A story of grief by a man and a boy

butterfly sanctuary

This is a guest post written by Emilie Adams

Emilie, 44, is from France and lives in London with her family. She was happily married to Rob until 24th March last year when he was tragically killed in a scooter accident off the M25. They had been together for 23 years and had three sons, Thomas (now 14), William (12) and Hector (six). Their previously perfect life, like many of this blog’s followers, was turned upside down in a split second on that Saturday evening. However, Emilie hopes to inspire some fellow grievers to carry on living with a smile on their face from time to time, as that’s what helps her get through the day. 

The last 14 months have all been about grieving, coping and readjusting. After we marked the first anniversary of Rob’s death two months ago, now seems like a good time to reflect and take stock. Of course there have been moments of despair and extreme sadness but I do not want to focus on those here. Overall, faced with the excruciating loss of a wonderful husband and father, I would say that we have ‘coped’ as well as we could have and this gives me hope for the future.

Rob was a fun, energetic and positive guy who lived life to the full. Spurred on by his appetite for fun, I felt after his death that I owed it to him and the children to continue living in the same spirit we were always accustomed to. I could not give up on life just because he was no longer there and I could not mope around all day. With this in mind and Rob’s driving force behind us, we have in the last year managed to maintain our same family routine, gone on exciting trips away, continued rugby training throughout the toughest of winters, given and attended parties and made jokes the way we always did when he was around. I also deliberately find little things to look forward to and brighten up my day (my midmorning latte, my lunchtime yoga class or a chat with my girlfriends) and thrive on previously unattainable and insignificant achievements (changing the ink cartridge on my printer or checking the pressure on the car tyres). Bust most important of all, I have discovered that the two major forces in my life now are my children and my positive nature, and that amazingly both have shone through in the last year.

I also decided a few months after Rob’s death that I needed to keep a written account of our story, for the children and for myself, to make sure that we do not forget what has happened to us. Writing has been strangely cathartic and has helped me focus on the positive.

This is an extract of my ‘work’ that I wanted to share on Life as a Widower:

I’m sitting in the car with Hector one day on the way back from school just a few weeks after Rob’s death when he bursts into tears out of the blue and confesses that he would have liked to show his butterfly to Daddy. They had been hatching butterflies at school for a few weeks and after much hype and excitement by all the children, today was ‘releasing’ day. We had released balloons into the sky for Rob after his memorial service and some people have suggested that Hector drew a parallel between the butterflies and the balloons and that the comparison was just too much to bear. It is a possibility, although I query whether five year olds are sufficiently clued up on metaphors. But either way, on realising how affected Hector is by the whole experience, I am driven back to the depth of my own grief as a mum and as a wife and for a few minutes it is unbearable.

Hector calls his butterfly Calypso, after his friend’s dog, and once I’ve pulled myself together manage to make up this story that Calypso has gone to Sark (where Rob has been buried) to see Daddy. Being spring, and Calypso being the most common of all brown and orange butterflies, we see ‘him’ everywhere and he becomes a hugely positive influence in our lives. My mother in law also confirms regular ‘sightings’ in Sark and this is all the proof we need to substantiate our story. In this case we have managed to turn a very sad event into something really positive and Hector is delighted every time he sees Calypso. I love it too. He has become a messenger between us and Rob, he follows us in our travels and goes back to him to report on how we are doing. The symbolism has become so embedded in our lives that, where we would not previously have noticed them, we now see butterflies everywhere. Real butterflies during the spring and summer of course but also butterfly prints on clothing, cushions, bed linen, school bags, pencil cases, jewellery, in books, films, TV, newspapers, on sandwich wrappers, and the icing on the cake, I kid you not, I even spot a nail file in the shape of a butterfly! You name it, we’ve seen it, our butterfly is everywhere.

At first I am amazed, I see at least one a day and it is almost like a sign from Rob. I am not a religious person but perhaps I do have a spiritual side deep down after all so I hang on to this thought very preciously. I even burst into tears of joy in a one to one school meeting with one of William’s teachers because she’s displaying a pencil case with a butterfly on it and I am imagining it is Rob’s way of saying he is with me in the meeting (how do you explain that to a French teacher without sounding completely barmy?)

