My journey: Life, death and poetry

Personal Stories | May 12, 2023 | Gretchen Huntley

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A photo of Gretchen Huntley over an image of a butterfly on a small flower

Gretchen Huntley was appointed Poet Laureate for the Town of Gananoque in 2021. Her passion is writing in rhyme. She has written several children’s books including The Magic Mirror and Mama Grog Gets Sick. She has also self-published two chapter books.

Gretchen founded a group called The Get Well Gang in 2003 whose sole purpose is to create caps for cancer patients suffering hair loss. To date, they have donated over 37,000 caps across Canada. 

At 83 years of age, she says finding a reason to take one more breath is what keeps her going.  

My son had been ill on and off for 22 years battling cancer. Many times, we were told his life would end and it did not. Pneumonia plagued him and very often each bout was life-threatening. Still, he hung on to life with every fiber of his being. He had two children to live for and every breath was a gift. 

Then came the day we were told there would be no more tomorrows. As a mother, you think you should be able to make everything better but that is not true. The last time he was hospitalized the medical staff asked the question they must ask, “Do you want life support?” He struggled and finally, he answered no. It had to be his decision.   

One of the most valuable lessons I learned from my son was that I could not walk in his shoes. He was the one with cancer and I had to respect that. I could only walk beside him and in the end, he would have to take that final step alone.    

We sat by his side for six days and then after a long, hard-fought battle, my son took his last breath. That moment will live in my head and my heart forever. Poetry has always been a source of comfort for me, and I would like to share this poem with you. 

The gift of the butterfly 

Oh, the beautiful butterfly; it means so many things 

To each and every person something different it may bring 

It reminds me of the morning my son quietly slipped away 

Taking his last breath as we started a brand new day 

The room became so quiet; for a moment nothing stirred 

“Good bye, I love you” I whispered; then not another word 

It seems impossible to describe it no matter how hard I try 

But I felt him drift away from me just like a butterfly 

It only took a moment and then I knew he was not there 

He had been freed forever and soared into the air 

That’s the gift of the butterfly as it sets our loved ones free 

Leaving behind the pain and suffering along with the memories 

Their wings are glorious colours as they move with ease and grace 

Spreading their healing powers as they drift from place to place 

When I see a butterfly on a beautiful sunny day 

It reminds me that our loved ones are never far way 

By Gretchen Huntley, Poet Laureate 

Town of Gananoque 


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