For Father’s Day

17 Jun

Papilio glaucus Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (male) 8.9.2009.jpgMy father is a yellow butterfly. No, really. As out there as it seems, I totally believe that my late father appears every summer as an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. Why would I admit this? Probably something to do with missing him on Father’s Day. But how do I know it’s him?

Well. The first sighting was the day after his sudden death from a heart attack. My mother and siblings and I were gathered on the balcony of our family home, which overlooks a forested hillside and river, trying to stop crying long enough to organize his funeral. He’d been in good health as far as anyone knew, so we were in extreme shock. As we sat in stunned sorrow, a yellow butterfly darted right into our midst.

We all stared at it flitting about in the breeze. Then we looked at each other. “That’s him,” one of us said. “Don’t be ridiculous,” was the reply. But we all knew that if our father, a gentle soul who loved nature, especially gardens and flowers, had any say in what he might come back as, a butterfly was exactly what he’d choose.

The next day, as we were sitting on the limestone wall admiring our father’s perennial garden in all its July glory, we saw a yellow butterfly again. Hmm. Maybe it was raw grief that made us suspend rational thinking – we wanted it to be him, we needed it to be him. And while we did often see butterflies around the property, it was rare to see an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, especially two days in a row. So this time when one of us said, “It’s him,” we all agreed.

That was over twenty years ago. Since then, I often see a yellow butterfly when I’m somewhere my father would have loved – in a park, a garden, on a hiking trail. And whenever I’m with my siblings in St. Marys – walking by the river, picnicking by the little falls, sitting out on that same garden wall – a yellow butterfly almost always appears.

Honestly, I am not making this up. There is something so consistent about where and when we see him. “There’s Father,” one of us will say, and everyone laughs. It’s become a bit of a joke, but it remains a great comfort. And even if our butterfly theory sounds crazy, we all wonder if maybe, just maybe, he’s showing up to tell us something about the other side.

My father was a spiritual man, and certainly believed in an afterlife. One of the many important things he taught me was a sense of wonder about the unknown. So who’s to say he’s not a yellow butterfly now? I find that more probable that imagining him with a halo and angel’s wings, and more appealing than the dust to dust option.

But whatever and wherever he is, I’m blessed to have had such a marvelous father. To all the yellow butterflies and fathers in our mysterious universe, Happy Father’s Day.

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