However, as the months go by, I see not only my ‘butterfly of the day’ but several butterflies every day and all my friends get in on the act to fuel the crazy fantasy. I am given a butterfly scarf, a butterfly Christmas bauble, a butterfly candle and countless butterfly birthday cards, most of the time deliberately but also at times purely accidentally. Butterflies are surprisingly omnipresent. In the early days, I feel compelled to buy anything butterfly related for me and for others: mugs, fancy bracelets, I am drawn to the items like a bee to honey. However, if it is Rob sending us ‘signs’ (rather than unbeknown to me just the ‘year of the butterfly’ on the London fashion scene), I need to ask him to slow down. There’s only so many ‘signs’ I can deal with before my house becomes a weird butterfly sanctuary! Also, as I am pondering very pragmatically whether it could be him, I really can’t get to grips with the nail file incarnation! Darling if you’re listening, I think of you all the bloody time, there’s really no need to go to all that length to try and grab more attention!

Two months ago on my way to work on the tube, and just a few days after I wrote this piece about the butterflies, I stumble across an article in the paper: ‘UK butterflies suffer a catastrophic year in 2012’. My first thought is: ‘What, that can’t be right!?! Rob what have you done, have you been interfering with nature?’ Propelled by the sense of urgency emanating from the title and anticipating another ‘sign’, I do not waste any time reading the article. Apparently most species have been declining this year because 2012 was one of the wettest years on record. Phew, nothing to do with Rob then (not according to that study anyway). The High Brown Fritillary, the Heath Fritillary, Black Hairstreak, White-Letter Hairstreak, Green Hairstreak, Common Blue, Large Skippers (I could never have named so many species of butterflies a year ago, bereavement is obviously good for your general knowledge. I must register for next year’s school quiz!) have all been declining significantly and could now be critically endangered. My friend Mark who has also spotted the article and is aware of butterfly mania in the Adams’ household, emails me on the subject. His poetic contribution fills me with hope: ‘As Rob was a big lad he’ll be producing loads of butterflies and should singlehandedly be able to reverse the trend for 2013’…and he thinks we’ll be good for 2014 as well!

I like the idea of Rob’s dead body producing butterflies to save the eco system of Great Britain. I hang on to this thought and spend the rest of the day with a big smile on my face.

Rob would have been 44 years old tomorrow. This post is dedicated to him on his birthday.

Rob would have been 44 years old tomorrow. This post is dedicated to him on his birthday.


33 comments on “butterfly sanctuary

  1. Jill Mansell
    May 31, 2013

    What a wonderful, uplifting post. Emilie, you sound like an amazing person. Very best wishes to you and your boys.

  2. Harriet Greenfield
    May 31, 2013

    Emilie, you ARE an amazing person! I read your post today with my heart in my mouth, fully expecting it to break my heart again, thinking of your terrible loss, and the loss that we have all suffered since Rob’s death. I should have known better, you had me laughing out loud over my luke warm porridge! Your humour and sense of fun are irrepressible, and your laughter infectious! You were able to laugh even in the first days after Rob’s death; amidst the tears and the terrible shock of the tragedy; remembering some of the things that Rob had said and done.Your loud and contagious laughter is so fitting, and it is the best and perfect tribute to Rob and to your life together. You are so wonderfully funny, and you have always made me laugh, but it was always Rob who laughed the loudest and for the longest. I am so proud to be your friend, honoured and privileged to have known Rob for all those years, and thrilled to be able to watch your incredible children grow up. I am also very grateful for your introduction, some months ago, to this blog, which I have followed ever since; initially in an effort to better understand how you might be feeling as the months passed after Rob’s death, but increasingly it has become a personal and inspiring resource for me. It is my daily reminder of what really is important!

  3. Charlotte Leslé
    May 31, 2013

    Thanks Emily for sharing this post and your Butterfly Mania! De ce sujet grave, tu arrives à nous faire sourire, un sourire qui transforme notre nostalgie en énergie. Sais-tu que le bonheur est comme un Papillon, il vole sans jamais regarder en arrière ?
    Lots of love

  4. Rachael W
    May 31, 2013

    Amazing to see you on the Internet, Em. Very proud of you. This is an amazing site for many reasons, including regaining one’s perspective. Shed a tear and laughed at the same time. I didn’t know about the butterfly thing. My lovely brave friend. You are one of the strongest people I know.

    So thankful you have the boys to be brave for. They will look back and see it was you that kept the whole family together and on track.

    Funnily enough I picked the keys up to the new house last month and went there alone as B and E were still in Wales, and as I was about to open the door all full of hope that this would be a happier place than the last one, a beautiful butterfly came past me and I remember turning to look and follow where it flew, with a big smile on my face. I didn’t realise it was that Rob Adams again! You have got me at it now!

