Karma's When I Feel Like It Blog

August 3, 2013

Butterflies and Memories

Filed under: Uncategorized — Karma @ 10:24 am
Tags: , , ,

pipevine swallowtail
This is a post that has been bumping around in my mind for a few months, but I was never sure about wanting to write it. Perhaps I am far enough away from the events now to be able to write it, and perhaps it was this little nudging from Dawn this morning that caused me to want to write it today.

As many of you may remember, I work in a middle school as a paraprofessional with sixth grade students. Three years ago, I had a charming girl who had battled leukemia as a young child as a student. I don’t remember how many years her cancer had been in remission by the time she came to us as a happy and sweet 11 year old girl.

Near the end of her sixth grade year, she came to school on several days complaining just a little about some pain in her leg. Sixth graders, I can tell you, change an awful lot during this year of school. “You must be having growing pains!” many people said to her. And she certainly was growing into a lovely young lady.

When we returned to school after our summer break, we heard the sad news that Brielle’s cancer had returned, this time in the bones of her leg. She would be unable to start the school year in 7th grade due to her surgeries and chemotherapy.

Near the end of her 7th grade year, Brielle made some appearances in school. As co-advisor to the student council, we made the decision to dedicate that year’s student-faculty basketball game to Brielle, with all proceeds going to Brielle’s Brigade, a team of cyclists started by Brielle’s uncle who ride in the Pan-Mass Challenge and donate all funds generated to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.
[SIDE NOTE: I did not realize that this year’s Pan-Mass Challenge was taking place this weekend when I began writing this post. The cyclists ride today from Sturbridge MA to Bourne MA, then from Bourne to Provincetown tomorrow. I guess something out there was really nudging me to write today.]
Students and teachers wore t-shirts in purple, her signature color and decorated in butterflies, which had come to be known as her symbol in her battle against cancer. Brielle made an appearance at the basketball game, on a walker, and was received with thunderous applause.

Near the end of the school year, Brielle started coming to school for a few hours a day, with the help of an aide and sometimes a wheelchair. She wore brightly colored bandanas, often purple, on her hairless head and proudly showed off the scars on her leg from her surgeries. One day, a day I will always remember, Brielle found me and the special education teacher that I work with in the school library. She sat and talked with us and told us about her surgeries and recovery and her summer plans.

Only a few days before school was to begin again in what would have been Brielle’s 8th grade year, we received the very sad news that she had lost her courageous battle. The bone cancer had spread to her lungs.

When my student council co-advisor and I met to make plans for the school year, we both felt strongly that we would like to do something to honor Brielle’s memory. Our school principal came to us to tell us of the local Girl Scouts’ plan to create a memory garden in our school’s courtyard, and would the student council be willing to lend a hand in fundraising and planning?

We jumped in right away and successfully fundraised. Later in the spring, my co-advisor and I found ourselves handling much of the planning and designing of the garden. With the help of our student council and the local girls scouts, we cleared away a very overgrown area of the court yard, planted new plants such as butterfly bushes and bleeding hearts, added statuary and decoration and arranged for the donation of memorial stepping stones.
This is what the finished garden looks like:

One warm afternoon, after I had spent a good amount of time working on the garden and was feeling quite dirty and tired, I was walking back to my car, carrying my garden tools. At that moment, a single butterfly flew quite close to my face and fluttered in a circle around me. I watched it fly away, and felt quite certain I had been visited by Brielle’s spirit.
transluscent tiger swallowtail

I’m sitting here now, brushing away a few tears, as I get ready to hit that “publish” button. Maybe I’m not as far from these events as I thought I was. If anyone who knew Brielle happens to find their way to this blog, I hope you will find this post to be an appropriate and respectful honor to her memory.


  1. A well written honor!

    Comment by Mike Christoferson — August 3, 2013 @ 10:34 am | Reply

  2. Yes, I think you’ve been visited by Brielle’s spirit. She felt your love. OK, now I’m wiping away a few tears, too… A very sad but lovely story, Karma.

    Comment by Kathy — August 3, 2013 @ 11:02 am | Reply

  3. Very respectful…very loving. So sad to lose a child that way. But how wonderful that people remember her so fondly and chose to honor her with a garden! I’m glad you shared her story with us.

    Comment by dawnkinster — August 3, 2013 @ 11:53 am | Reply

  4. Ahhh, Karma – between this post and Dawn’s post, I am feeling a settling of a heaviness, a sense of peace and sadness. It seems these poignant stories of battles fought and wars lost are abundant in our world. The happiness is that those who lost the wars are remembered with such fondness and are honored for their battles.

    Comment by Carol — August 3, 2013 @ 12:06 pm | Reply

    • Thank you Carol – very kind of you to say. I know you are fighting battles of your own.

      Comment by Karma — August 4, 2013 @ 8:22 am | Reply

  5. What a lovely tribute. I wish it hadn’t been needed. A sad reminder to treasure today.

    Comment by sybil — August 3, 2013 @ 7:32 pm | Reply

  6. That tribute is so beautiful, Karen. It’s memories like yours, and others, that will keep Brielle alive and in the hearts of so many. Thank you for sharing such poignant thoughts of her.

    Comment by Tamara Eckstadt — August 4, 2013 @ 6:10 am | Reply

  7. Hi Karen, that garden is gorgeous. It’s tremendously sad that these things happen. Hugs to you.

    Comment by Becky Sue — August 4, 2013 @ 8:31 am | Reply

  8. Karen, this is a beautiful post, I will think of Brielle the next time I photograph a butterfly.

    Comment by Nye — August 4, 2013 @ 11:00 am | Reply

  9. Karen..this is a beautiful post. Its a such a thoughtful memorial to your lovely student. The garden is so pretty too!

    Comment by Trish Dinsmore — August 4, 2013 @ 11:13 am | Reply

  10. What a beautiful, beautiful post, Karen. I’m sure that butterfly was Brielle saying thank you.

    Comment by Kate — August 4, 2013 @ 11:36 am | Reply

  11. Quel beau témoignage, Karen ! J’en ai les larmes aux yeux. C’est si triste de voir un enfant, une jeune fille partir si vite. Ce jardin, planté avec amour, est un souvenir permanent de l’amitié et du courage. La Vie continue et les papillons le visiteront. Merci beaucoup.

    Comment by isathreadsoflife — August 6, 2013 @ 1:11 am | Reply

    • Merci Isa. Tu es tres gentille.

      Comment by Karma — August 6, 2013 @ 9:03 am | Reply

  12. Beautiful. 🙂

    Comment by Scott Thomas Photography — August 6, 2013 @ 11:36 am | Reply

  13. Just happened across this again today. Still made me tear up. I hope the garden was beautiful this summer.

    Comment by Dawn — August 3, 2016 @ 5:07 pm | Reply

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