Monday, September 24, 2012

Butterflies, Death, and Life


Cynthia Penn Maier was my sister-in-law.

She had chronic lymphocytic leukemia the entire time I knew her, but she hardly mentioned it. It was just something that happened in her life, it wasn't her life. And at times it seemed it was kept at bay. She would go through a rough patch and then be in remission for years at a time.

In our family, Cynthia was famous for being the person who always sent birthday and anniversary cards. She never failed. Her ability to get your card to you ON THE ACTUAL DAY was nothing short of uncanny. I would sometimes think she should be in charge of logistics for UPS (or a small country) because she was that good.

In fact, it was a birthday card that was the first indicator to us that something was wrong. We received James' card on the fifteenth of August like clockwork, but Willy's card was a little late for the 30th of August, his birthday. Only two weeks later.

I didn't think anything of it at first. I waited for him to come home from school and then we opened it together. Inside was an inscription from one of Cynthia's friends, saying she was helping Cynthia send her cards because she didn't feel up to it.

That's the kind of person she was. So giving. Still trying to get a card out to a five year old, despite what she was going through.

She died on Sunday, September 16th at the age of 54.

She worked as a microbiologist and called me her fellow "bug girl". She would say, "You like the big ones, and I like the little ones". So, more than anyone else in our family I associate her with insects.

We drove to Maryland on Friday to attend services. After the funeral we went to their house to visit with the family.


Right when I got out of the car I found this.

And of course it made me think of Cynthia. Something beautiful. Something ephemeral. You can see it's not a young butterfly. It's a little worn around the edges. Maybe it had a rough time, but it's no less beautiful.

It's not easy to find an insect that is no longer alive but not already destroyed by other insects. It's typically not long before the ants and other critters come in to haul off any bug in the wild. This is even more true of lepidoptera, the butterflies and moths. Their bodies are soft-- not as resilient as a beetle's hard shell for example-- and they just don't make it for long out in the world.

I've only found one other dead-but-not-ruined moth or butterfly in my life. It was a luna moth that I found in the summer of 1992 in North Carolina.

So it seemed even more amazing when my son Willy found this later in the day.



It was in a parking lot off a highway. Not exactly a nature reserve. Not really a place you'd expect to find a butterfly, but there it was.

Again, somehow gone but not destroyed.

I don't know if I can say what this "means", but I know what it means to me.

A reminder of a person who always listened. Really listened.
Who was even-keeled and kind.
Who was giving, thoughtful, and among many many things-- a lifetime of things-- never forgot a birthday.

29 comments:

  1. So sorry for your loss. How beautiful about the butterflies. Its almost like she was sending out little messages. Xoxoxo

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  2. My thoughts go out to your family, KO. This was a beautiful memorial. May Cynthia be in peace, always.

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  3. I'm so sorry for your loss. I had a cousin like that, who sent birthday cards and little gifts to everyone in the family. Her life was cut short by cancer, also. I'm so glad I knew someone beautiful like that.

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    1. Thank you Jennifer-- it's especially notable these days, when so few people send cards at all. The people who do really stand out.

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  4. Well-said. Don't know if I ever met Cynthia, but I am so sorry for the Maiers' loss. Love and lots of butterflies to you all.

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  5. I don't know Cynthia, but this made me love her. So very sorry for your family's loss. You are in my thoughts and prayers.

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  6. Beautiful blog Aunt Kat, that is ironic, certain family members had unusual butterfly sightings around my mother's death as well.

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    1. Maybe butterflies are the Maiers' thing. Aunt Dor said the same about your mom on FB. amazing.

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  7. I'm so very sorry for your loss. The butterflies are beautiful. What special reminders of her life and spirit.

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    1. Thank you Stephanie. We felt lucky to find them.

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  8. So sorry to hear about your sister-in-law. She sounded like a wonderful person. Those butterflies are so pretty!

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  9. So sorry to hear of your loss. May you hold close all your wonderful memories of your sister-in-law, and may they bring you comfort.

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  10. Katherine,
    that was a wonderful post about Cynthia. She was my wife for nineteen years, sixteen with cancer. She never complained about her cancer, even just to say that she was in pain. In her sixteen years, she never did make remission, her longest span without treatment was nineteen months. And in the end, it was a "bug" that killed her, one with the name of candida tropicalis. When she was told that she had a blood infection, she tried to write the name of the species. A microbiologist to the end ! Thanks for being her friend ....
    Larry

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    1. Thank you, Larry. You were lucky to have each other.

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  11. This was a beautiful and touching post, Katherine-- a lovely way to memorialize somebody you love and to keep the memory alive! Butterflies transform!

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  12. Kat, I'm so sorry for your loss. What a sweet, sad and touching post this was. Sorry I missed it last Monday. By a strange coincidence, I posted about a friend's death the same day. It always hurts, but especially when they're too young.

    And oddly enough, I found a dead butterfly (looked like a monarch to me, but I'm no expert) in our backyard on Thursday. It was in perfect shape. I'd never found a dead butterfly before.

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  13. Hi, this was an incredibly touching post. My grandfather introduced me into the world of bugs and I have been hooked since. A shared passion can create the strongest bonds and I can still feel him peering over my should every time I find a bug and send it safely on its way.
    I am sorry for your loss and kind regards, Jilly

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  14. So sorry, Katharine, for your loss. I've recently lost my father and I understand how you feel. This is beautifully-written. Thank you for sharing your beautiful and kind sister-in-law with us.

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  15. Such a beautiful tribute. Thank you for writing that.

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