    Lots of love, R xx

  5. lesleym
    May 31, 2013

    What an amazing post Emilie. I so enjoyed reading it. On the morning following my brothers death there was an amazing sunrise. I took that as a sign he was at peace. Since then we have had so many lovely sunrises and sunsets and I always think it is John letting me know he is there and that he has found peace . Before his death I would have suggested it was ridiculous to expect a sign from someone who had died but now I need those signs and that connection with him.
    Hope you can keep smiling. You are an inspiration x

  6. Kate
    May 31, 2013

    I don’t know how you find time to write Emile but I so glad that you do.
    This is such a beautiful story that I’m sure will give hope and comfort to many people.
    All our love Kate and Thierry xx.

  7. Thomas & Maud
    May 31, 2013

    What an inspiration for all your friends! You indeed have a talent for writing and for making people laugh as much as you do. When Rob passed away, we all promised ourselves never to dwell on the petty things in life, a sadly hard-to-keep promise… Good that you remind us of it showing us how we can enjoy life more fully and pay attention to detail never to lose sight of what matters the most.

    Avec toute notre amitié

    Thomas & Maud

  8. af kennedy
    May 31, 2013

    Ma chere et tendre Emilie

    Rob ne pouvait pas rever mieux de ta part… il fait ressortir le meilleur de toi meme
    lots of love

  9. melody
    June 1, 2013

    love that butterflies are special. for my family and i, since my mom died almost 3 years ago our equivalent has been finding pennies. there is a poem about when angels miss you they leave a penny for you to find. i find them all the time and collect them (an art project at some point) and they never fail to
    brighten my day 🙂
    keep close to your heart that which makes you smile – and i wish you many butterflies xx

  10. sylviej
    June 1, 2013

    Très chère Emilie
    Quelle belle histoire qui commence par une complicité magique avec ton petit Hector pour finir la tête haute avec ton Rob. Que les papillons continuent à vous garder heureux, ensemble.
    Et bravo pour ton courage et ta volonté de regarder vers l’avant pour toi et tes fils.Rob te donne vraiment la force d’exprimer le meilleur de toi-même.
    Je t’embrasse très fort

  11. Marianne
    June 1, 2013

    What a lovely post to read at the end of a sunny day Emilie! I do think Hector chose the name well – I can see Rob dancing the Calypso bedecked with bright, summer garlands and chuckling away.

    The signs are always there but in your case they’re certainly loud and clear – how brilliant Rob bustled by your side for the parent consultation, albeit in a somewhat flustering fashion and my has he been busy!

    Your positive attitude is an inspiration to all Emilie…you continue to do Rob and yourself proud. I am sure just as you nurture your boys under your wing, so too in turn will you continue to flourish…lots of love Marianne xxx

  12. Simone
    June 2, 2013

    My dear Emilie
    I have been checking out this site regularly ever since you told me about it, and was delighted to see your post. It is great – you are an excellent writer. What have you been doing whiling away the years in the corporate world?
    I am so pleased you are doing well. How did I not know you had become secretly obsessed with butterflies? More importantly, how was I not listed as one of your daily highlights?!?
    I hope Rob’s birthday brings you sunshine and smiles with your boys. Enjoy the cake. xxx

  13. Godinot
    June 3, 2013

    I remember my first encounter with Calypso, last July, in the Alps, on “La Mer de Glace” while we were all together having pic-nic contemplating the nice view. I very much like the idea of Calypso carrying messages back and forth. In our family, since Isabelle left us, we are “obsessed” by rainbows and feel excited and blessed every time we see one.
    Lots of love to you and the boys

  14. Donna
    June 3, 2013

    Thankyou so much for sharing. It’s 14mths since my girls father died and this evening as I sit reading this in Australia where we live feeling a long way from London, our home town, it’s made me think of our special moments together as a family. Was having one of those tough days! We watch the stars shining at night and know daddy’s there. That’s our butterfly moment… Love to you and your family xx

  15. Emilie Adams
    June 3, 2013

    Thank you everyone for your beautiful words and amazing feedback and to Ben in particular for the opportunity to write this post. Whether it’s butterflies, pennies, rainbows, stars or sunsets, the ‘signs’ are what we make of them and they help focus our energy onto something positive instead of dwelling on the sadness.

    Today 3 June would have been our 18th wedding anniversary. I spent the day reminiscing about our amazing wedding day in the pouring rain on the island of Sark and all the happy moments we shared during our 23 years together. And thanks to you all, I did not feel sad.

    Lots of love to everyone.

    Emilie x

  16. Lunar Hine
    June 4, 2013

    It was my husband’s birthday yesterday. My version of your butterflies is rainbows – at least one every day for a week after Thomas died and so many since, especially when I’m feeling desperate. That arc really does feel like a promise of hope. It gives me strength and I keep on trying to do just as you have – live the good life we would have been living with Thomas. It’s hard, though, hey?
    Thanks for sharing this.

