The Butterflies Are Free
One of the last gifts I got from him was a plastic wallet card with a scripture on it. 1 Corinthians 1:4 “I give thanks to God always for you…” His shaky signature was printed at the bottom of the card in indelible gold ink. Isaac was pushed down the hill in his wheelchair by his father from the hospice to the strip mall that had a Purdy’s and a drugstore. Isaac would have begged for his favorite sugarless chocolates from Purdy’s. He asked his father to help him choose a Mother’s Day gift for me from the drug store.
Isaac told me, he spotted a flower for me in the garden at Canuck Place and carefully plucked his treasure in his swollen hand, cradling it next to his heart. He said he remembered how much I loved his dandelion bouquets in the springs past, when he could still walk in the fields to pick them. He apologized for being too tired to pick a whole bouquet for me because he wasn’t feeling so well.
It was going to be his last Mother’s Day with me on earth. Neither of us knew that he would leave so soon after that bittersweet day.
We memorized each other. My memories of him abide with me here, woven into the gossamer fabric that stretches between us and eternity. His memories of me traveled with him to the other side, keeping him warm and safe, until I join him.
Isaac wanted to know if he could do anything he wanted to do in heaven. Could he walk through walls, breathe under water, order pizza or play Nintendo? I assured him that anything was possible in heaven. He was delighted.
He dreamed of creating a pool in heaven populated with dolphins. He envisioned swimming with the sleek creatures and having the ability to communicate with them. He would breathe underwater and sink to the bottom of the pool, holding a dolphin on his lap.
He visualized greeting other children as they came through the veil into heaven as a goodwill ambassador and comforter. He had always soothed other children in the hospital when they had painful procedures to endure or bad tasting medicine to swallow. I agreed that they would need an ambassador with his compassion and experience as a welcoming peer in heaven. Isaac’s eyes glowed with confidence when I endorsed his proposal for that position.
I had a brave face on the outside as we talked matter-of-factly about the end of his life. I flew into fragments of hot agony inside my soul. I knew he was comforted but I was devastated.
Isaac understood far too much. He had experienced cancer three times in his short life. He was an incredible sleuth in finding out the details of his medical status. Sage-like, he quietly observed people and noted their expressions of concern, panic and defeat.
When a tumour reoccurred in his chest, without being told, he knew that it was inoperable and declared that he was probably going to die this time. “Well, let’s get on with it,” he said. He set about exploring death as if it was a new adventure. Therefore, it was.
Throughout the process of his journey, Isaac taught me tenderly as though I was a small child, that death was not to be feared but embraced. He held my hand and encouraged me to let him go. He asked me to comfort and care for his father and his siblings when he was gone. He informed me that I was the strongest of all of his family and my mission was to be that of caretaker, the keeper of his life story and the messenger to share it with the world.
A butterfly project was initiated in the schoolroom at the hospice. A kit with butterfly pupae became an exciting attraction. Isaac and his sisters picked flowers for the newly hatched butterflies. Five delicate beauties fanned their tiny wings, enchanting Isaac and the rest of the children.
The next day, Isaac slipped into a semi-coma.
The butterflies were released beneath his second story window. One pale yellow butterfly lit on his windowsill and remained perched there for hours. I told Isaac that the children had released the butterflies and that they were free forever. I felt he could hear me. A day later his tumour ruptured in his mighty barrel-chest. He sank farther away from me. As he went his spirit would reach out and caress mine, letting me know that he was all right.
Isaac waited until it was only him and I, after all the people he loved came to say goodbye. Wrapped in my arms, heart to heart; he took his last breath and flew home. Free of disease and whole again, his golden spirit brushed me with its wings of power, telling me to be strong like the butterflies set free in the winds of life.
We will be together again.
By Ruth-Ann Neil