Monday, August 25, 2008

Butterfly Love

Really, ever since I went to the Butterfly Pavillion so many years ago, I have been in love with the idea of growing up some butterflies. Now I have done it and it has been one of the most wonderous experiences of my life. I think I will either do it again next summer, or perhaps make a trip back to the Butterfly Pavillion an annual event to honor the memory of Julia and her tiny spirit that was barely with us for even a moment.

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A Flock of Monarchs

Beginning the day *after* the memorial, we had our hands full with butterflies. I have no idea, of course, why the emergence happened almost two weeks later than the Butterfly Professionals had indicated would be the time-range for the big event. Well, actually I do know why. Because Nature is like that. Things just happen and there are so many variables and we have no real control, blah blah blah.... but sometimes the randomness of Life and Nature cause your spirits to lift like a butterfly trying its wings for the first time. In the week or so after Julia's memorial day, I for one had a sort of letdown response. The day that we had planned and worked for since practically the day of her birth and death, had now come and gone. Thankfully I still had a collection of friends and relatives to keep busy with, along with enough time to do art as therapy, and things to keep me busy. But I can honestly say that having the butterflies to take care of, and being able to watch several new ones emerging each day, and to hold them on my hand and watch them fly, was so uplifting to me that it really helped temper the feeling of finality.
Butterflies are so special and fleeting and rare are the times that I have ever been able to get very close to one and watch it quietly sitting in the sun. Having the experience of 30 or so butterflies gracing me with their presence, in groups of 5 or so at a time, and being able to hold them to my hearts content and see them fly off at their leisure, really did bring peace to me over a period of time that I especially needed it.

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And then....

And then about an hour before the memorial service was to start, and after we had already gone to the party store to buy a large bunch of helium balloons to release instead of Butterflies, Julia's big sister screamed in that earsplitting way that only a nine year old girl can do, and we all came frantically running, fearing that something terrible had happened, and instead there was a butterfly.
(this is not that actual first butterfly, as you can see, because we didn't have the presence of mind to grab a camera, but this is a good example of the newly born butterfly with its wings not completely unfurled yet)

They hang upside down and rest for a while after they come out. They gently flap their wings. And when the memorial service happened, we released our balloons and then we had one perfect butterfly to release as well.

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What's Happening?!

The cocoons were beautiful from every angle.
Soon we had dozens of them. Not a single one was formed while we were watching, although we had a house full of people who were constantly checking on them. They are modest little creatures I think, and deserve some level of privacy.

And then one day we saw that one of them had turned completely black. The directions we had didn't really mention this. My heart turned to stone because I thought that if they were dying, I wouldn't be able to handle the feelings of sadness, loss, and failure. So I got all philosophical and talked about nature and the unknown number of butterfly diseases and how no one is ever in control of anything.
But if you look very very closely, you can actually see the butterfly wings right through the cocoon.

On the day of the memorial we had lots of these. But no butterflies. It was like being two weeks overdue for your baby to be born. To keep things in perspective I just repeatedly put my heart into surrender mode, and let my brain talk to me about the relative size of a potential loss, as compared to an actual loss that has already happened and that we all have proven we could survive. In essence, I built a cocoon around my heart, to protect the fragile thing.

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Very Hungry!

It's true what the book says - they eat, and eat, and eat, and eat, and eat.......
And then, right on schedule according to the directions, they assumed the "J" position.

And then as soon as no one was around to see them, they would construct a nice cozy bed for themselves. The white spider-web like design you see here on the glass is actually the dew-covered trail made by the caterpiller.

We were stunned to see the "ring of gold" that formed. Since this was a project that I was primarily responsible for (because if it was unsuccesful, I wanted that to be my burden alone), many people would ask me what the gold is. I have no idea, and while I have a certain level of scientific curiosity to know just what this substance is and why it would form, I easily let that go in favor of thinking of it as A Magic Miracle, and was content with just marvelling at its breathtaking beauty.

