Local Live: Wings of Love

Part remembrance, part celebration, VNA Philadelphia’s Butterfly Release marks its 10th anniversary this year. 

One of the VNA’s most popular (and poignant) events is the Butterfly Release, which was created to be a comfort to grieving families and to give them a feeling of peace and transformation for their loved one. Since 2009, guests have gathered to hear the names of their loved ones read aloud in a moving ceremony while hundreds of painted lady butterflies gently warmed inside individual paper envelopes, preparing for their moment to fly off into the sky.

It’s a dramatic, symbolic gesture — both joyful and awe-inspiring. How did the idea for such a special annual ritual get off the ground? We chatted with the event’s creators Craig Hindman and Rev. Donna Geiger as they head into the celebration’s 10th year!

VNA Philadelphia’s 10th Annual Butterfly Release & Community Celebration of Life GOES VIRTUAL!

A universal symbol of hope, the butterfly symbolizes the soul in many cultures. To remember loved ones lost in VNA Philadelphia’s Hospice program, hundreds of butterflies have been released each summer since 2009.

The 10th annual release will be different. In the interest of the health and safety of the community, this year’s Butterfly Release & Community Celebration of Life will go virtual!

The butterflies will be released in the symbolic and reflective backdrop of the Cancer Support Center’s Suzanne Morgan Center in Fairmount Park.  While the annual event typically gathers family and friends to  pay tribute with a butterfly release, this year’s event will be videoed and shared the week of July 27th.

To watch the release, and learn more about the event, visit the VNA’s Butterfly Release page.

Interview Transcript

The Local 00:02
Could you tell me a little bit about the butterfly release? A little bit of the background of it? How you guys got involved with it?

Craig Hindman 00:09
10 years ago, we wondered what else could we be doing to add support not only to our family members on service, but what can we do within the community. So we came up with the butterfly release celebration of life event. And it was another way for us to provide support to the community, to our families, and make it a community event where people can come.

It’s a free event. And, you know, we typically release over 300 butterflies. And it’s a way for us to — it’s twofold — someone can honor a person that they love at the service, but they can also remember people who have passed away. So it’s an honoring. And it’s a remembering service for the VNA family, and for the community at large. And that started the process 10 years ago.

We also hope to honor all of our essential workers, who have been working throughout the pandemic. Healthcare workers, delivery people, workers in all aspects of the community that still are doing what they need to do. So the communities can still function. So there is a section of the program where we want to honor those folks as well. And the employees at the VNA who have continued to work throughout the whole pandemic.

The Local 01:55
And to turn to you Donna, then you’re the host, so to speak. You’re the one who’s who’s actually speaking and leading the event? Is this a first for you? Or have you been doing this for a while?

Donna Geiger 02:08
Oh, I’ve been doing it from the very beginning. Craig and I developed this together. Putting the presentation and the service together and we picked sacred readings. The belief is that if you have a butterfly and you whisper a message to it for your loved one that the butterfly will carry it secretly on their wings.

We started with that and we did a lot of research to make sure that the butterflies would be safe. That they were native to this area, and that they had everything that they needed to be able to, to carry those wishes on from people and to live and prosper in this area. I tell the story of how to care for a butterfly.

The little story that I tell when I’m instructing people, before they get their little envelopes to open, is to remember that the butterflies have magic on their wings. And this is something that my daddy told me when I was a little kid. Butterflies have magic on their wings, a magic powder. When you see a butterfly, don’t touch its wings, because you’ll disturb that magic powder on their wings. And they won’t be able to fly.

I give that story so that the children that are there understand, and the adults understand. And then once we’ve released them, it’s continually saying watch where you’re walking. They’re on the ground. Watch where you’re walking. They’re not going to hurt you.

The Local 04:00
And again an emotional connection. A personal story to get everyone to understand a little bit better about what the purpose of the event is.

Donna Geiger 04:10
Yeah. I’ve always had a personal connection with butterflies. Because of my parents. My license plate on my car says ‘Butterfly’.

The Local 04:19
Have they done gardening? What’s the connection? Is it gardening or is it just that butterflies are just a love of yours?

Donna Geiger 04:30
My dad used to tell a story about the caterpillar who turned into the chrysalis and thought his life was over. And then one morning he woke up and was able to fly away. And then the story’s a little longer than that. But that was one of the bedtime stories that I heard when I was a kid.

The Local 04:51
Any final thoughts?

Donna Geiger 04:54
As we’re sitting here talking about it, what’s coming to mind is through this whole pandemic, as people have been isolated from each other, nature has been able to grow and blossom and bloom. And we’ve seen a resurgence in nature because of humans not being as active as we have been. With this being a celebration of life. I’m hopeful — I’m very prayerful and hopeful — that this union between a group of humans and nature is really going to celebrate life.

The Local 05:35
Excellent. I don’t think we can end it on a better note than that. Thank you for your time. Donna. Thank you Craig.

VNA Philadelphia is the oldest and largest non-profit home health and hospice provider in the region and one of the most innovative in the nation. Founded in 1886, VNA Philadelphia is headquartered in the East Falls section of the city and serves more than 50,000 residents of Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs each year. VNA Philadelphia is Medicare Certified, licensed by the State of Pennsylvania, and Accredited by the Community Health Accreditation Program. To find out more about the VNA, visit vnaphilly.org or call 215-473-0772.

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