Bees, Butterflies, and Blessings: Cycles of Nature and Grief

Fritillaria arrive in July

Fritillaria arrive in July

If you’ve read my blog or visited my Facebook page, you know photography helped with my grieving process. In 2008 when my husband Vic died, I rarely took photos. Vic was the family photographer.

The evening after Vic’s memorial service, I took a walk with my yellow Lab Daisy, drank in the blooming Lupines, and watched the sunset. Did I grab Vic’s camera then? I don’t remember, but it was clear that spotting beauty brought hope. Despite my inner gloom, beauty was everywhere. My camera helped me focus there.

I walked the trails, wept, and snapped photos. Since I crashed into grief many times a day, I went outside many times a day. Nature helped me hold a teetering balance.

Admiral Butterfly in July

Admiral Butterfly in July

My teacher Marion Woodman spoke about cycling or spiraling as the feminine path through time. From light to dark and back again. From winter to summer. From birth to death and new life. From summer flowers to animal tracks in snow. I watched for those cycles within my life. Down into grief. Up toward beauty. I didn’t try to escape sorrow, but didn’t want to get stuck there.

Swallowtail in Zinnias

Swallowtail in Zinnias

The summer of Vic’s death, I watched the days grow longer and then shorter. I watched flowers bud, blossom, and cast seeds. I watched butterflies and bees, salamanders and birds. They survived. So could I.

We were concerned about butterfly and bee populations even then. The situation has grown worse, so each sighting feels more precious.

Each is a blessing greeted with a prayer.


Bumblebee with pollen sac in salvia

Honeybee in Cleome

Honeybee in Cleome

Black Swallowtail

Black Swallowtail

Monarch in late August

Monarch in late August



















These photos are from this year’s summer garden. What lifts your spirits at the hardest times? Where do you turn when all else fails?

For a post about Vic’s love affair with photography, see Snapshots: Photographs to Heal the Heart. For another piece about the importance of staying close to the cycles of life, see Planting Joy in a Season of Sorrow.

  1. Those are beautiful pictures!

    • Thank you. I wish I were seeing more large butterflies this summer. There are few Swallowtails and Monarchs although I have acres of their favorite flowers.

  2. Gorgeous pictures! It’s nice to have something to get you out of a dark space. Writing helps for me.

    • Writing helps me, too, Erin, and it has for most of my life. I remember the first satisfaction of a “published” story on the front page of my small town newspaper when I was in fourth grade. Since I’ve written so much about loss the last few years, I sometimes need to look up and out instead of digging down in. I can get myself in a deep hole if I don’t apply an antidote. Photography and nature keep the balance. In the winter, I write and then I walk, sometimes on snowshoes, sometimes following animal tracks and searching for signs of life.

  3. Hi Elaine
    These photos just immediately put me in another world. If I were ill or Stuart, I would like our walls full of these
    Yoga and meditation are my go to for hope, peace and tranquility but I think my point of focus should be one of these photos
    They do transform me I could stare at them forever

    • Photography works for me, Patt. It makes me look outside myself. At first the photos were just for me, but then I started blogging and using FB, so I could share them. For me, photography is about looking carefully at Nature for beauty and inspiration rather than being unendingly inward focused. I think of it as a walking meditation.
      It’s always nice to hear from you.

  4. So lovely Elaine thank you. The photos are exquisite. A lovely thought to think of the bee praying with his nose in the nectar. Yes beauty in nature or anywhere – a kindness shown, a smile given – is always uplifting

    • Thank you, Susan. It’s spring where you are while we are having the last warm days of summer. You’ll soon be talking butterflies while I’m whining about ice storms.
      It’s no wonder butterflies have been the symbol of Psyche and bees are associated with Aphrodite. It’s magic to follow them through my fields and watch them float and sip in the gardens. I had a lovely Swallowtail caterpillar dining on dill plants in the vegetable garden this summer. I hope it became a beautiful fertile butterfly.

