EVANSVILLE, Ind. - One by one, hundreds of butterflies were released into the hot, humid sky Sunday afternoon as part of Heritage Hospice's annual Wings of Love event -- a cathartic ode to loved ones.
For Debbie Flowers, her daughter Tiphani and other members of her family, it was a chance to remember Debbie's 70-year-old father, who died a year and half ago, and the death of her husband's 90-year-old father three years ago.
They went to last year's butterfly release, but Debbie's mother couldn't make it.
"My mother, she cried. It's still very fresh for us," Debbie Flowers told the Evansville Courier & Press. "Releasing the butterfly, it's hard to describe. It's like releasing your own spirit that you're able to go with something beautiful."
Her daughter Tiphani felt the same way. "I was very close with them," she said regarding her late grandfathers. "This definitely gives you closure. It's something unique and different."
Lara Beck, director of home health and hospice for Heritage Hospice, said they bought about 450 butterflies this year. For $10, people could purchase a butterfly to release after a brief memorial service outside of hospice group's lake.
"The butterfly is a symbol of letting grief go, and life morphing and growing past your grief," Beck said. "The idea is that when your butterfly flies away that you're letting that grief for that loved one go and you're remembering them during the memorial service."
Before saying a prayer during the service, Don Hester said Sunday was a day for remembrance.
"Many of us here today are freshly dealing with the loss of a loved one," Hester said. His father died in 1982, but his grief still lingers, he said.
"There's a sting to death," he said.
The 450 butterflies were released one by one after the memorial service. The butterflies were shipped frozen in individually placed envelopes.
The experience is cleansing for many.
Debbie Flowers mother-in-law came to last year's release to honor her recently deceased husband. Her mother-in-law suffers from dementia and did not connect at the funeral.
"We brought her out here for the butterfly release, and she let a butterfly, she read his name and she had a lucid moment where she really understood what was happening. She had a time that she was finally able to mourn after a couple years. That was like the biggest healing for her and for us as well," she said.