This Beautiful Butterfly Was a Heaven-Sent Sign of Comfort

After her father passed away, she asked him to send a sign from above.

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- Posted on Nov 25, 2020

A vivid green dress with a butterfly print; Illustration By Jacqui Langeland

“I saw a butterfly,” my mother said with a shy smile.

It was the first time I’d seen her smile since my father’s death the week before. After a seven-year period of steadily declining health, he’d passed away in his bed at home, surrounded by his wife and three daughters. It was a peaceful end to his suffering, but saying goodbye was still difficult. We all missed him terribly. Especially Mami.

“I asked your papi for a sign,” she said. She told me she’d left her Manhattan apartment to run some errands for the luncheon we were planning in Papi’s honor.

“I was waiting at a crosswalk, and I just prayed from the heart. I said, ‘Send me a butterfly to let me know you’re all right.’ Not an hour later, it happened!”

Mami explained that after meeting with the luncheon caterers, she’d walked to a fruit stand on the street corner to pick up some mangoes. There, dancing around the mangoes, was a butterfly!

It was probably a cabbage moth, I thought to myself. Little run-of-themill white butterflies that take over New York City during the summer. You see them everywhere. But I held my tongue. I didn’t want to spoil the moment for her.

“Then I walked over to the funeral home to give them the final payment for Papi’s service,” Mami continued. “And just as I was leaving, this big, black butterfly with bright, multicolored wings swooped down from out of nowhere and circled my head three times!”

“That’s so cool,” I said. And I meant it. That was something out of the ordinary. Certainly no boring cabbage moth. I was happy for her—and a little jealous.

I don’t need a sign, I told myself on the subway ride back to Brooklyn. Papi had been a devout man. He’d served as a deacon in the Catholic church for more than three decades. I knew he was in heaven, watching over all of us. It’s why I hadn’t asked God for proof.

Still, I couldn’t help but think, it would be nice to see something…

The next Sunday, I left my place and headed to the express bus stop to go visit my mother. I walked past rows of houses, all with little yards and gardens out front. Several butterflies floated from flower to flower, gently beating their wings. I wondered if one could be a sign but quickly dismissed the thought. It wasn’t remarkable enough. Butterflies were always in the gardens in this neighborhood.

As I stood waiting for the bus, I looked up from my phone and spotted a butterfly fluttering through the trees in the park across the street. Or was it a cabbage moth? Hard to tell, so this wasn’t my sign, either.

Later that afternoon, I went to church. I slid into a pew near the front. I thought of days past, when Papi had been well enough to assist the priest with the service. Though that had been years ago, the thought made my chest ache. I turned my attention to the comforting routine of the service.

Then one of the readers took the pulpit. She was wearing a bright dress with a bold butterfly pattern.

That would be a cute sign, I thought, admiring the outfit. Clever. But if I were going to get a sign, I wanted one specifically about my father. Something that left no room for doubt.

The Mass ended. On my way out, I picked up a copy of the diocesan newspaper. It didn’t take me long to find Papi’s obituary. It even included his photo. I wanted to show it to the priest. He was shaking hands and saying goodbye to parishioners at the door. I approached him, newspaper in hand, and thanked him for the service. I showed him the obituary.

“This is my father—” I began, then stopped. A flash of movement had caught my eye. A butterfly had flown into the church lobby through the open doors. It was breathtaking—huge and black with multicolored wings. Just like the one my mother had described.

“There’s…a butterfly,” I said, a bit awestruck.

The priest followed my gaze. The butterfly fluttered around the vestibule, then hovered over his right shoulder. “Yes, there is,” he said with a chuckle. “I guess it’s trying to get away from the heat.”

I nodded, but I knew that wasn’t it at all. I continued to tell him about my father but didn’t mention the butterfly or signs. That was a story I was saving for Mami. And I couldn’t wait to tell her.

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