On Saturday, May 18, over 80 local residents braved the cool, windy, and rainy spring weather at Jackson Park to attend our fifth annual Heart of Hospice Butterfly Release to honor the loss of their loved ones. For many of the participants, this was not their first Butterfly Release. Our Youth Heart of Hospice volunteers (YoHOHs) were on hand to face-paint the children and to pass out the butterflies. The YoHOHs are teen volunteers from Hood River Valley High School.
“I’m always so amazed and grateful for these young people who donate their time on the weekend to help us with this event. They are truly compassionate teens,” commented Heart of Hospice Volunteer Coordinator Jayne Mederios. The Heart of Hospice staff solemnly read the names of the 150 patients who passed this year. We then read almost 100 names of people and pets who participants submitted to us. There was then time for people to speak the name of their loved ones aloud. This continued for several minutes. We continue to be amazed at how many losses there are in this small community and how well the community supports our Butterfly Release.
There’s a lot of sadness and grief here, and people are looking to heal. A light drizzle started as we prepared to release the butterflies. This is always an anxious moment. We never quite know how the butterflies are going to react. This year was especially wonderful though. As we said “Release,” nearly 140 butterflies flittered into the air. This was followed by a collective “oooohhh.”
The butterflies flew 10-15 feet and then must have realized that it was cool and wet, so they returned to their “people.” Tears of happiness flowed as the butterflies landed on us. Many people were able to actually hold their butterflies. This was a very special moment for everyone.
One of this year’s special participants was a woman who had lost both her parents this year. They didn’t live in the area and she is new here herself. She doesn’t have any family here and has felt very isolated in her grief. She attended our Butterfly Release on a whim and was so grateful to know that there are so many other people experiencing her pain. She felt that she was able to truly grieve for the first time. We suggested she join our local bereavement group. She’s considering it.
For us at Heart of Hospice, this is also a very special event. We get to reconnect with many of the families we haven’t seen in quite a while. One of the saddest aspects of hospice work is that we get so close to our patients and their families while we’re accompanying them on their journey. But once the patient passes, our bereavement team takes over and we often lose contact with the family. With 150 losses a year, almost three every week, we just don’t have time to stay connected with everyone. But this event changes that. We get a chance to see them and discover how they’re doing. It’s a beautiful, heartfelt reunion for us and for them. There are always a lot of tears and hugs.
Another sad aspect of our work is dealing with our own grief. We think we’re “over” the death of one of our patients. Then we hear their name. All the memories come flooding back. At one point, almost every one of us had tears in our eyes. We can only imagine what hearing the name of their loved one does to our families emotionally. That is what makes reading the names so important. In a way, we do feel their emotions. One of our young hospice aides read the name of her grandfather who was in our care. And one of our chaplains read the name of her mother. None of us are immune from loss and grief.
We started the Butterfly Release five years ago to help bring healing to our community. But one of the true blessings of this event is that we’ve discovered that the community helps bring healing to us.