Submitted by Susan Williamson
Gerry moved in with Susan after she was diagnosed. The cancer had not been detected until it was already in stage 3. The doctors were unable to give her any kind of accurate estimate on the time she had left. Her own body and how it handled the chemo treatments would determine that. Not knowing, they felt it would be best if she came to live with Susan. Gerry was adamant about not wanting to die at a hospital so she made Susan promise not to take her, no matter what. Her mother fought valiantly against the cancer and for three more years they had an opportunity to nurture the bond between them. Seeing her mother’s courage gave Susan a newfound appreciation and a deeper love for the woman that had raised her and meant so much to her.
In March, 2005 Susan and her mother were advised by the oncologists to go ahead and make final preparations. They contacted the funeral home and asked for a representative to come to the house. Gerry was able to make her own decisions and pick out everything so it would be exactly how she wanted it. She decided to be cremated just as her husband had been, so she picked out a beautiful brass enamel urn. It had delicate butterflies on it with one white butterfly that prominently stood out. Satisfied with her choices she felt it was one less burden her children would have to deal with.
Since losing her husband, Gerry had felt so alone. They had been married close to 58 years. During the last month of her life she became weary and tired of the struggle. All the arrangements had been made and there was really nothing left for her to do. Although she loved her children dearly, she was ready to finally reunite with her husband Alex. Twice she told her daughter that she wished God would go ahead and take her. She just didn’t want to fight any longer. Having experienced the comforting presence of her father after he died, Susan felt compelled to make a final request of her mother. She chose a quiet moment and said, “Mom, if you can come back, will you?” Her mother never answered the question. Instead she was just staring up into the corner of the room. Susan asked her, “Are you alright Mom?” She was becoming a little scared until her mother smiled and said, “Doesn’t he have lovely blue eyes?” Somewhat relieved Susan immediately thought of her father. He had jet black hair and gorgeous blue eyes. She quickly asked, “Who, Mom?” Her mother still didn’t answer but Susan felt her father was close by waiting to take his wife home.
A couple of days later Gerry became very restless. She was having trouble breathing so Susan said, “Mom, you’ve got to relax because you’re making yourself panic and that’s why it’s hard for you to breath.” Honoring the promise she made to her mother Susan resisted the urge to rush her to the hospital. Instead she called the doctor and was advised to give her mother a pill that would help calm her down. After her mother settled down a bit, Susan felt completely drained. It was out of character for her to want to go to sleep this early but she felt an uncanny necessity to do so. Susan settled onto the couch next to her mother’s bed. At her mother’s request the lights were left on but she found herself unable to fall asleep with them shining in her face. Pulling the covers over her head she finally drifted off.
Because Susan had somehow sensed an urgency to go to sleep that evening, she was spared the agony of watching another parent die in front of her eyes. Instead Susan awoke to discover that her mother had passed quietly during the night. With a heavy heart she made the phone call to the funeral home. About two hours after they left she made her way outside to sit on the back steps of her apartment. Susan lived in downtown Toronto and ever since she and her mother had moved in, the back steps had served as a retreat to escape for a quick prayer and time to think. Looking over the parking lot and mourning the loss of her mother she wondered if she had done the right thing in her mother’s eyes. Had she pleased her mother enough? Her approval meant so much to Susan. Her heart somehow needed that confirmation. She continued sitting there looking out at the cars parked in her backyard; the asphalt jungle as she called it.
Suddenly a white butterfly fluttered up right in front of her face. Its fragile wings carried it back and forth as if it wanted to land on her. During the twenty years she had lived there she had never seen a butterfly anywhere around. There were no flowers or anything there that would even remotely attract a butterfly. She quickly concluded that this had to be a sign from her mother. The beautiful urn her mother had picked out immediately came to mind as the biggest butterfly on the urn was a white one. Susan instantly filled with excitement and said, “You must be mom. This is the sign I wanted.” For an entire week, every time she went outside this same white butterfly would come to her. Susan believed this sign was actual confirmation from her mother that she did approve of the daughter she had raised. With that realization the daily visits from the butterfly ceased.
Susan’s mother was cremated and the funeral went exactly as she had planned except for one thing. Gerry had instructed the family to bury her ashes alongside her husband’s ashes. Susan just could not bring herself to bury them yet. So until she was ready they stayed with her on the bookcase in the living room along with their pictures. Every day she would talk to them and every evening she told them goodnight. Whenever she had a problem she would talk to them about it. Some people might not understand just having them there was very comforting. She fully intended to abide by her mother’s wishes but for now she felt better with them there.
Almost three years had gone by before Susan finally felt she could let go and bury her mother and father’s ashes in the family plot. She began making preparations for the ceremony. Both of her parents had served as privates in the Canadian army so she had a military headstone made for them. Her mother had often shared with her that some of her happiest years were in the army. She loved the group The Moody Blues as well, so Susan chose two of their songs, “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere,” and “Tuesday Afternoon,” which was Gerry’s favorite. Another song, “Company B” by the Andrews Sisters, was also played in honor of her husband’s company during WWII. To honor her father’s Scottish heritage she secured a bagpipe player to perform Amazing Grace. And finally she had a military padre to lead the service.
The night before the internment Susan wanted to make her last evening with her parents a special one. She put in a movie they both loved, set their urns next to her on the couch, and curled up under a blanket and watched it. It seemed to be a fitting conclusion to her time with her parents that was very comforting and helped bring closure.
The following day the ceremony proved to be quite moving. There were approximately 20 people in attendance and she felt her parents would have been very moved and honored at the outpouring of love for them. Afterwards her family went out to eat. Her cousins Sue and Margaret were there, buzzing with excitement. Both of them blurted out, “Did you see that white butterfly that was there during the service? It went to each and every one of us.” Susan had indeed noticed it, but did not realize the significance until that moment. It had been over three years ago when she had first been visited by a white butterfly. Once she made the connection she realized her parents had been there in spirit after all. To her the butterfly signified that her parents were together and happy and they were definitely aware of what was occurring in the lives of the loved ones they had left behind.