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Loved ones remembered at 10th annual live butterfly release

'My dad died of cancer as many people do. Releasing my butterfly represents freedom to me from everything he went through' Carrie Thrasher-Sanderson

It has been just over two years since Pat Drew lost her daughter Randi Sue to cancer.

“It seems that butterflies are always there when we call her name.  We always see butterflies. It is very strange. They are very special to us.”

So special in fact, Drew purchased butterflies in honour of her daughter as part of the 10th annual Live Butterfly Release presented by the Near North Palliative Care Network.

“This is my second year here. This is very meaningful for me to be part of it, to realize how much people really care about their loved ones. For me, it is a tribute to her because the memories are so strong. Just having this is wonderful. We will be here every year,” said Drew.

As a family friend, Florida resident Deb Marcucci timed her family vacation to be by Drew’s side.

“We wanted to make sure we were here for this because Randi Sue was very special to us,” said Marcucci.

“This is very moving. Just thinking about it had me in tears. We see butterflies and we think of Randi and that was even before we heard about this event. So, it is very important to us.”

Carrie Thrasher-Sanderson left a note on the message board in honour of her father who passed away one year ago to the day.

"It feels good to be part of this, to have that support. When I release my butterfly I'll be thinking about my dad. He died of cancer as many people do, and releasing my butterfly represents freedom to me from everything he went through."

The butterfly release is one of the major fundraisers for the palliative care network.

The not for profit organization is celebrating 32 years as a visiting hospice.

“Our volunteers go to where the palliative patient is, that is the nature of a visiting hospice. So, whether they’re in their home, whether they’re in a long-term care facility, whether they’re in the hospital, our volunteers work throughout the district,” said board chair Darren Renaud.

‘Our volunteers go to Hagar, Warren, past Mattawa to Deux Rivieres, south past Almaquin and way up the north highway to the Marten River area. We’ve got satellite teams in Mattawa and Almaquin as well as West Nipissing. They have their team meetings and they work and organize in their community and visit palliative patients in their areas. Then we coordinate monthly with our local office.”

The organization does receive funding for operational costs, but anything extra it needs to help grow and enhance it must be covered through fundraising.

“When you ask most people in their last days or months where they want to be, most everybody says they want to be at home. Sometimes that is not possible, but we want to make sure they have that caring hand whenever, wherever they need it,” said Renaud.

Lana Richardson a retired social worker, has been a volunteer almost from the start providing palliative and bereavement services.

“It certainly is a privilege. It is something very special to be allowed to come into the most private and special part of a person’s journey in their life. Sometimes the journey is long from the diagnosis, and sometimes it is very short. To be part of that is wonderful. I can’t explain how much it warms my heart to be able to offer any kind of support to families going through this,” said Richardson.  

Roughly 750 butterflies were released in memory of a loved one.

This year there was a shift away from the traditional monarch.

“Monarchs are a migratory butterfly and it was brought to our attention that sometimes they’re not part of the local migratory family and they may be a little bit confused being released here,” said Renaud.

“So, we shifted our butterflies to a species called the painted lady which is indigenous to the area. When they’re released here, they’re happy and they are not as family-group connected as the monarch is. They are a little bit smaller than a monarch and have a little different colour distribution on their wings.”

The North Bay Heritage Gardeners and the Near North Palliative Care Network are collaborating on pollinator gardens to attract the butterflies.

“All the plantings in those two gardens are flowers that will attract all butterflies, all pollinators. There will be one on Memorial Drive and one located near the boardwalk,” explained Hariett Madigan from the Heritage Gardiners.

“The Palliative Care Network is going to provide the team to care for a bed and plant it and get it ready for the metamorphosis of those butterflies that are released today. It is very symbolic isn’t’ it, the metamorphosis?  The circle of life is going on there, taking care of the plants and our earth and our environment. It is a reciprocal relationship. It is going to be wonderful.”