*Written by Sue Mackarness, edited by Kristen*
In 2004, Edward and I were in Mexico visiting a friend for ‘Day of the Dead.’ Edward’s parents, who had been happily married for 65 years, had both died in California just months before. It was one of those deaths that you don’t believe really happen, when one person passes away right after the next; united in life through love, and after.
We had gone to Cuautinchan for the holiday. It’s a remote, colorful town about an hour from Puebla. Ceci, my dear friend and godmother, had built a beautiful country home in Cuautinchan some 30 years before, and I have been visiting there for years. From the windows of the house, you can see a 16th century convent, the old walls crumbling with age. Ceci has been leading the charge to restore the convent and its frescos for as long as I can remember…
For Day of the Dead, in the typical tradition, we set up an altar in the house. We decorated it with marigolds, pictures, skulls, personal mementos, etc. Edward decided to put a plate of freshly cooked spaghetti, his father’s favorite, on the altar, along with his father’s driving license and wedding ring. As you probably know, it is the custom to put remembrances of loved ones on the altar. We left the shrine and walked outside, our duty to the dead finished for the moment.
Sometime during the day, the maid, Claudia, ran out into the garden.
“Quick, you have to come quick,” she told us, motioning toward the house. Baffled, curious, we got up and went inside. We followed her to the room with the altar.
“Look,” she whispered, pointing. And there, hovering above the plate of spaghetti on the altar, we saw an enormous white butterfly.
“I tried to shoo it away,” Claudia whispered, “but it won’t leave.”
Ceci and Claudia look at one another, and Ceci leans in close to Edward and me.
“It is highly unusual to see this type of butterfly,” she explained. “And even more so, that it just remains in one place for so long. They never do that. We think it’s a sign of a soul coming to visit. Perhaps your father’s?” She left the question hovering in the air.
Quietly, we gathered together in a circle, and began a ritual of memory. We recalled Edward’s father and mother. The butterfly stayed above the plate of spaghetti. Then, we extended the prayer out to my parents, and then to other beloveds of Ceci and Claudia who had crossed over. It felt like the spirits, or at least, one soul, was listening. When we finished recalling the loved ones, we all looked toward the altar, and the big, white butterfly was just starting to fly away. It flew out the window, and disappeared into the garden.
I have always found Mexico to be a magical place–the soul of the people, the culture brimming with music and life, the unfolding countryside, and, of course – the food. But that moment with the white butterfly, that was something entirely different, something I could never forget.