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When I was a young boy, my second grade class took on a very special project. Each of us received a caterpillar and was instructed in how to care for it. Over several weeks, we nurtured those caterpillars until they finally spun their cocoons and became dormant. Then, we waited. And waited some more. For an impatient second grader, you can imagine how hard this was. 

But eventually, my little guy’s cocoon split open and a beautiful butterfly emerged. I remember being astounded that the caterpillar I'd already loved so much could become something I loved even more. His bright orange and black wings were one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen. Plus, as a young kid, flashy colors and jittery motion totally caught my attention so…it’s not hard to imagine being obsessed over the little guy. 

When they let us take our butterflies home, I remember showing mine to mom, expecting her to be happy at what I had helped bring to life, but instead I saw sadness on her face. When I asked her (in my innocent, little boy way) why she was so sad, she said that beautiful creatures like butterflies have wings for a reason. She said that it was wrong to keep something so wonderful trapped in a jar and that if I loved my butterfly truly, I should let it go free.

She helped me unscrew the jar’s lid and together, we released the butterfly in the yard. It hovered for a few moments, as if to get its bearings and say thank you for its life, before it flew up into the sky and disappeared forever. I was very sad of course…I’d spent a lot of time with that butterfly. But mom told me that if you really and truly love someone, you would sacrifice anything…even your own well being…to do the right thing. And that doing so should make you feel GLAD…not sad. That little bit of wisdom eased my sadness and I found myself happy that my little butterfly would go on to have a better life. 

Over the last week, I have thought a lot about that life lesson from Mom. And each day, as she began to sleep longer and longer, I was reminded more and more of my little caterpillar resting in his cocoon. When she passed away that night, it was as if she had emerged from her OWN cocoon—just like my butterfly. I imagine that she floated there for a moment, getting her bearings and thanking all of us for her life, and then ascended to a more beautiful place. 

One of the last things she said to me was “Bradley, every time you see a butterfly…it’s me.” While I selfishly wish she were still here, I remember what Mom said about letting go. And in a way, that makes it easier to say good bye.