Butterflies Fly Free in Lebanon Hospice Benefit
Karen Wescott, of Keene, N.H., sings Amazing Grace along with the Kurn Hattin Childrens Choir, in which her granddaughter sings, at the Wings of Hope event at Coburn Park in Lebanon, N.H. on September 7, 2013. Attendees bought and released Monarch butterflies as a fundraiser for the Visiting Nurse and Hospice Association of Vermont and New Hampshire. Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage Purchase photo reprints »
Notes are posted on a "memory board" at the Wings of Hope event at Coburn Park in Lebanon, N.H. on September 7, 2013. Attendees bought and released Monarch butterflies as a fundraiser for the Visiting Nurse and Hospice Association of Vermont and New Hampshire. Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage Purchase photo reprints »
Megan Bell, 8, of Lebanon, N.H., left, and Emily Counter, 6, of Barnet, Vt, play with some Monarch butterflies at the Wings of Hope event at Coburn Park in Lebanon, N.H. on September 7, 2013. Attendees bought and released the butterflies as a fundraiser for the Visiting Nurse and Hospice Association of Vermont and New Hampshire. Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage Purchase photo reprints »
Monarch butterflies land on the hands of Susan Goodwin, of Wilder, Vt., at the Wings of Hope event at Coburn Park in Lebanon, N.H. on September 7, 2013. Attendees bought and released the butterflies as a fundraiser for the Visiting Nurse and Hospice Association of Vermont and New Hampshire. Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage Purchase photo reprints »
Lebanon — Five-year-old Acadia Collins waited patiently in Colburn Park Saturday afternoon, decked out in a silver-sequined shirt, a black tutu with a pink bow around the waist, and shiny sneakers covered in metallic rainbow stars. She stood alongside her grandmother, great-grandmother and an estimated 200 other people, most of them holding small triangular boxes like the one that Acadia treasured in her hands.
At the signal of officials, and with the help of her grandmother, she opened the small box’s lid, revealing an orange-and-black monarch butterfly that rested for a moment before flittering into the sky.
It joined the dozens of other monarchs that created a cloud of butterflies swirling over and around the crowd, including one released by Acadia’s great-grandmother, Freda Grace, of Canaan.
“They’re going to fly all the way to Mexico!” Grace exclaimed. Acadia smiled, revealing a gap of missing teeth under her nose.
It was a fun moment, eliciting a chorus of “oohs” and “aahs” from the crowd — but the day’s events were not without deeper significance. Described as a “butterfly release,” the three-hour long Wings of Hope ceremony benefited a regional hospice organization, while commemorating dozens of people who have received hospice care. Each of the nearly 250 butterflies released symbolized a recipient of hospice services, and about 150 names of people who have died were read aloud to the crowd.
Hospice workers “helped a lot, even sometimes just (being) someone to talk to,” said Grace, whose mother and mother-in-law both benefited from at-home hospice care before their deaths in recent years.
Her mother-in-law made a special connection with one of her hospice care workers, Grace said. She liked to wear her shoes to bed and often refused to take them off — unless she was asked to by that particular worker.
“She’d do anything she wanted,” Grace said. “She looked forward to her coming.”
The Visiting Nurse & Hospice of Vermont and New Hampshire has been hosting these events in Lebanon for four years, and in Putney, Vt., for two, said spokeswoman Catherine Hogan.
Another butterfly release will take place at Landmark College in Putney today, from noon to 3 p.m.
Regardless of a person’s ability to pay, the nonprofit organization provides home health care and hospice services to more than 100 towns along the Connecticut River Valley, offering in-home health care and an alternative to hospital treatments, according to its informational newsletter.
The hospice branch of the organization, which has a West Lebanon office, reported serving more than 400 hospice patients in 2012, with nearly 15,000 patient visits.
Officials during the event spoke to hospice’s benefits, which they said can spare patients who are facing end-of-life decisions from a barrage of invasive tests and allow them the choice of a dignified death.
“Hospice gives options, it’s empowering,” organization director Charles Crush told the crowd. “Hospice gives choices.”
Participants donated $20 per butterfly, and while the event served as both a fundraiser and a commemoration ceremony, it also provided education about hospice services to people who wanted to learn more about the concept.
That included Karyn Kaminski, who drove to the event with her 13-year-old son, Russell, from Alstead, N.H., “just to see what it was all about,” while also releasing a butterfly in honor of Russell’s grandmother.
After learning more during the event, Kaminski said, she’s now thinking about volunteering for hospice care and considering it for the future.
Plus, she said, “my guess is that we’ll probably come again because I’ve never been befriended by so many butterflies.”
After the release, many of small creatures stayed in the air for a while; others quickly landed on the information booth or rested on people’s heads, hands, shirts and shoes. Some people held bunches of flowers, drawing clumps of butterflies to land on their petals. Several people took out cameras and cell phones to take pictures of butterflies atop each other’s heads.
Jim Godfrey, who lives a few blocks away from Colburn Park, stopped by the event when he saw the crowd gathering.
Afterward, he sat on a bench watching the cleanup; for more than 10 minutes, one butterfly stayed perched on his shoulder, another on his sneaker that he had crossed over his leg.
His wife, Donna Moseman, succumbed to breast cancer 12 years ago, he said, and benefited greatly from hospice care during the final week of her life.
During her battle with the disease, she had relied on the symbol of the butterfly for strength. Godfrey said the butterfly resting on his shoulder reminded him of her.
“It sounded like it was going to be lovely,” he said, “and it was so much more than I imagined, when everyone opened their envelopes and there was just dozens and dozens that took off into the air, and the whole open sky was filled. …
“That moment of release, for five or 10 minutes when the air was filled with them and they were fluttering around among the people and above the people, it was just so exquisitely lovely.”
Maggie Cassidy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3220.