    • Emilie Adams
      June 5, 2013

      Our two families have a lot in common it seems, not only because of the tragic deaths of our respective husbands but also because of the special dates that we share and the symbolism of hope that we try and project…and even with names (my oldest son is a Thomas too!). Lots of love. Emilie x

  17. Andy
    June 5, 2013

    Dear Emilie, I only discovered Ben’s website yesterday, what a wonderful piece of writing you have contributed, it has brightened my morning. My 5 year old daughter has seen her mother (who died last July) in lots of things: a spring flower, a cloud, a snow formation on Mont Blanc from a télésiège, even in a pizza, but never as I recall in a butterfly. I’m going to read your piece to my kids this evening and I know that they’ll enjoy it. Salutations, Andy

    • Emilie Adams
      June 5, 2013

      Thank you Andy. If I can help your children have sweeter dreams tonight, then this post will have been worth it… (and well done for putting all the right accents on telesiege…I can’t even find them on my iPad keyboard!). Emilie x

  18. Amanda Mack
    June 6, 2013

    Dear Emilie, what a fitting birthday tribute for Rob. I’m sure this sunshine will bring you & Hector many more butterflies. I always make this association now as well, but also when we see lugworm casts on the beach we always end up talking about Rob as he just knew about these things (I think he used them for fishing bait on Sark?). He’s all around us…. Much love to you, and thanks for introducing me to Ben’s blog.

  19. Florence et Stephane K
    June 9, 2013

    Très chère Emilie,
    Un magnifique article, très touchant et d’autant plus touchés par le choix du nom du papillon donné par Hector. Calypso nom du chien d’Eloane !
    Bravo pour ton courage.
    Et continue d’écrire.
    Nous t’embrassons très fort, ainsi que les garçons.
    Avec toute notre amitié.
    Florence et Stephane.

  20. Christine
    June 9, 2013

    Emilie, what a wonderful story ! Of course Rob is the one sending you all these butterflies, and soon agitating the whole ecosystem just to keep you intrigued and smiling – and us. Magique, mysterieux et plein d’espoir, il n’y a pas de plus joli cadeau pour tes enfants que ces mots et ces douces pensees. Continue de nous faire regarder le ciel pour decouvrir tous ces beaux papillons. Merci.

  21. corinne Lukomski
    June 11, 2013

    Dear Emily. I don’t know you well but the death of our husbands has brought us closer to each other. Reading your words made me cry and laugh at the same time. They sent me back to the after days when Bob had died. We were with the children going to visit him at the chapel of rest. I felt nervous as I had never seen a dead body before. The children had chosen to come with me. We were with our dear friend Lou who had not much experience either.
    After looking at Bob for a short while the children naturally decided to pat him, play with his hair and even tried to move his mouth so he could smile. Everything took place very naturally. At some point Jules notice the smell of the embalmment’s and asked what that smell was, to which his sister replied: “It’s daddy he just farted !!!” Yes all of this took place in what could have been so sad. Like you I felt that day that Bob was whispering to me that life had to go on .
    Thank you for sharing your experience with me.
    Avec toute mon amitie.
    Corinne Wakeman

    • Emilie Adams
      June 11, 2013

      Dear Corinne, thank you so much for your lovely words. You made me laugh (out loud!) and cry too! Lots of love to you and the children. Emilie x

  22. Stearns
    June 12, 2013

    Chère Émilie,
    Ton énergie positive est une réelle inspiration.
    Merci de nous faire partager ces moments que l’on imagine si difficiles et que tu sais rapporter avec toute la légèreté d’un papillon.
    Much love.

  23. Julie graves
    June 15, 2013

    Tata emilie, your butterfly story is amazing! You amazed me, you re doing so well and I m damn so proud of you! I ll for sure each time I see a butterfly think of rob now! I don’t know if I will smile though! Will try, promise, for you, for Thomas, william, Hector and for rob most of all as I am sure is that he ll want! It is still so painful to me, each time I think o f my uncle I ve got tears and can hardly talk about him as it hurt my heart. I wish I had been there at the funeral, maybe it would have helped me healing better maybe or faster, who knows……I just feel like I haven’t said goodbye to him. Despite me being so far away and not really present in your daily life, I want to say that I think of you and the boys every day! You re my inspiration and hope I can be as positive, loving, and full of laughter as you! I will hopefully see you in January. I love you very much! Never thought I would tell you those words one day but this is how I feel and I owe you to let you know.
    Your niece. Julie d australie!

