The cars left the cemetery slowly in a single line. Then little by little the line disappeared, as each car found its own way
home. Billy was in the back seat of his car, looking out the window. It was a beautiful sunny day, as nice a day as anyone could want. Billy, however, felt sad---so sad the sun,
flowers, birds, and sky couldn't make him happy.
"Oh Grandpa! Why did you leave me?" he whispered.
“Billy, are you okay?” his dad asked from the front. Billy knew both his dad and his mom were also sad. Up to this point, the ride home was very quiet.
Billy turned around, wiping the tears from his eyes.
“Dad, what does ‘passing away’ mean?” he asked.
His dad was silent. Billy knew from the way his dad tilted his head that he was either figuring out the answer to the question, or trying to make up a good answer, as his dad sometimes did. After what seemed to be a long wait, his dad finally answered.
“I’m not sure, Billy. I’ve been taught that it means his soul has gone to heaven. His body remains here, in our world, and eventually it will decay and mix with the ground in which you just saw him buried. But his real self, the part which we call his “soul”, goes to a better world, a world that’s always happy, and sunny, and one that I’m sure Grandpa will be glad to be.”
“At the funeral, the preacher talked about ‘eternal’,” said Billy. “What does that mean?”
“’Eternal’ means ‘forever’. In the other world, in heaven, Grandpa will never die.”
Billy had a hard time imagining “forever”. “I guess Grandpa would be something like the mountains,” he thought, “always being there while people, houses, and animals come and go.” I guess that would be good if Grandpa is happy forever,” he thought, and he wasn’t as sad as before.
Billy didn’t remember what he did for the rest of the day when they finally arrived home. Mostly Grandpa was on his mind. When it was finally time for bed, his mom helped him get ready. She helped him put on his favorite light blue pajamas, the one with the sailboats and dolphins on them. The soft cotton made him feel good and helped relax him. Climbing into his bed, his mom pulled his white down comforter over him and he began to shed the sadness he was feeling most of the day.
As he was falling asleep, he remembered what his dad said about heaven---a place where you’re always happy. That must be a great place, Billy thought. He thought of the times when he was most happy. They always seemed to be when he was with Grandpa. One of his favorite times was when his grandfather took him to the Butterfly Field…
“Come on, Billy!” Grandpa called. “We’re going to a special place today!”
The boy was playing with his grandfather’s dog, Rex, throwing a rolled up pair of red socks around the front yard. When he heard Grandpa’s call, Billy ran to him with Rex close behind.
“Where are we going, Grandpa?” Billy asked eagerly.
“Well, I’ll show you!” his grandfather answered, just as excitedly. All three hopped into Grandpa’s battered green pickup and headed towards Lost Creek. It was called
“Lost Creek” by the locals because it didn’t seem to know where it was going, although some felt it was because you had to be lost to find it. They drove by some familiar houses and farmhouses and
then Billy found himself in an area he didn’t recognize. It was beautiful, with green and orange grass that reached to his knees at some parts. A few trees dotted the valley, and the Lost Creek ran
side by side with the road. “This is pretty!” exclaimed Billy.”
Grandpa drove off the road and parked under an oak tree, about 100 feet from the creek. Billy jumped off with Rex close behind. The dog quickly found a squirrel to run after.
“Let’s take a walk, Billy.” Grandpa, who was tall and lanky, took Billy’s hand gently and they walked along a barely trampled path away from the river and farther in towards the valley.
As he slept, Billy closed his hand and remembered holding Grandpa’s hand.
The late morning sun was shining and there was a warm breeze blowing from the direction of the creek. Billy could smell the grass and the wildflowers that they passed by. Here and there a butterfly would join the bees that were tending to the flowers. As they kept walking, Grandpa would point out certain sites and objects. “See that red headed woodpecker over there, Billy?!”, or “Do you see the way the flowers decorate the meadow?”, or “Look how quickly the clouds are sweeping across the sky.” Billy would often reply in wonder, “No, I didn’t see that!”, or, simply, “Wow!”
As they walked farther, the youth noticed that the number and variety of butterflies was growing. Billy could hardly believe his eyes and even gasped at how magical they seemed to be. Some of them were bigger than his hands when he clasped his thumbs together and made the butterfly shape. Fluttering and dancing in the air, alighting on the grass, flowers, and trees, the butterflies seemed to be everywhere!
“I call this place the ‘Butterfly Field’, Billy,” his grandfather explained. “I guess you can see why,” he said grinning.
“Yes!” thought Billy. He let go of his grandfather’s hand and started following some of the butterflies. Green on yellow, yellow on green; big ones, small ones; individual ones and large groups; big eyes, small eyes; triangular wings, round wings, fancy wings. Billy just couldn’t believe his eyes! He was having so much fun, just running among the wonderful butterflies!
One scene made Billy scream with delight. There was a cherry tree in the field, the branches clothed and covered in white blossoms. Many butterflies were resting on it, their colors highlighted by the white blossoms. Billy thought he’d never seen anything as pretty! So many brilliant colors, resting and then flitting about the tree. It was truly an amazing sight!
“Watch this, Billy!”
Grandpa started to sing in his deep voice, which the boy loved. He sang “In the Sweet By and By,” which Billy heard him whistle often as he worked. Slowly butterflies started to gather around his grandfather. On the second verse, he started to sway as he sang, and the butterflies responded to him. Billy couldn’t believe his eyes! The butterflies began to sway with him! More and more butterflies joined in the dance. At one point Grandpa and Billy were surrounded in a shimmering rainbow of color, all of which was moving and dancing in time! Billy was breathless! When Grandpa finally stopped singing, the butterflies slowly fluttered away, and all Billy could do was look at Grandpa in amazement.
