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Unexpected Grief and Watergun and Butterfly Magic

Unexpected Grief and Watergun and Butterfly Magic

On a day when July was ready for August, I sat and talked with a mother and tried to help hold her unexpected grief. It flowed over the Earth anyway and my own grief sat with us on porch chairs as we remembered Brad (my ex-husband) and wondered. “Why him?”

Of course, there’s always a storm, somewhere, whispering “Why not him?”

“Why not any of us?”

He was only 47, and nobody knew he’d die. Nobody prepared for it. Nobody got to say goodbye.

I don’t know if that’s better, or worse.

We went for a walk. I saw butterflies.


On a day when August sighed September, I sat and talked with a mother and tried to imagine how it was possible that she was dressed, clean, and her usual pretty self after having to come home from vacation without her little boy asking for snacks and attention from the seat next to her.

We sat on couches and porch chairs, and I tried to help hold her unexpected grief.

It flowed over the stars and moons anyway, and my own grief sat with us as we remembered one of my little boy’s best friends. We wondered. “Why him?”

He was only seven, and nobody knew he’d die.

His family hadn’t prepared. They didn’t know. How could they? Nobody knew.

We didn’t know, and now have to hope that past words, smiles, and watergun fights were enough so that he knew. Did he know how much we appreciated his friendship? How much we loved him on afternoons of delight and also on the ones when the boys bounced the ceilings almost off, and fought over which game to play next?

We love him. We will always love him. We’ll remember his light, and larger-than-life way of being. His too-old manners, his wise soul, and his adorable outfits.

He always had better shoes than my son who is limited to double-wide tennis shoes or crocs with his ginormous feet.

Why him?

We talked about butterflies. How they’d never been around before, but are everywhere, now.

And, they are. We see them, too. It’s not just his mama who sees the butterflies.

Why any child?

Of course, there’s always a storm, somewhere, whispering “Why not any of us?”


The problem with death is that it makes us forget that it lurks in sunshine and on beaches while holding us in fear.

Death comes to our homes and our cars and our vacation rentals regardless of whether we’ve dusted off the welcome mat or turned on the porch light.


I sat with my son tonight, on one of the last days of August. He doesn’t understand but understands enough. He wants to know about his friend’s body.

He wants to know more than he can handle knowing.

We talked about the difference between bodies and souls, and I don’t know whether I made any sense to him or not but held up a partially-full water bottle, and said that our spirits are like the water.

Once the bottle is empty, it’s of no use, and we recycle it. It’s a shell, a holder of import until the import has soared Elsewhere.


I told him he can talk to his friend. He already has. Just a few days ago, in the car, Tucker told me that his friend said hello. “But only in my head, Mom.”

We talked about caterpillars and butterflies, and how they change from one thing to another thing, but are still themselves in their next form.

We’re trying to talk about unexpected grief and watergun and butterfly magic. 

“But if he has no body in Heaven, how can he see?” he said.

“What do you mean?”

“Mom. I mean he has no eyes now.”

“Oh, baby, he doesn’t need body-eyes now,” I said.

“Then, he can probably see more than I can, from Heaven, right?”

“Right,” I said.

“We taught each other things,” he said.

“Like what?”

“Well, like we showed each other things in Minecraft.”

“You did,” I said. “Remember how you used to wash my car together using waterguns and water balloons?”

“That was fun,” he said.

“I’d even go so far as to say that it was magic fun,” I said.

“Okay,” he said.

“Tell them he’ll need milkweed,” he said.


“Butterflies like milkweed. We learned that in school.”

“I’ll tell them,” I said. “And we’ll plant some, too.”


It’s back to school this week, and I feel different than I have before about it. There’s unexpected grief and watergun and butterfly magic.

I’ve sat with two mamas in the past month, both with son-shaped holes in their worlds.

One son was 47.

The other son was seven.

We pay extra attention to butterflies.

look for the butterflies

This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post. This week’s sentence is “It’s back to school time, and I feel…”

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  • Dana - Oh Kristi, this may be the most beautiful, heart-breaking and hopeful piece you’ve ever written. That I’ve read from you, anyway. I’m so sorry for the losses you’ve grieved this summer, and the conversations you’ve had to have with Tucker about loss.

