About 250 new residents moved in Saturday afternoon and each one of them represents someone who was deeply loved and lost.
They weren’t people, they were indigenous painted lady butterflies, released at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Community Centre as part of a ceremony to honour people who died in the last two years but were unable to have proper funerals due to the pandemic.
Organized by NOTL Palliative Care, it was a chance to join with others to share love and grief, said executive director Bonnie Bagnulo.
“What a travesty it was not being able to visit them and having families not be able to come and witness the end of life and the mourning and grieving afterwards,” Bagnulo said.
“As they were releasing the butterflies you could see that hope, that symbolism, in hoping that their loved ones were free. A little bit of it set them free, too. It was actually beautiful, just beautiful.”
Inside the community centre auditorium, pictures of loved ones lined walls and tables, where people picked up small two-by-two inch boxes with their butterflies and moved outside to let theirs go.
NOTL resident and bereavement counsellor Sandra Hardy shared a few words, before Lord Mayor Betty Disero read the names of more than 80 people who were being celebrated.
“(Hardy) talked about bereavement and its impact on people and the need for support and how she thought this event was extremely important to help people — to witness people’s grief and to add some, hopefully, a little bit of closure to what they’ve just gone through,” Bagnulo said.
“And then we invited the people to come up and to release their butterflies. And, oh, it was amazing to see the excitement on their faces and to know that their feelings were attached to that little two-by-two representation of their love.”
Liam Archibald was there with his mother Alanna McDonald and brother Landon Archibald, to release a butterfly for their father Luke, who died suddenly in 2021.
“I love you, Dad,” Liam said as he released his.
Theresa Bell, from Virgil, was there to pay tribute to her only son Christoper who died of a heart attack in 2020 at age 52.
She never had a chance to have a funeral or visitation, and said the butterfly release really helped her be able to grieve.
“It was a very touching moment,” she said,
Other life struggles since then have forced to her to have to be strong, so she didn’t really have time to cry.
“Saturday did that for me,” she said.
“As soon as I opened up the box in that little butterfly became alive and flew out, it was like ‘Oh, wow. This is just so great.’ It was a relief for me. I cried and got over it — and came home and cried again. I think Palliative Care did a wonderful job at helping people get through their grief.”
Bagnulo said the butterfly’s evolution from caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly signifies a new path and change.
“That caterpillar might have to go through a lot of pain and struggle and a lot of trauma while it’s navigating its life here. But then just when it thinks that its life is over, it emerges from a chrysalis from a cold, dark time and in a cold, dark place anew and revived and full of spirit,” she said.
“It’s a symbolism of something after. Whatever that may be.”
She said there was a feeling of spiritual connection, “because we were all there for a common purpose. You could feel it amongst everyone. Everyone there was feeling the same way.”