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Issue: 69 - Sep 15, 2014
A Butterfly Was born at my Dad's Funeral
By: Dr. Sally J Foote DVM CABC-IAABC
Dr Sally Foote

June 10, 2014 my father John Foote passed away peacefully at his home in Jarman Center Senior living, surrounded not only by his immediate family, but also a terrarium full of butterflies that lived with him in his final days. These monarch caterpillars were gathered in from the outdoors to live and become chrysalis's to later be released after emergence as part of the Monarch butterfly restoration project at Jarman Center. Dad had released the first butterfly that was "born"   when the monarch butterfly restoration project started a few years ago.  To help put a positive spin on dad's final days, Cindy Pringle one of his care givers, brought a terrarium with 5 developing caterpillars in to live in dad's apartment. Dad was able to witness the first caterpillar actually transform into a chrysalis.

All 5 of the caterpillars transformed into the chrysalis stage as dad declined. By the time dad passed away, the first chrysalis was 6 days into the typical 10 day incubation period. There were some hopes that a butterfly would be born before dad passed, but that was not to be.

On the morning of dad's funeral, Cindy brought the terrarium to the funeral. The chrysalis dad saw develop was just about ready to emerge. She thought maybe it might happen at the funeral.  If not, at least these developing butterflies could "attend" dad's funeral. As Cindy said maybe it is wishful thinking to hope it will emerge, my sister Nancy and I said - "It will. We just know it"   

The little terrarium sat to the side of the alter, just under the statue of the Virgin Mary. I don't think too many people were even aware of it until my sister's closing comments pointed out the butterflies and how special it was to see the connection of dad's physical  transformation like the caterpillars. We proceeded out of the church, following the casket down to the hearse. As dad was loaded into the vehicle, Cindy ran outside and exclaimed “Sally, Nancy the butterfly is being born!” I literally jumped up, and yelled at Tim the funeral director “The butterfly is being born!!  How fantastic” and ran back into the church. Sure enough, there was the butterfly just hanging out of its old shell slowly unfurling its wings. Nancy grabbed the ipod - I grabbed the laptop with my sister's family in Switzerland on Skype so they too could witness this miracle. It was so wonderful to watch the little wings open up with friends crowded around this little terrarium. It only took about 6 minutes for the wings to fully open and to really see how beautiful it was. The butterfly was invited to the funeral diner and later that afternoon my sisters and I with residents from Jarman went to Wimple Park in Tuscola to release it.

There is an abundance of Milk Weed near the entrance to the park, by the small creek. The butterfly climbed onto my sister's fingers lingering for a few minutes before resting on a nearby milkweed. It was a female, fitting since dad had 3 daughters and 2 granddaughters as his offspring. The butterfly flew off into the wind, strong, agile and knowing exactly what it was and where it needed to be.  

 This experience was so like my dad's nature. Positive, forward moving and in tune with nature. Although dad is buried in Chicago, now I have a local place of remembrance also filled with nature. When I go here, I notice all the birds, butterflies and other creatures that make Wimple Park home. It really helps me remember to be present in this moment with everyone I encounter.

Maybe to some it was just a coincidence that the butterfly emerged at the end of the funeral. I won't argue with them. For me, I felt there was a reason for that timing, and it has been one of the most uplifting experiences of my life, helping me through my grief over losing dad. As a veterinarian, I have heard lots of stories from families about how their pets helped them spiritually.

One woman related how the family dog would find personal items of a daughter that had recently passed, and bring them to a family member having particular difficulty with the daughter's loss. This little dog was trying to help a person in grief take those difficult first steps of acknowledgement. Another friend told of how the family cat laid with the dying elderly mother right up to the end, and then would not leave the body when the funeral home staff came. The cat kept finding a way to get back in the room to lay right on the woman slowing down the transfer process as if on purpose. Personally, I don't think any of these situations were just coincidence.

There are many more stories like these where animals - be they pets, butterflies or any other creature have appeared when someone needed a sign that a spirit is still here. For many of us, this is a wonderfully strong affirmation of our belief in life after death. Personally, I don't think it is crazy - I think these connections of animals and the spiritual is real. The longer I am a veterinarian, the more often I witness that animals are angels among us.

I hope for anyone in grief that you too have an affirming experience - your butterfly moment. Be open to the world of nature around you, especially your pets. Often that is how those moments come.  You can see the movie of dad's butterfly birth on my YouTube drsallyjfoote. I hope it gives you a sense of wonder and awe as it did me and my family.