New York State Funeral Directors Association

Butterflies decorate the landscape on warm summer days, fluttering about on a scattered path with no discernible direction.

Many people see these gentle insects as mere incidentals floating around aimlessly.

But at some funeral homes, these symbols of change are playing an important role helping people confront grief and keep the memories of their loved ones alive.

Ed DeMario watched with awe as more than 300 Monarch butterflies took flight during a Butterfly Release barbecue picnic in August.

The occasion served as a chance to revisit the recent death of his mother - and it yielded the unexpected realization he was moving too fast trying to get over her loss.

DeMario stood with dozens of people in a picturesque park as the black and orange-colored bugs spread their wings and headed on their journey.

It was at that moment when he grasped the fact that he and others were still healing from loss.

“I had tears in my eyes for the first time in a month and a half. It was a touching moment,” said DeMario, 56, an only child who figured one month of grief was normal and typical.

Facing Grief With Company

Funeral Director Dave Perotto said butterflies have been helping people face their own individual grief – in the warm company of others also facing a loss – for 16 years now.

His family’s Rochester, NY-based Bartolomeo & Perotto Funeral Home adopted the Monarch butterfly as a mascot back in 1995 and they started hosting annual butterfly release events three years later.

These programs draw as many as 350 people to a local park each year – twice that when there’s two held on a single weekend day.

Their popularity, Perotto said, demonstrates one of the benefits a funeral home can bring to a community.

“How do you get that many people to show up for anything?” Perotto said, noting his community was hosting an LPGA golf tournament and an airplane show at the local airport the same weekend they held their butterfly event.

An only child, DeMario does not have siblings sharing in his grief.

It had been about a month and a half, DeMario said, since he’d last cried over the loss of his mother Florence, who lived to 89.

Gathering with others who lost loved ones instilled tranquility, he said.

“You see people you’re sharing the same grief, you have something in common. Everybody there has the same thing in common. That kind of gave me some peace right there,” DeMario said.

The range of emotions varied, he said.

“Some families were very emotional about it, depending on how close their loved one was and how much it hurt at the time. We still shared that common bond together,” DeMario said.

When everybody let the butterflies go, they filled the air with color and DeMario said they filled his heart as well.

“All you can see is 300 monarch butterflies taking flight, some fluttering above you for a while. It was just a very touching sight that actually brought tears to my eyes again,” he said.

A barbecue lunch followed – people ate and talked for an hour, he said.

Butterflies meander about as fuzzy caterpillars before heading into a cocoon and emerge with wings looking like multi-colored stained glass, a process many have tied to major changes, like death.

They often represent a loved one to the bereaved – giving them the sense that their lost friend or relative isn’t lost but rather taking another form.

Perotto said he recalls a 60 year-old man stopping by the funeral home two years ago all excited.

“He said I had to come over here,” Perotto said.

The man was visiting the local cemetery to pay respects to his deceased brother when a butterfly landed on the grave monument, flew to his shoulder, then fluttered back to the monument.

As far as he was concerned, his brother was reaching out to him through the butterfly.

“People are definitely touched by those events,” Perotto said.

It is not uncommon for people to think there’s a normal time frame for grief, but there isn’t, said Perotto, a third-generation funeral director.

“In my opinion, American society tells you you should be over things very quickly, that it’s unusual if you grieve too long,” Perotto said.

“The reality is, much longer time is normal, and necessary.”



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