COUNTRYSIDE – Maybe Lori Harris didn’t make the connection at first because she spends many of her days with one of nature’s most beautiful and delicate species.
But at some point last year, Harris realized the sighting of a butterfly takes on meaning beyond the obvious sensory experience of the insect’s vivid colors. People were telling Harris that they had seen a butterfly during a stressful time, and understood it as a message.
“They take it as a sign that things are [going to be] fine,” said Harris, who owns and runs Salt Creek Butterfly Farm in Countryside.
When she realized she had come upon a unique form of therapy, she decided to share it. As of last year, Harris supplies individuals or groups with Monarch butterflies that they release to honor a lost loved one, or to celebrate an event such as marriage.
As part of The Gentle Butterfly program, Harris ships each Monarch in a glassine envelope placed in a climate-controlled package. The dark, cool setting causes the butterflies to sleep during travel. When they arrive, they must be kept in a similar environment to maintain their sleepy state.
One hour before release, the envelopes are removed from the cool packaging to allow the butterflies to warm up and wake up. When taken out of the envelopes, the Monarchs usually sit on people’s arms or hands for a few minutes before flying off.
Caley Ryan, 11, used that time to whisper something to her butterfly – a message for her dad, who died in August 2012.
“I was really sad and emotional when he died,” Ryan said. “When I did the butterfly release, it made me feel much better that I knew that he was watching.”
Ryan participates in a children’s bereavement program sponsored by Buddy’s Place, a program of the La Grange Park-based Pillars organization. During a gathering last fall, 11 families, including the Ryans, took part in a butterfly release as part of Buddy Place’s support group.
“The monarch will stay around that person for a little while,” said Kelly Huggins, who runs the bereavement program. “It’s just kind of fluttering around that person while it’s still waking up. It stays kind of connected for a few moments. Then, they all just kind of fly off, and it’s just a really existential kind of experience.”
Harris has made a variety of experiences possible for different groups. Graduating students can read their personal dreams aloud at an assembly before releasing the butterflies. A family with a loved one in hospice can read similar statements, according to The Gentle Butterfly’s website.
“It’s just such a meaningful experience for people,” Harris said. “People come to it with all kinds of different reasons that you might not bring to it yourself.”
To learn about The Gentle Butterfly or receive a quote for a butterfly release, go to www.thegentlebutterfly.com.