Spirits soar at butterfly release

The fourth annual Heart of Hospice Foundation Butterfly Release in Hood River drew more than 165 people to Jackson Park May 19, to release monarch butterflies.

“It’s our way of thanking the community that so generously supports our Foundation,” said Cathy Carter, executive director of the Heart of Hospice Foundation, sponsor of the free community event.

“We love hosting this event. It connects people throughout the Gorge. We’ve all experienced loss and death. It’s a common bond that we all share. And it’s so inspirational to watch and listen as strangers share their grief.”

This celebration of life was intended to help people honor their loved ones and release their grief. The butterfly has been a symbol of transformation and resurrection for thousands of years, going back to at least the ancient Greeks. That is also why it is the symbol for hospices worldwide.

The butterfly release was open to the entire community and this year was a good mix of hospice and non-hospice families. The Heart of Hospice staff read the names of more than 150 patients who had passed since the last butterfly release. Several of the staff openly cried as they read the names of people they had cared for. The names of another more than 100 people (and pets) that were submitted by the community were also read.

One gentleman commented that he was as moved by the emotions of the readers as by the number of names themselves; and he personally knew several of the people.

This event is always very emotional for our staff. When a patient dies, we often don’t have time to fully grieve their loss because we have a new patient to serve. But when we stand there and hear or read the name our patients, we remember how special they were to us. We grieve their loss again.

I’m certain this grief is transmitted to our audience. But I also know this is very healing for all of us. At Heart of Hospice we have a saying that the only bad tears are uncried tears.

When the butterflies were simultaneously released, there was a huge collective sigh. Some people were crying; others were hugging, but nobody remained untouched. Many of the butterflies lingered this year.

One woman was certain that that her butterfly contained the spirit of her deceased husband because it wouldn’t leave her for the longest time. First, it sat on her shoulder, then her arm, then her finger. She was able to talk to it and assure it that she was alright, that he could go in peace. It was only then that her butterfly flew away.

As she watched it flitter away, she smiled, but with tears streaming down her face. That’s the beauty of our butterfly release, happiness and heartache.


Clyde Sanda is Heart of Hospice chaplain.

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