  24. Monsieur Basset
    June 16, 2013

    Merci Madame Adams de nous faire partager vos émotions à travers cette jolie métaphore du papillon inspirée par mon cher élève Hector (et le projet de mes collègues de GS.) C’est important pour nous de les connaître. Cela nous aide à accompagner vos enfants dans leur éducation en harmonie avec votre vie de famille. Je suis pour ma part heureux d’avoir passé l’année avec Hector qui semble avoir hérité de la joie de vivre de son papa. Je suis sûr qu’il saura également en faire bon usage.
    Monsieur Basset

  25. Ringeissen
    June 18, 2013

    Ma petite soeur chérie,
    Je viens de lire le message de Julie et je voulais te dire , en français, à quel point tu étais extraordinaire,Ton moral et ta détermination sont communicatifs et je t’en remercie. J’adore le texte que tu as écrit et j’apprécie qu’ainsi tu me donnes quelques leçons d’anglais. Je n’oublierai jamais que c’est ROB qui m’a donné le déclic; Moi qui avais tellement rejeté cette langue tout au long de mon parcours scolaire, me voilà avec une fille et des petites filles bilingues et grâce à lui qui ne s’est jamais moqué de mon pauvre accent et de mes fautes impardonnables mais qui au contraire m’a encouragé à poursuivre j’arrive à communiquer avec elles.. Je t’encourage à mon tour à poursuivre dans l’écriture et j’attends avec impatience ta prochaine missive car mes petites filles vont grandir et il me faut de nouvelles leçons d’humour anglais ……. . Je t’embrasse très fort

  26. Louise Toosey
    June 25, 2013

    Emilie and Corinne – two of the most fabulous and inspiring women I have ever met! I have watched and learned so much from you both during the most traumatic events that could happen to a woman. And yet you both have taken the cup half full route!! You also have let your children grieve without rush or fuss, and let the laughter mix freely and naturally with the tears! Your friend and admirer LOU XXXXX

  27. Ivanovsky Clotilde
    June 28, 2013

    Chère Emilie,

    Ce texte m’a remuée au plus au point. J’ai toujours été émerveillée par la force cathartique de l’écriture… Un jour après avoir reçu ton message, je suis repassée devant le café où nous nous étions retrouvées toutes les deux, un hiver. Il n’y a pas que les papillons qui nous envoient des signes !
    1000 bises,

  28. Emilie Zugmeyer
    July 31, 2013

    Très chère Emilie,

    C’est après un séjour chez Julie que j’ai découvert ton texte avec beaucoup de plaisir. Je me souviens de notre retour en France quand maman nous a ouvert la porte pour nous annoncer la terrible nouvelle a quelques jours de notre mariage. Le RDV chez le coiffeur l’après-midi m’a soudain paru bien futile et inutile. Résultat j’ai fini avec une bonne vieille choucroute sur la tête le jour du mariage! Tu me diras ca donnait un petit coté bien alsacien…

    Helene nous a rappelé une jolie leçon de vie de mère Teresa dans notre livre d’or:
    “la vie est une chance, saisis la
    la vie est beauté, admire la
    la vie est tristesse, surmonte la
    la vie est bonheur, mérite la”

    Continues de courir après les papillons et de nous faire partager tes talents d’écriture avec toute l’énergie qu’on te connait; et en anglais s’il vous plait pour tata Véro. De mon cote je me charge de remettre tes nièces au français. Nous déménageons a Perth d’ici quelques mois!

    D’énormes bisous et bonnes vacances

    Emilie et Gil de Malaisie.

  29. Debbie Miles-Williams
    January 24, 2014

    Was just watching a programme about Sark this evening which reminded me of Rob when he studied with us in the archaeology department at the University of Leicester. I was in my first year working in the department when I met Rob. He was a lovely guy, always smiling and very kind he brought back from Sark for me as a present a fisherman’s smock, as I had much admired the one he wore. Being a Archaeological Illustrator Rob felt I should wear one as so many other artists do! 22 years later I still have this wonderful present. I googled to see if he had stayed in archaeology only to discover this very sad news. I am so very sorry to see this and would ask that you please pass on my commiserations to his parents whom I had the pleasure to meet at Rob’s graduation. And if course my thoughts are with you and the children. I wish you all the best for the future. Regards Debbie.

    • Emilie Adams
      February 14, 2014

      I was very touched by your message Debbie. Rob worked in financial services and never pursued archaeology professionally after University. However, he remained passionate about it for all his life, as indeed he was about his fishermen smocks!!! He would be delighted to hear that you still wear the one that he gave you all these years ago. I hope you have enjoyed the programmes about Sark. Rob’s dad, Bas, a lobster fisherman, features in most episodes. With kind regards.
      Emilie Adams

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