I was at a chateau in the Burgundy region of France for my cousin's wedding when a butterfly flew in my room. It hovered there for a few minutes, flapping its orange and black wings, just hanging around, and then it flew outside and landed on the hundreds-years-old stone façade, taking in the view.
I am fairly certain that butterfly was an incarnation of my grandmother. It may sound crazy to assume that this particular butterfly was flitting by because my grandmother's spirit had somehow entered its little body, but it makes sense to me.
If my grandmother had been alive, she wouldn't have missed this wedding for anything. A wedding, in France, at a chateau with French blue shutters on the windows? With croissant and croque monsieur and pastries and rosé? She would have thought it was about as perfect a wedding as there could be. She would have spent weeks, or even months, shopping for the perfect dress. She would have brought her best jewels, keeping them close to her on the long plane ride from Florida. She would have charmed each and every guest, showering them with compliments and praise, and they would have all fallen in love with her.
"Isn't this divine!" my grandmother would have said, hands clasped to her chest as she took in all of the beauty, watching her kids and grandkids with so much love that she would have gasped with pleasure. It might have, for a little bit of time, left her speechless—though not for long, because she loved to talk. And then, for months and months after, she would tell the story of the wedding to everyone she knew, reveling in the experience over and over.
While I was packing for this trip to France, to see my much younger cousin marry his beautiful fiancée, I tucked a silk handkerchief in my handbag at the last minute. The handkerchief had been a gift to me from my grandmother before she passed away, and on the handkerchief are—you guessed it—butterflies. That handkerchief stayed with me the whole weekend, wiping away a few tears and, in the humid heat of summertime, dabbing away a bit of sweat. There was thunder and lightning and rain—but for the ceremony, the skies were mostly blue and the bride and groom were enchanting.
My family doesn't have a coat of arms or anything so lofty, but butterflies have been a symbol of us (though I'm not sure why) for as long as I can remember. There were butterflies all around my grandmother's house, in the décor and artwork, the plates we ate our tuna sandwiches and meatloaf off of, in my grandmother's garden and, much later, tattooed on my cousin's wrist—the same cousin who got married at the chateau in Burgundy where the butterfly flew in my room.
"Look," I said to my husband when the butterfly flew in the window, "it's my grandmother. She's come to the wedding!"
My husband is not always as captivated by wonderful coincidences like I am, but this time he got it.
"There she is," he said, grinning.
The wedding was, as weddings always are, beautiful, emotional and sweet. I was one of the older people now and it was just fine with me. I don't know if anyone who is starting their lives together can understand the long, deep, impossibly strong bond two people can have after many years of marriage, but that's what makes it so lovely. Like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon, a marriage emerges from the shell of passion and excitement and a giddy sense of possibility to become a gentle and sturdy thing to be respected and treasured.
Since my grandmother died 5 years ago—at the age of 98—I have watched for butterflies. I tell myself, whenever I see one flying by, that it's my grandmother, or something of her, stopping by to check on me. I know it's magical thinking to believe that each butterfly I see is a soft-winged kiss from her, but it brings me a little flutter, like butterfly wings, of happiness when one flies around me.
A few nights after we got home from France, my husband came in the door with news.
"I saw a butterfly just now," he said. "Your grandmother has followed us home."