The Breath of a Butterfly

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
The story of the death of my friend Courtney's grandfather.

Submitted: October 18, 2011

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Submitted: October 18, 2011



His wings rested at the sides of his thin and dark body, waiting to be spread and waiting to cut through the air. Dark blue tumbled down left and right, growing lighter and lighter until it reached the tips of his wings as a vibrant sky blue. He took a breath and smiled, he was free. He could feel the eyes on him as he sat on the leaf and he was happy to know that he was not alone, they hadn’t forgotten him.


My eyes flooded with tears as I walked into the living room of my grandparent’s home. I could feel the sadness heavy in the air all around me. It gripped me right as I walked in and held me for a while. I held my face in my hands and cried without needing an explanation of what was happening, I just knew. The distant murmurs and whimpers made their way around the room. Although they were close, I felt as though they were coming from miles away. At that moment, I wanted reality to pack its bags and make its way out of this wonderful and once happy home.

The thick and saddened air pushed me forward and I was forced to lift my head and take in the scene around me. I saw two nurses dressed in scrubs. They stood around a hospital bed where my grandfather lay. In all of his suffering and pain, he still looked so peaceful. He wasn’t the same person I remembered though. I didn’t smell the strong scent of coffee in the air when I walked into the house that day. And it had been quite a while since we drove down to the local corner market together to buy freshly grown tomatoes. Lately, he had been far too tired and too sick to take part in any of those activities. I didn’t blame him, but I still missed my old grandpa. I hated lung cancer for taking him away from me. I knew my grandpa could get through it though, he could get through anything. I had no doubts about it.

I got a little closer to where the hospital bed stood. I watched my grandpa move his lips slowly as if he were trying to speak. A lump grew in my throat as I felt the tears pushing their way through my eye lids once again. I tried my very best to hold them back. He couldn’t speak. I watched him look around and move his lips again. He was thirsty. My mom, who was nearby, held a glass of water in one hand and a small sponge at the opening of the glass with her other hand. She noticed his gesture of thirst too. She dipped the sponge into the water and then brought it close to his lips. He welcomed this and allowed the sponge into his mouth. I could see the relief in his eyes as the water from the sponge quenched his thirst. Goosebumps traveled down my arms and all I wanted to do was run over to where he lay and hold his hand tightly, but for some reason I was frozen in place.

I stood in that position for quite a while, until I felt a gentle hand on my shoulder. I looked up to find my great grandma. She had just walked in and had touched my shoulder as a gesture of comfort and for permission to approach my grandpa. I moved over slightly to let her through. I was envious of her courage.

She slowly moved over to the bed and bent forward to look at my grandpa. She had a smile on her face and she spoke to him softly. She took hold of his hand and sat at the side of the bed. Then she began to tell my grandpa a story. I couldn’t quite make sense of what she was doing. But she started to whisper her story directly to my grandpa.


“One of God’s most beautiful creatures is the butterfly. It starts its life as a caterpillar, crawling around discovering the nature around it and experiencing its life fully. It does all of this using its many legs and its strong will. It then reaches a point in its life when it needs to rest as it matures. It wraps itself tightly into a silky cocoon and rests. It is cooped up in this cocoon for quite a while. It could be held within that cocoon forever if it never forces its way out. The best of the butterflies are the ones that can sense when it is their time to be free. That butterfly will use its strength to break through the cocoon and spread its wings freely. That butterfly will then fly out the window and be free…”


She moved her hand lightly in a subtle wave toward the window to her side while still holding on to my grandpa’s hand. I watched my grandpa stare directly into my great-grandma’s eyes. He watched her hand returning from the gesture she had made toward the window. He opened his mouth slightly and breathed in a shaky breath. He took a couple of breaths after that and then his body became completely still. A hauntingly loud silence rushed through the room and my heart began to race. Why would she do something like that? Why would she make him think it was ok to just let go? He was supposed to fight through this. I just couldn’t make sense of what had happened. I was too confused to even cry.


I see him now everywhere I go. He’s always there protecting me. I stare at him, perched on a healthy green leaf, his blue wings perfectly painted and placed against his thin, dark body. He looks so happy and so peaceful. Whenever any member of my family takes part in anything dangerous, a butterfly is always there beside us. We wave and say hello to the butterflies and we call them grandpa, because through those butterflies lives the spirit of my grandpa.

I now understand what my great grandma had done for my grandpa. His pain is gone now and he doesn’t have to suffer any longer. Selfishly, we always want our loved ones to stay with us, regardless of the pain they must endure so that they can stay. But, my great grandma, being the amazing and unselfish woman that she is, guided my grandpa to peace with a simple story about a butterfly and freedom after a long struggle.

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