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The Butterfly Project

Early on in the planning stage for Julia's memorial service, I knew that I wanted for there to be a live butterfly release. I've learned that butterflies are a common image used to represent people who have passed away, and babies and children in particular. Their delicate beauty reminds us simultaneously of both the breathtaking miracle and very fragile nature of new life. Some years ago I visited a "butterfly pavillion" which is basically a huge greenhouse where hundreds of butterflies live their natural life cycle and freely fly about, landing on you as you admire the flowers. After doing some research I determined that I was ready to purchase monarch caterpillars, caring for them throughout their cycle of pupating and emerging in time to be released into nature as part of our remembrance ceremony for Julia. I carefully consulted with the company that I purchased the caterpillars from, to ensure that the approximate timing of the emergence would be roughly a week or more before the memorial date.A large glass tank on our porch became out butterfly nursery. Branches of milkweed in bottles of water provided the food source. A length of sheer netting provided protection from possible predators, and the roof over our porch allowed a safe location and good vantage point for providing their care.
The impossibly tiny, and very hungry caterpillers....

We were off on our exciting adventure, and suddenly I was quite scared. Would I really be able to take good care of these little things?
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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

True Story. Sad, but with a Happy Ending.

(My story starts with the Sad part)

Mothers Day weekend was a first milestone of sorts for my family. It was our first Mothers Day with the conspicuous absence of baby Julia. Fortunately it was the first really nice weather since the ending of this long, cold, brutal winter we have just come through. The family gathered to share food, sit on the porch, and walk around the yard checking on the flowers that we hope will be in full bloom when we hold Julia's memorial service at my home in July. Julia's parents gave me a copy of the sermon that the pastor plans to read - they wanted me to look at it and let them know what I thought. But I just couldn't look at it on that weekend. I just wanted to sit in the sun for a bit with my eyes closed....

(It gets a bit worse before it gets better, sorry.)

And then Monday came, as it always does, and back to my working week - a world that is quite removed from my personal life. I found that everyone in the office was especially upbeat on Monday morning. Talking, laughing, chatting all over the place. A really festive atmosphere at times, with people talking about the weekend with its great weather and all the lovely Mothers Day gatherings. I couldn't face it. I looked out my office window and saw clouds come rolling in, and they perfectly reflected my mood - dark, unsettled, and sad. A really crappy start to the day, and to the week.

(I promise you, the Happy Ending is coming.)

I went home and settled on the couch and worked on some craft projects and watched some tv but couldn't think of anything that might lift my spirits. I truly felt awful. My husband David was home and doing things outside. The sky was full of dark grey clouds. I felt that I didn't even have the energy to cry. My heart was in pain.

(Here it comes.)

David came to the door with a sort of excited look in his eyes. "Come out here!" he said "You have to see this!" I sighed and got off the couch and stepped outdoors with him. "Look, right there, have you ever seen anything like it?" he asked, pointing to the sky. I looked.

This is what we saw:
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Friday, April 18, 2008

Art and Craft as therapy

"When our son, Zachary, died in 1979, I felt compelled to craft something — palpable but symbolic of his existence." This is from the Wiisp website, Wisconsin Stillbirth Service Program. I have found this website to be very helpful for me, as a grandma of a stillborn baby. In those first shocking days after our loss of Julia, I found this website through the information packet they gave out at the hospital. The first thing I found and read was "When Your Baby Is Stillborn". It contains just enough facts to calm down all the questions that pounded at my brain and my heart incessantly - Why, How, Why, How, Why? It helped me to get a handle on the confusion so I could function somewhat.

In the section on "Coping With Your Loss" I found this gem:

"Express yourself. Talk about your baby, your feelings, your fears, your grief. Or keep a diary, write a journal, create, start a flower garden. This may help you to see things more clearly."

In creating the bookmarks, sharing them in every way I can, and in making this blog as my offering to the world of some tiny bit of comfort and brightness, I am seeing things somewhat more clearly. I am seeing other people's stories of feeling crushed by sadness, as well as other stories of the ways of overcoming it. I am seeing that even though I don't have a lot of money or a lot of time or a Really Big Idea to put out there and revolutionize anything, I do have something small and simple and bright to share. Sometimes something small is all you need, to acknowledge that yes, you can be feeling a crushing sadness or just be having a crappy day, and also to remind you that even if you don't see the sun behind the clouds right now, even if you don't see any blooming flowers around you, they are still there. The sun will come back, there will be new life and beauty around you, and if you can't get the real thing right now, here is a scrap of paper with some color on it to remind you... and this brings me to another item from the Wiisp website on Coping With Your Loss:

"Above all, give yourself time. Be patient. You will never forget your baby, but you will heal. Healing is an ongoing process; it does not happen overnight. But it will happen."

And that's where I'm at right now. Just trying to remember to breathe, and knowing that time is passing.

