida with my kids, to break out of my cocoon and begin again.
You see, my children have also dealt with unspeakable grief. They both lost their dad to kidney cancer in 2018; my bonus daughter also lost her mom to breast cancer when she was just four years old. Collectively, we have been utterly consumed by loss at times, but choose to live in hope in the spirit of my mom. She was beyond resilient, and they are, too.
When I read your incredibly lovely and thoughtful note after the closing, I related to the fresh pain you’re feeling right now. My mom’s death truly gutted me; I have never been the same. She was my pure, unfiltered source of light in a sometimes dark world; my loudest cheerleader as I chased — and fulfilled — the wildest of my dreams; the most nurturing and present grandmother to my children. The words you chose to describe your mom echo in my mind, as I use many of the same adjectives when I write about mine.
I am certain it was hard to pack your mom’s possessions and trust the universe that her home would be cared for. I want you to know that I intend to do just that, to fill it with love and laughter and children and, hopefully, grandchildren and great grandchildren one day, just like her — to continue building on the foundation she built. You are most welcome to visit us anytime.
I’ll leave you with my mom’s favorite quote, which is especially true during times of grief: “Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.”
Please know that I will never remove your mom’s butterfly decal. It will remain in my home in her honor, and in tribute to my mom.
My next children’s book, Goodnight Star, Whoever You Are, is coming out on October 26th, in anticipation of Children’s Grief Awareness Day.
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