    I can’t wait to hug you in person. xoxoAugust 31, 2017 – 10:35 pmReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - Oh Dana, wow, thank you. I felt like this sucked compared to all of the emotion surrounding it, but maybe, that’s how it works…it sucks and we share anyway, knowing the emotion will be there, or something close enough. It’s been tough talking to Tux about it all. Like, REALLY tough. The funeral services were today, and we brought him, because he said he wanted to go. There was a butterfly garden memorial thing that was gorgeous. The kids all wrote messages on dissolvable paper, and put them into the holy water, and then watered the butterfly garden with the water. It was good, but also, Tucker kept wondering about why he didn’t see his friend’s soul fly to Heaven. “I thought he’d wait for today to go…” GAH. September 2, 2017 – 12:05 amReplyCancel

  • Linda Atwell - Oh, Kristi, you speak the truth. This is just beautiful. And sad. And lovely. Hugs to you my friend.September 1, 2017 – 12:30 amReplyCancel

  • JT Walters - Kristi you are the magical Mom to Tucker and knocked this out of the park.

    Publish!! Parents need helping their children through grief.September 1, 2017 – 4:04 amReplyCancel

  • My Inner Chick - ***On a day when July was ready for August***


    Your words sort of go deep inside and wrap around my soul. I don’t get that often, but when I do, I FEEL, I cry, I experience God, & I jump for joy.

    All of those things.

    Love and appreciation from MN. xxxSeptember 1, 2017 – 8:37 amReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - Kimmy, thank you thank you. Your words do the same for me, my friend. I appreciate your love and appreciation. Know that it’s right back at you. September 2, 2017 – 12:09 amReplyCancel

  • Debi - When my friend’s mother died, she saw butterflies everywhere, too. One followed her all summer all over her garden. There must be something to that. There must.

    I’m so sorry for both of your summer’s losses, Kristi. In my tradition, we say “may their memories be for a blessing,” and I hope that’s ok to wish for you and the others in your world who are grieving.September 1, 2017 – 11:39 amReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - Wow. Maybe that’s a real thing then. I wasn’t expecting to see them, but my friend who is the mom to my son’s best friend mentioned it, I realized that they are everywhere, in spite of the weather, and all of it. I love that your tradition says “may their memories be for a blessing.” That is not only okay but very welcome, and I very much appreciate you sharing that. I’d like to know more about your tradition. September 2, 2017 – 12:11 amReplyCancel

      • Debi - Kristi, I’m Jewish. In our tradition, when someone dies, their family is supported in grief in an intense way for 7 days. It’s called “sitting shiva,” “shiva” being the Hebrew word for seven. The bereaved person is cared for completely by their community – fed, kept company, etc. – and daily prayer services move to their home. More observant people have even more ritual involved and for longer, which could be its own blog post, of course. Every year, on the anniversary of the death, the bereaved recite a specific prayer and light a candle that burns for about 24 hours. If you go to the kosher section of your nearest grocery store, you’ll see these little candles there in jars that look like oj glasses (which is actually how my family reused them!). The traditional statement of sympathy is what I wrote above: “May his/her memory be for a blessing.”

        My husband’s father died 24 years ago, and we still light a candle every year on the anniversary (known as “yahrzeit”). Ditto for our grandparents. It’s a lovely tradition that allows for a lot of openness to mourning. I’ve been grateful for it on more than one occasion.September 3, 2017 – 10:35 amReplyCancel

        • Kristi Campbell - My step mom is Jewish, but she married my dad late in life, and I’m not very familiar with the traditions. Thank you for sharing this. I’ve heard of shiva before but never knew it meant seven. My son’s friend has a lot of support from their church… the grief, I suppose is the same, but I really am jealous of the rituals, and want to learn more. About all of them. I love the idea of lighting a candle each year, and put my son’s friend’s birthday and death day in my calendar so that I’d remember to honor him on those days moving forward. I know the family has a lot of support and love and prayers now, but also know they will dwindle and that there will be such hard days soon. I love love love your tradition. Thank you for taking the time to tell me about it. September 4, 2017 – 12:16 amReplyCancel

