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Fly away

Updated: Dec 5, 2021

By Grace Wakim


I hurry out the garage door and head to the car with my younger siblings, 16-year-old Ben and 13-year-old Evie. We wave goodbye to our mom while she emerges from the garage carrying forgotten binders, books and ballpoint pens. I speed off down Bittersweet Lane before she reaches us.

My 18-year-old body enters auto-pilot at 7:38 a.m. driving to school on Thursday Mar. 29, 2018, in Darien, Connecticut. I just have to get through this early dismissal schedule, then it’s a four-day weekend. Thank God for Good Friday.

The bell rings to commence second period when my phone buzzes with a text message from Mom:

“Bought a cute butterfly balloon for Ema at the store. It’s hanging in her room. Go look when you get home.”

I try to picture the balloon until school ends at 12:18 p.m. A balloon that would never fly around the globe but sit forever in my house.


Patricia Wakim grew up as an only child in Bristol, Connecticut, just 1 hour north of my house in Darien, Connecticut. She married Eddy Wakim, and together they raised Kimberly, Christopher and my dad Jonathon. Friends called her Pat, but she was Ema to family.

Ema stood just over 5 feet and always flaunted her effortlessly styled short blonde hair. Her smile and spontaneity were contagious.

After teaching art at a public school, she opened a dance studio while raising her three children. My mom Ashley grew up attending her classes and performing in the recitals. And when I joined a dance company in second grade, I’d point my toes and create clean movements, mindful she eagerly sat in the audience at every show.


Near dusk on Mar. 28, 2018, my family gathers around Ema’s bed to chat until the morphine kicks in. Her speech and movement set sail weeks ago. She stopped eating and drinking. Blankets conceal her malnourished body. The pancreatic cancer was winning its battle.

I say goodnight and kiss her forehead, just like I do each night for three months. I fall into a deep sleep and forget how quickly my grandma is deteriorating.


On Mar. 29, 2018, Darien residents swarm the Noroton Heights Stop & Shop to prepare for the holiday feasts and festivities. The air was crisp and bone-chilling.

My mom pulls into the parking lot at 7:55 a.m. She heads inside and goes straight to the produce department. Apples and oranges and berries fill the metal cart.

Muffled conversations amongst stay-at-home parents flood the store, but a word catches my mom’s attention: butterfly.

She turns around, and her eyes meet a patch of butterfly balloons floating in the back corner. Without hesitation, she walks over and grabs one.


Ema died a few hours after I returned home from school on Mar. 29, 2018.

In the weeks that followed her death, my family still gathered at the kitchen table for dinner. We ate and laughed, and sometimes, we cried.

The deflated balloon now lays flat in a dark-stained wood dresser drawer that used to store her belongings. This balloon never got set free because Ema left us that afternoon, but her spirit stays with me and in the butterfly.


After a short trip to the pharmacy and grocery store on the morning of Mar. 29, 2018, my mom returns home to a quiet house. My dad Jon wouldn’t be home from work until later, and us kids are now at school. She unpacks the produce and non-perishables that will soon become our Easter dinner, then makes her way upstairs.

My mom knocks on the guestroom door she left ajar that morning. Ema’s hospice nurse Melanie greets her.

“Come, come,” Melanie says.

My mom sits on the bed and reaches for the saline bag hanging above her mother-in-law. Wet tears collect as she ties a mylar butterfly balloon to the pole.

“If you can just open your eyes and see this balloon that I brought home for you,” my mom says.

Ema snoozes on. My mom cracks the window and hopes she feels the cool breeze.

“Go dance with the butterflies,” she says


My mom’s infamous morning voice bellows at 7:25 a.m. on June 14, 2018. It’s impossible to ignore, even if I try. Her frustrated tone echoes throughout the house, and panic sets in.

My last day of senior year starts in 15 minutes, but I’m still half-an-hour from being ready. I anxiously throw on sweats and decide that personal hygiene will have to wait.

I find myself in the room across from my bedroom. The pink, blue and yellow mylar balloon rests peacefully on the guestroom king bed. I run my hands across the deflated butterfly and flatten any crinkles. I’d see a butterfly every day since she died and would watch her fly.

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