One of the butterflies that danced with Grandpa was a beautiful royal blue. Billy’s favorite color was blue, so that butterfly caught his eye. It was a medium-sized
butterfly, about the size of his hand, with shiny, royal blue wings with brown and gold circles. He started to chase it, but the butterfly fluttered in midair, just above his reach. It was as if it
was playing with him and saying “Hi! I like you but I won’t let you catch me.” As it hovered above him, Billy could see that its body was gold, and it had big black eyes.
“That’s a beauty you have there, Billy!” Grandpa said as he walked towards grandson and the hovering butterfly. As he got closer, the butterfly danced around Grandpa once and then landed slowly on his shoulder.
“Grandpa!” Billy yelled. “He likes you!”
“Why, I guess so, Billy!” said his grandfather. “I wonder what I should do now?” Just then the butterfly flew off his shoulder and fluttered away.
“Let’s follow it!” Billy yelled as he ran after the butterfly. After leading the young boy this way and that, it finally landed on a nearby blueberry bush. Billy just watched it and didn’t try to grab it. The butterfly was resting on one of the bush branches, slowly beating its wings.
“Maybe you tired it out, Billy!” his grandfather said as he walked up behind him.
“Oh!” said Grandpa. “Do you see the chrysalis on the branch just behind it?”
“Yes!” said Billy, after searching and finding it.
“Maybe he’s waiting for a brother or sister to come out,” Grandpa suggested.
“You mean a butterfly is going to come out of that chrysalis?” Billy asked. He had learned of chrysalises and caterpillars in school, but he had never seen one until now.
“Wow! That’s cool.” Billy studied the chrysalis and looked at the rest of the bush. Sure enough there was a caterpillar making its way up another branch.
“This bush must be where a lot of them go to become butterflies, Grandpa.”
“I think you’re right Billy.” The two watched the caterpillar inch its way up the branch. “That caterpillar is going to find some place in this bush to attach himself. Then he’s going to spin a chrysalis around himself, and when he comes out, he’s going to have wings and be very beautiful, just like our little blue friend here…” Billy looked at the caterpillar, and then the butterfly, and was amazed that the one could turn into the other.
“But we can’t wait and watch for all that to happen! I think it’s time for us to be heading back.”
“Don’t worry! I’m sure we’ll find ourselves back here some other day!”
“All Right!” cheered Billy. Billy gave a big hug to Grandpa, who hugged him right back.
And they walked back to the truck hand-in-hand, just as they arrived.
When they got back, they found Rex resting under the shade of a tree. It appeared he got tired of chasing squirrels and decided to take a nap. When he heard them approaching, however, he jumped up and ran to greet them.
The next morning, Billy woke up from remembering his day at the Butterfly Field. The early morning sunlight was coming through his window and warming him. Even though he was completely covered by his comforter, he could still see the sun’s glow as it penetrated the fluffy white cloth.
He thought about what his dad said about Grandpa's soul, how it leaves the body and goes somewhere else to live. “Maybe Grandpa's soul is sort of like the butterfly
that emerged from the chrysalis,” thought Billy!
He slowly lifted the comforter from his head. He now squinted at the brightness of the sunlight. Again he enjoyed its warmth, and closed his eyes. He thought about the caterpillar. How slowly it inched up the branch of the blueberry bush. And he thought about Grandpa---how slowly he moved when he got sick…just before he passed away. But the butterfly---it could fly and go wherever it wanted. Even Billy couldn’t catch it when he tried!
The caterpillar seemed really ugly, too!---all hairy and wrinkly…but the butterfly it became was so beautiful with its deep blue and shiny brown and gold
“I wonder if Grandpa is like that butterfly,” Billy wondered again. “Maybe he’s still alive somewhere, except now he's much more beautiful and much more free! And dad said Grandpa will remain that way forever!” Billy's heart swelled with happiness at this idea.
He opened his eyes again, and sat up in bed with his legs crossed. The comforter was now covering only his legs. He was being bathed in sunlight, and he opened his palms and wiggled his fingers to feel the sun, as if golden water were flowing through his hands. Then Billy hooked his thumbs together and with his hands formed a butterfly shape, which he fluttered towards the source of the light.
“But where?” thought Billy. “Where is Grandpa now?” He remembered the colorful butterflies on the white cherry tree. “I hope his new place is as beautiful as the
Butterfly Field!” wished Billy.
Billy remembered all those butterflies dancing with his grandfather as he sang. “And hopefully he isn’t alone,” he said thoughtfully. “I sure hope he has other people
and animals to play with!” he exclaimed.
“Rowf!” barked Rex, who had awoken beside him. Billy smiled and reached down and petted the dog.
At that moment Billy felt so good. Just like when he was with Grandpa…
And that’s when it occurred to Billy. In the twinkling of God’s eye it occurred to him. The boy’s eyes widened with the thought. “Could it be? Could Grandpa still BE with me?” he wondered. Billy didn’t SEE him anywhere. But he felt so good, and so warm, just like the old times, that he KNEW that Grandpa was somehow WITH him!
Billy threw off his comforter and began jumping up and down on his bed in the sunlight!
“Oh Grandpa!!!” he shouted. “You didn’t leave me after all!!!”
Billy jumped out of bed and ran to tell his mom and dad!