  • Emily - Oh Kristi, I am so sorry for both these losses, which are heart-breaking in similar as well as different ways. I think it’s hard enough for adults to process death — especially of young people and children — but the way you helped Tucker process (and continue to process) his friend’s passing was amazing. I think children are more open than adults when it comes to discussing death and sometimes I think we can learn from them and how they are not afraid to talk about it. I’m sending you and Tucker a big virtual hug.xoxoSeptember 1, 2017 – 12:43 pmReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - Thank you Emily. They are both heartbreaking, and also, different. Because somehow, 47 seemed so wrong (and still does) but seven?? I mean, seven. OMG. I agree that children are more open than adults about all of it. I’m trying so hard to give him the info he needs while keeping details out…. still gah. I appreciate the hugs. xooxo September 2, 2017 – 12:13 amReplyCancel

  • Anne Cagen - This is so timely for me having suddenly just lost a good friend. Thank you Kristi. You’re beautiful.September 1, 2017 – 1:06 pmReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - Thank you thank you, and YOU are beautiful. I’m so very sorry for the loss of your friend. September 2, 2017 – 12:14 amReplyCancel

  • Twindaddy - </3September 1, 2017 – 9:45 pmReplyCancel

  • Echo - Death has no compassion. It takes whoever, whenever. It comes when least expected, but also takes longer than expected. Death is on its own time.

    Its so sad that you lost two people so close together. I am so sorry, Kristi.September 4, 2017 – 12:45 amReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - Thanks, Echo. <3 I appreciate it. My loss pales to the two mamas though, and I just can’t think about how I’d carry on. xoSeptember 4, 2017 – 7:57 pmReplyCancel

  • Lisa @ The Meaning of Me - Oh, Kristi, I still just have no words for this. Hope you and Tucker (and all who are touched by these deaths) are doing as well as can be expected. I’m so sorry that you are experiencing this sadness. I think you did just fine talking to T. about bottles and bodies and souls. Well done, mama.
    Love you guys. Love and prayers.September 4, 2017 – 12:40 pmReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - Thanks Lisa. We love you, too. Of course, my sadness is nothing compared to the moms. I appreciate the thought that the water bottle talk works okay…it’s so hard to know what to say, and what to leave out… xoxo September 4, 2017 – 8:24 pmReplyCancel

  • Kerry - I think there is surely something to the butterfly thing. They are silent and I don’t see them, so delicate, that if I had to think of any representation of the spirit and soul of someone, I’d think butterfly.

    Kids deserve to know, but the questions they ask are so hard sometimes. Just the other day my five-year-old nephew asked or stated, not sure which still, “Kerry, mommies and daddies always come back, right?” And I was flummoxed. *sigh*

    I wrote all about it in my TToT this week because it really blew me away and I still can’t stop thinking about it. He obviously wanted my reassurance and I gave it, but inside I couldn’t stop myself from saying/thinking…”most times they do.” The opposite, loss of a child, I can’t imagine.September 4, 2017 – 9:51 pmReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - Wow, Kerry. What a hard hard thing to answer about mommies and daddies always coming back. Of COURSE we have to lie, right? I wrestle with this one too. How much to say? I’m going to your TToT now. xoSeptember 5, 2017 – 7:35 pmReplyCancel

  • Allie G smith - This gutted me. I don’t know how to comment. I’m sorry.September 5, 2017 – 7:49 amReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - I *know.* So much. My heart is completely broken for my son’s friends family. And for my ex MIL and their family. Sigh. xoSeptember 5, 2017 – 7:43 pmReplyCancel

  • Kenya G. Johnson - Oh my 🙁 My condolences again for Brad and for Tucker’s friend. I know that’s got to hard to see another mom who has lost her child, no matter how young or how old. It’s just not supposed to happen that way. I love you expressed bodies & souls to Tucker. I love the way he remembers his friend.September 7, 2017 – 1:14 pmReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - Kenya, thank you. It’s so NOT supposed to happen that way… and when it does, what do we do? How do we support? How do we talk to our little boys when they ask “how often do kids die, Mom?” UGH. I love the way he remembers his friend, too. We bought water balloons the other day, so he could wash my car with them and remember his buddy… September 7, 2017 – 11:21 pmReplyCancel

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