“Give, give, give — what is the point of having experience, knowledge, or talent if I don’t give it away? Of having stories if I don’t tell them to others? … It is in giving that I connect with others, with the world, and with the divine.”
- Isabel Allende
My office is not unusual. Amid the clutter there are several special mementos and gifts received from patients and families over the years. Each one holds a story, brought back to life when I touch it again. Several years ago, the sister of a long-term patient stopped by with a framed picture. We talked about her brother and his long battle with his cancer.
As her brother suffered through treatment and the effects of his relentless disease, the family sought to make sense of his impending death. He was, from my perspective, optimistic and unflappable. He understood what was happening to him and seemed to accept what was coming. We often discussed his situation as though it was happening to someone else. Everything was “rational” and “logical.”
His sister viewed life and its transitions differently. Shortly before his death, she told him to send a “sign” when he was safely “on the other side.” He smiled, but didn’t respond right away.
Sometime later, he came to her with an answer.
“Remember when you asked for a sign?” he asked.
“Of course,” she replied.
“A white butterfly.” She was confused. It was the middle of winter. She thought about the response and sought meaning.
Not many days later, he died. When she returned from the visitation, a magazine had arrived at her home; she flipped it open and there was an article illustrated with dozens of white butterflies. You can imagine her response.
She stopped by to give me a framed copy of the image from the magazine. I don’t know what to think of the story, but I know that I am filled with memories of the patient, his courage, and his family whenever I pick up the gift and study it once again.