GUEST BLOG: Claris and the Mourning Cloak

by Claris Olson

A mourning cloak butterfly at rest in the garden, 2007.

A mourning cloak butterfly at rest in the garden, 2007.

Yesterday while working in the garden, a very sociable mourning cloak butterfly was flying all around me as I divided and moved plants.  It was so friendly it even landed on my hand for a few minutes; it flew so close to my ear, I could hear its wings flutter.  It felt like it was messing with me--landing on the top of my head or my back, but never really knowing for certain where it was or what it was up to. 

It reminded me about how the indigenous people of Mexico believe that the monarchs carry the spirits of their ancestors back to them every year during the fall migration.  I also recalled a story that aired on NPR’s Fresh Air on the ten-year anniversary of the September 11 attacks.  The interview was with Ken Haskell, a firefighter who lost two brothers, Timmy and Tommy, in the twin towers.  Tommy’s body was never recovered, and his daughters always talked about the ladybugs that visited their bedroom window.  The girls believed that it was their father watching over them.  Ken had dismissed the notion but was willing to go along with it for the girls.

A month after the memorial service, Ken returned to work as a firefighter.  His first fire was large--a three-story frame house.

"Something was telling me not to go in there," he said. "But I went in anyway, and I was able to get into one bedroom. And rather than go through the hallway and go through the rest of the apartment like I normally would have, I decided to go back to the ladder. Went back down, and then part of the front of the building collapsed, and the room that I was just in [fell] over. Afterwards I was sitting on the stoop across the street, reflecting on what had happened. And as I went to raise a glass to take a sip of water, there was a ladybug on my hand. ... I looked up to the sky and said hello to my brother--just sort of thanked him."

Hmm… It would be just like my brother, Glenn, whom we lost to melanoma in 2005, to tease me like that.  Glad you could make a visit, Glenn.

You can read more about Ken Haskell and other stories in A Decade of Hope: Stories of Grief and Endurance from 9/11 Families and Friends by Dennis Smith.