Life With The Butterfly Whisperer
Copyright 2023 by Sara Etgen-Baker
property of Sara.
Whispering Oaks and found the large French doors of the day room
flung wide open. I walked through them towards the verandah and saw
Pop sitting outdoors amongst some zinnias surrounded by a rabble of
slumped over in his wheelchair, his limp left arm tied to the chair’s
railing. He looked up and waved with his good hand.
he called with delight. My breath caught in my throat, and I choked
back the tears. I closed my eyes, feeling the pull of my childhood
memories urging me to leave.
can’t turn back; he needs to see you, reminded the voice
inside my head.
can’t bear seeing him like this. It’s hard.
it’s hard, but he needs to see you. You must be brave.
Don’t turn back.
my eyes; sunlight filtered through the large oak trees casting a warm
honeyed tone along the footpath in front of me.
continued the voice, don’t let him see you sad.
needs your strength. I squared my shoulders and meandered my
along the footpath toward Pop, my legs unsteady beneath me.
I sat down
next to Pop, laying our lunch on the picnic table in front of him.
“Ta…ta…table for two.” He flashed me an
impish grin. “Re…re…remember?”
sure do!” I leaned toward him giving him a kiss and hug. “Summer
afternoons, we’d sit together at the picnic table
in our backyard, eating burgers, and drinking chocolate milkshakes
while we watched the butterflies dance around Mother’s
He nibbled on his burger and sucked on the straw, taking short drinks
of his chocolate milkshake.
you, too, Pop.” I squeezed his right hand before taking a
drink of my own milkshake. Minutes passed by, and a little blue
butterfly landed by my side. Then a big yellow butterfly gently
floated over Pop and landed on his shoulder. Soon a kaleidoscope of
them floated around him. I watched in awe, remembering when
butterflies swarmed around him in our backyard. For most of my youth,
I truly believed Pop possessed some type of magical ability that
attracted butterflies. Later, I convinced myself he didn’t
possess magical butterfly powers believing instead that Pop made them
feel welcome and safe. Regardless, the butterflies gravitated toward
him like iron shavings to a magnet. There was no denying it; he was
then and was still the butterfly whisperer.
passed imperceptibly as we ate our burgers and watched the
butterflies flutter from flower to flower. Occasionally, one landed
on the stem of a flower that had already passed its peak, its petals
blackened at the edges and curling. It folded its wings neatly
upward and partook of the flower’s nectar, seemingly unaware
that summer would quickly become fall; that the leaves would soon
tumble; and that the nights would close in, chilly and long. But
the butterflies and flowers continued dancing together as one, living
in the moment without a single thought about the future or the past.
however, drifted back to those summer days when I found myself in
Pop’s company. On one such day, I was sitting at our picnic
table crying over the fates of the butterflies.
wrong, Sweetie Pie?”
butterfly. It’s…it’s dead.” My lips quivered
around the words as I pointed to a dead butterfly lying on the
ground. “I thought they lived forever!”
on this earth lasts forever,” he reassured me. “Every
creature has enough time, including butterflies. Don’t be sad
for the butterflies; they live a fulfilled life bringing beauty into
the world.” He went inside the house; made us chocolate
milkshakes; and returned to the picnic table where we drank in
silence, relishing the butterflies flittering around Mother’s
On another summer day, Pop drove
me to a wooded area to
teach me how to capture butterflies. “Once you spot a
butterfly, approach it slowly so as not to startle it.” He
handed me a butterfly net, demonstrating how to sweep the net
forward, flip it over the handle, and flatten the net bag so the
butterfly’s wings closed. “Then using your other thumb
and forefinger, reach into the net and gently grasp all four wings
and remove the butterfly.”
through the woods looking for butterflies until I witnessed one land
amongst a patch of milkweed. I softly approached it and followed
Pop’s instructions, capturing one in my butterfly net. “Look,
Pop! I caught one!” I reached inside the net, carefully
removing the butterfly.”
a wish and let it go.”
it go? Why?”
to Indian folklore if you want a wish to come true, you must capture
a butterfly and whisper your wish to it. Since the butterfly makes no
sound, it cannot tell your wish to anyone but the Great Spirit who
hears and sees all. As thanks for giving the butterfly its freedom,
the Great Spirit always grants the wish.” Pop winked and
smiled. “Whisper your wish and let the butterfly go.”
squeezed my hand, jolting me back to the present. “La…la…love
you too, Pop!” I kissed him on the cheek. “Look, Pop!” I pretended to
capture a butterfly. “I caught one!”
“Wh…Wh…Whisper.” His eyes sparkled, vibrant
as ever; but when he tried to wink, he
couldn’t. “Make wa…wa…wish.”
Pop try to wink or talk was more than my heart could handle; so I
closed my eyes and whispered, “Oh Great Spirit, erase the
stroke; make my father whole again.” But no amount of wishing
would ever make my father whole again.
beautiful life.” Pop clasped my hand. “I…I…had
enough time. I be free soon. I…I…ready to go.” A
single tear dropped from his eye. “Uh…uh…understand?”
I understand.” Although I understood, I couldn’t bear the
thought of losing him. Like the butterflies I’d loved as a
child, I knew he’d be gone soon—sooner than I wanted.
the remainder of summer, Pop and I watched butterflies outside the
verandah. But I couldn’t keep summer with us forever, nor
could I halt the changing season. The flowers on the verandah
withered; the leaves tumbled and rustled about; and the nights
eventually closed in, chilly and long. One-by-one the butterflies
vacated the flowers on the verandah and began their migration
southward. Pop, too, vacated the verandah and began his own
migration of sorts. In that moment of loss, my world collapsed, and
my heart broke into a thousand pieces.
come and gone since Pop’s passing. Although the pain of losing
him has diminished, I miss him terribly. I close my eyes and imagine
capturing butterflies with him or sitting with him at our picnic
table, sharing a milkshake, and watching the butterflies flitter
around Mother’s zinnias. That picnic table now sits in my own
backyard. During the warm summer months, I frequent it indulging in a
milkshake and watching the butterflies dance around the zinnias.
Although they don’t gravitate toward me like they did Pop, a
single butterfly occasionally lands next to me. I’m comforted,
knowing Pop’s spirit is with me once again sharing dinner and
whispering to me from the great beyond.
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
story list and biography
Preservation Foundation, Inc., A Nonprofit Book Publisher