Butterfly Comfort

Written by Kerry E.B. Black based on Coastal Salish beliefs20160714_112231

Grandmother sat upon a woven blanket spread beside the sparkling waters. Sunlight set the silver in her long hair ablaze as though comets streaked through a midnight sky. Her voice rumbled like distant thunder, demanding attention from her granddaughter.

“Here you feel the earth, which gave you life. Set down roots, like these flowers, and you’ll always know your mother.”

The Granddaughter sniffed the blooms. Cornflower and cones smelled more like grasses than perfume. Butterflies skipped among their petals. The Granddaughter brushed aside tears, feeding their salt to the flowers’ hungry roots. “Why’d she have to die, Grandmother?” The vibrant summer colors blurred behind the veil of tears. “I miss her so much I ache.”

Grandmother rested a calloused hand on the Granddaughter’s head. “I know. In time, the ache will ease, and you’ll feel her. She’ll be the breath of spring brushing your skirts against your legs. She’ll be the warm embrace of your blankets on a cold night. In time.”

Anger set the Granddaughter’s cheeks aflame. She leapt to her feet, voice raised. “In time? I want her now!” Guilt warred with grief, knotting her stomach, and tears choked other words. She slid to her knees and sobbed. Waves of emotion washed over her, and she wailed until her tears dried up and her throat burned. Through hiccups, she confessed, “I didn’t tell her goodbye. I was at school when she left. What if she never knew how much I loved her?”

Grandmother sung a throaty prayer in their native language, the language of the plants and the beasts. Butterflies drifted in time to her entreaties. One, blue as the nearby water outlined with ebony as dark as her mother’s hair, alighted upon the Granddaughter. Its delicate legs tickled while they gathered up teardrops. The Granddaughter held her breath, afraid of scaring it away.

Quickly as it came, the butterfly fled. Its uneven flight led it beyond the trees.

Grandmother stood and brushed grasses and dirt from her skirt. “She’ll know.”

The Granddaughter sniffed. “How can you say that?”

Grandmother’s smile cracked across her weathered face. “Your friend the butterfly will deliver the message.”

As she watched the diminishing creature disappear into the cloud-laced sky, the Granddaughter knew her Grandmother was right.