Quietness by Rumi

Inside this new love, die.
Your way begins on the other side.
Become the sky.
Take an axe to the prison wall.
Walk out like someone suddenly born into color.
Do it now.
You're covered with thick clouds.
Slide out the side. Die,
and be quiet. Quietness is the surest sign
that you've died.
Your old life was a frantic running
from silence.

The speechless full moon
comes out now.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Bookmarks for Everyone!

Tomorrow I am mailing out the first bookmarks! Mostly to people who saw them on, commented on them, and I let them all know that I am giving them away. They are going out to something like 12 states, two Canadian provinces, as well as the Netherlands and Ireland. I like to think that Julia might have inherited my love of traveling and desire to see the whole wide world. I guess I am getting a vicarious traveling thrill by sending these out. I am not in the business of marketing this blog, but should anyone stumble across it and want a handful of bookmarks, just leave a message and I'll get them out as soon as I can. I have a couple hundred sitting around waiting for new homes, waiting for a trip someplace, and I don't see myself stopping the making of them any time soon.
So get your free glittery, flowerful bookmarks here folks. Made with Love and designed to bring Peace and a moment of happiness to hearts everywhere.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Birth of the Bookmarks

At the time when we learned that Julia had died, I had been making cards. From the scraps of the cards, I had piles of colorful paper that were the exact correct size for a bookmark. Also, because the time of year - late winter/early spring, I find myself surrounded with beautiful flower and seed catalogs. During this very dark, cold time, I would find myself looking at the piles of colorful paper, looking at the stacks of beautiful flower pictures, seeing all the other art supplies and the interrupted projects. And what does a "maker" do when they they don't know what to do? Make things. Making things gives me something to do when I would otherwise just be sitting there doing nothing and feeling as bad as a person can feel. Having something to do makes you feel less powerless. I know too well that there are some things I have power over and other things that I absolutely do not have any power over. So I do what I can with what I have.

When my brother Richard died in 1996, it was a warm spring and I had a greenhouse full of baby plants. I spent all of the time I could working with those baby plants and seeds and making things grow and live. It helps to feel that you are not totally passive and helpless and can do nothing. You have to make something for yourself to do. So now, with the loss of Julia, the best thing I can do to remind myself of life and growth, and to remind myself that the world is not completely dark and sad and cold, is to simply create something bright and lively.

And so the bookmarks were "born".
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Why Bookmarks?

We give so many things to our children and grandchildren. They inherit our hair color, the sound of our voice, our tendency to procrastinate. Some of the things they get from us are like a beautiful gift that they get to keep for their whole life, and other things are more like a weight around their neck that hopefully they will figure out how to shed. I don't know if it has been scientifically proven or not, but I think that we can also inherit things like a love of reading, or artistic talent, or an adventurous spirit, from our parents and grandparents and all the others who came before us. It's probably half Nature and half Nurture, but I do believe that we each carry a spark inside us of what made our ancestors such interesting people.

I am a "maker" at heart. I have loved messing around with ALL of the arts and crafts materials that I've ever encountered since I was a toddler. When I was a tiny kid I used to draw pictures in the mud with a stick, and it's just escalated from there. I am also a very avid reader since the age of 4 1/2.

Crafting and making art has always been a good thing for me to do when I'm in a lousy mental state. I especially get into repetitive motion or assembly line types of projects. There is something very calming about just focusing on a tiny detail, or one aspect of the assembly, and I can sort of loose myself. Then I come back to the outer world and realize that I've just made 20 bookmarks.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Bookmarks! These are a few of the roughly 19 gazillion bookmarks I have been making in recent weeks. Inspired by artful people everywhere, I have decided to try and disseminate them around the globe. The story is that I need to keep my hands and my mind occupied with something easy to focus on, not stressful, something colorful to lift my spirits. These fit those requirements! And who doesn't need a bookmark, eh? So I posted them on actually making it into the "hot new projects" section, and you can read a little bit more of the story there. I loves Craftster! So I'm still making them and probably will be making them for a while, and my goal is to just spread the lovely sparkly-ness of these simple things as far and wide as possible. There is a butterfly stamped onto the back of each bookmark, along with this website, and I am hoping that I can keep up with all the different places the bookmarks get to. The butterflies represent my baby granddaughter, Julia, and the sweet loving spirits of all our loved ones, everywhere, who have left this world. It's just in memorium of love. Hopefully anyone who sees one of the bookmarks, whether they use it or pass it along to someone else, will have a brighter moment in life, especially if they have a broken heart.
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Thursday, March 27, 2008