This week, my 12 year old has been studying World War II at school. It has been an amazing week, full of alot of lessons and stories of bravery. On Tuesday, she went on a field trip to the Breman Museum and heard stories about the Holocaust. It has been a very impactful week. She had to write a journal each day about something she learned from the day that really made an impact on her. On Tuesday, she wrote about the butterflies.
Butterflies. They are a symbol of hope and peace. A symbol of rebirth and of the soul living on. Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross was a doctor known for her work with death and dying. I am a nurse and am very familiar with Kubler-Ross's stages of grief. Dr. Kubler-Ross wrote a book, The Wheel of Life, A Memoir of Living and Dying, about her post war visit to the site of the Maidanek concentration camp, which is in Poland. She spent time in the area where the children had lived and she saw clothing and shoes and the signs that they had been there. And then she saw the butterflies... they had been carved into the walls with pebbles and fingernails. There were hundreds of them. Twenty-five years later, after listening to hundreds of terminally ill patients, she came to the realization that the prisoners in the camps must have known that they were going to die. “They knew that soon they would become butterflies. Once dead, they would be out of that hellish place. Not tortured anymore. Not separated from their families. Not sent to gas chambers. None of this gruesome life mattered anymore. Soon they would leave their bodies the way a butterfly leaves its cocoon. And I realized that was the message they wanted to leave for future generations. . . .It also provided the imagery that I would use for the rest of my career to explain the process of death and dying.”
Butterflies. I don't know if I have written yet about the butterfly that followed me one day, shortly after my Elizabeth was stillborn. She was born in December, which is not the season for butterflies. But, one came to me just after Christmas, on a day that I was feeling especially sad. Just out of the blue, it flew around me, getting really close to me. I didn't think too much of it at first. To be honest, I really didn't think of much at all then. I was just blank, pretty void of all feeling for a while. I went through the day just waiting to go to bed, so that I could forget about how much I hurt.
My butterfly didn't waiver. It stayed with me for a while. I am not sure how long, but it was long enough for me to finally take notice that it was odd to see a butterfly in the middle of winter. I don't know if you believe in messages, but I do. I think that beautiful little creature was a message to me from my sweet girl. She woke me up out of the fog. That butterfly got me outdoors for a little while each day, in hopes that I would see it again. It lifted the fog which had become my everyday so that I could hope for a little more. In hindsight, I guess you can say it was the start of the long healing journey that I am still on.
This week, I have thought alot of my butterfly and of the butterflies that were drawn on the walls in Poland by those dear children. I have seen other butterflies, some of whom lingered and made me smile, but none like that one. What amazing creatures they are to inspire those precious children in the Maidanek camp to dream of hope and the desire to share that message for the future. Such an incredible creature....so incredible that it has become a symbol of hope for dying people and for those like us in the babyloss community who wake up every single day missing our little children. Those of us who are searching for something to show us how to spread our wings and fly again, amidst all the sadness, in the hopes of finding our own "new normal."