Today I went to the hospital. I work there on Fridays. I am an artist-in-residence. I go from treatment room to treatment room, offering materials for small art projects and, upon occasion, a listening ear.
Today’s patient was a cheerful woman , serene even as the nurse tried vein after vein, looking for one that would hold the needle. Once she was settled, with both the chemo and the hot pink fabric I’d given her for making a spirit doll, she told me a story.
About the same time that the nurse was vein-hunting, the children and staff at her school had commemorated the life of another teacher, one who had lost her battle with breast cancer. “I had this idea,” she told me as she moved her sewing needle in and out of the flecked fabric, right sides together, of releasing pink balloons in memory of her colleague.
“We sold them for fifty cents a piece,” she said, “and in the end sold one hundred and thirty of them.” She looked up from her stitching. “They sold so many the balloons wouldn’t all fit in one car.”
She handed me the needle for rethreading. “That phone call was to tell me when they released the balloons, they all stayed together in one clump and rose straight toward a cloud.” She took back the needle. “It was a sign to all of us that she was there.”
I felt a tightening at the base of my throat and a small sting behind my eyes.
She fastened a ribbon around the doll’s waist and then held it up, strings of beads swinging, a tiny pink butterfly on each one.
Butterflies, I said, a symbol of transformation and resurrection.