A week after Frank O’Donnell laid his 15-year-old daughter Keri to rest, he got a backyard visit from a monarch butterfly. Its bright orange and black wings, Keri’s favorite colors, brought him an unexpected ray of solace in a dark time.
Whether or not the butterfly was a cosmic messenger, O’Donnell took it as a sign Keri was reaching out to let him know her love was still there. To honor that love, O’Donnell planted a memorial garden in her name.
In time, the doting dad began to so strongly identify monarch butterflies with his daughter that he started to study them. In doing so, he learned his beloved Lepidoptera species was in danger of going extinct.
“Monarchs, to me, are Keri,” O’Donnell said. “I love seeing the other butterflies too, but the monarchs are what reminds me of her, just because of that one monarch that visited the week after her funeral,” he told The Boston Globe.
To do his part to prevent them from disappearing, O’Donnell started growing milkweed—monarchs’ favorite foodstuff—along with other butterfly-attracting plants in Keri’s garden.
In addition to four caterpillars he found on his home turf, O’Donnell adopted a batch of monarch larvae from the conservation group Monarch Watch. Over the course of several weeks, he raised the brood in a specially outfitted garden shed festooned with photos of Keri.
In all, 27 butterflies grew to adulthood and were set free to roam the garden flora before flitting away to set off on their impressive 3,000-mile migration to Mexico.
At season’s end, when O’Donnell gathered up the milkweed pods, he was left with a substantial supply of seeds. As a way to keep the monarch species and the memories of his daughter alive, he decided to share his bounty with anyone who asked.
Hundreds of requests came in from across the country. For O’Donnell, every new generation of monarchs is a testament to enduring love that transcends the bonds of earth and heaven.
“I guess I’ve become more spiritual, not necessarily in a religious sense, but you know, nature does a lot of stuff,” O’Donnell told the Globe. “And, I honestly do believe that she’s around. Every once in a while, you’ve got like a little tingle and you know, it’s just like, somebody is paying attention.”