When I was in grad school, one of my responsibilities was seeing clients in our clinic for speech therapy. We had to have so many adult and so many pediatric hours. I was dead set on getting a peds internship, so I begged and begged for adult hours in the clinic.
I knew of the Butterfly Lover and the Man Who Loved Her only by reputation. We went to their church, he was retired from the university and he was well like and respected for looking out for the good of many rather than the good of himself only. (A rarity in this den of higher education.)
The Butterfly Lover was in her early seventies – but she was old at her age. She’d had strokes, she had Bells Palsy, her voice never really recovered and was extremely difficult to understand – and on top of that, she had “emotional lability”.
What’s that? you ask?
Imagine the most hormonal day you’ve ever had, exhausted, stressed out, and finally you burst into tears. That’s more or less what it’s like – except that you could be talking about the weather and burst into sobs … but not feel sad. Can also manifest in inappropriate laughter – but the Butterfly Lover sobbed and sobbed.
I worked with her for 18 months. Some weeks they would be on vacation, so we would make up with double sessions the next week. I was getting hours, the Man Who Loved Her was getting a break, the Butterfly Lover was getting companionship – we were all winning.
We would do vocal exercises and then we would work on the computer – she was into genealogy, so I would take her to sites so we would have things to talk about. Not sure what it says of me that I had a hobby in common with a little white haired lady, but it served us well.
Turns out she was the grandma of someone I’d gone to high school with. One of those people who I was never BFFs with, but we kept running into each other – much like this. This opened the door to have the Butterfly Lover email her grandchildren.
She loved butterflies (which you’ve probably figured out by now). She loved the color purple. She loved her family.
Her husband took excellent care of her, right down to doing his best to draw on her eyebrows, every day.
They bought me a necklace for graduation. A heart with my name and butterflies on it. A perfect kind of grandparent gift. I wore it my first day of work – but inside my shirt 🙂
The next spring my grandma died. On the way back home, I decided that going to see the Butterfly Lover and the Man Who Loved Her would make me feel better.
When I got home and opened the newspaper, the Butterfly Lover’s obituary was in there. I could only helplessly cuss at the newsprint.
I did see her. Alone in the funeral home. I had enough time to step in before we left for home. It was the first time I saw her healthy. Her face was even and symmetrical. There were no tremors. Next to the casket was a huge arrangement of flowers in the shape of a butterfly. There were family photos of her with her loved ones and for the first time I really understood the tragedy of her last years. Those strokes robbed her and her family of a vibrant lady. I think I’m glad I didn’t know, that I couldn’t compare. To me she was just the Butterfly Lover. Not what was left of the Butterfly Lover.
The next year, the Man Who Loved Her died. He’d been in decent health, but I think his heart died with her.
I saw my classmate this last weekend at our reunion. We stood in the middle of the banquet room and she told me about the last hours of her grandma’s life. We talked about how important they were to us. We hugged more than once in this conversation. Changing the subject because we were a few sentences away from sitting on the floor and having a good cry.
She introduced me to her brother downtown, in a smoky loud bar. He hugged me and didn’t let go. I thought maybe he was copping a feel, but when he let me go he said, “My grandpa meant more to me…. did more things for me than I will ever know….” So he was at least thinking of the the Butterfly Lover and Man Who Loved Her while copping a feel. 🙂
They were hard conversations to have. But I’m grateful for having them. Grateful for the chance to have mattered.