  5. You have such a gift for photography, Elaine, and it seems you’re situated on a piece of land that offers many beautiful subjects. I love taking photos and it makes me sad that the convenience of the iPhone camera has contributed to letting my DSLR gather dust. I’m anxious to use it in Italy; in fact, I bought a convertible bag/backpack with the camera in mind. Keep taking pictures and sharing your gorgeous images with us. Seeing them always brightens my day and reminds me that we are surrounded by miracles.

    • Thank you, Ann. I’ve resisted using my cell phone for photographs. They aren’t as focused or as easy for me to crop. My old camera died, so my son persuaded me to upgrad my SONY Cybershot to a camera with higher resolution. I haven’t been disappointed. Have a wonderful trip to Italy. It’s coming soon, I believe.

  6. Flowers feed my soul too. I have two special folders on my desktop just for flowers and sunsets. I could sneak a butterfly in there somewhere I suppose.

    I learn so much from your posts and from your comments too. I did not know the symbolism of the butterfly/Psyche and bee/Aphrodite connection.

    The photography is gorgeous! What a blessing that you share so much of yourself here, Elaine.

    • Thank you, Marian. I love your photographs and how you use them in your blog, Marian. With photography, I don’t have to think about rejections from editors, number of copies sold, or other such things. It’s just pure fun.

      There is a famous Greek myth called Eros and Psyche (or Love and Soul). Psyche was depicted as a winged butterfly. I found a one paragraph article about the myth with a Roman mosaic (third century AD) of Psyche with her butterfly wings.

  7. The photos are beautiful Elaine. I especially love the swallowtail. No doubt nature is uplifting. When I need a lift, I go sit on the balcony and love to stare into the sky and try to make a story out of the clouds. Often I’m sure I see angel wings and that always reminds me they are with me. 🙂

    • You’ve found a way to bring nature’s healing into your city life. I admit I don’t think much about angels. I guess I see them in all the winged creatures. Maybe that’s why it’s so alarming when I notice bird species missing, few butterflies, or a lack of honey bees. I’m glad you have that balcony and, for now, let’s enjoy the sky.

      • Indeed Elaine. I’m very involved with angels, and they come in many different forms. Often I feel them when butterflies circle me. I love butterflies. 🙂

  8. You are getting so good with that camera, Elaine. I guess I can relate to the idea of seeing beauty and photographing it as uplifting. It’s strange how that was not something I ever did or wanted to try before my daughter died. And now – photographing nature has become part of what keeps me going. Cheers!

    • You’ve done amazing things with photography, Robin. Creative and skilled. Keep creating beauty and fascination. Thanks for your kind comment and for letting me know Suki is OK.

  9. In times of grief and sadness, I turn to my painting and writing for solace. Nature is a comfort, too, but I sometimes neglect its power. Thank you for the reminder.

    • I know you do, Lynne. And you know how to paint with emotional power. I love painting, too, although I’m not an artist and don’t do so much of it this time of year. So you bring me to think more about painting as I bring you to think more about nature. Sweet.

  10. Hi Elaine,
    Nice to meet you. I am a good friend of Debby Kaye. I will be linking to your site in my post I am writing tomorrow, and I wanted to let you know.

  11. This is a lovely post! I love all the pictures. I turn to music most of the times or get involve in creative things (like crafting), and sometimes I watch something funny.

    • Thanks for your comment. Photography and walking are my favorite way to deal with sorrow–and they go together well. Crafting, too. I had watercolors set up on my kitchen counters for a year after my husband died so I could paint my many dreams. There’s always a way to help ourselves.

  12. I have also found it healing to observe nature during my many bouts with grief. And I also rejoice when I see the bees in my flowers and herbs. When we lose someone we love, we have to keep going, just as the bees do, and look for the flowers as we do the next thing ahead of us. Your photos are beautiful. I find when I’ve got a camera in my hand, I notice things in the natural world I might not otherwise.

    • Thanks for your comment, Barbara. This morning was sunny, so I prowled around what remains of my butterfly garden and found a few bumblebees in the last flowers. I love your description of what must be done by humans and bees when something loved is gone.

      I feel the same about my camera. It helps me notice details such as the morning moon in the blue sky when I took the dogs out before breakfast. With my camera in my bag which also holds dog squeaky balls and treats, I remember to search for and appreciate every small beauty.

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