I was sitting on my bed, struggling to keep my eyes open as the sun began to light up the corners of my room. Both of my parents sat down on my mattress and gently broke the news to me. We were surrounded by petal pink walls and dollhouses, but the softness of the room couldn't contain my shock.
"Grandma is an angel now, sweetie." At 5 years old, I was old enough to know what death was, but too young to understand it. I wondered why she left me and where she went.
I became afraid of losing someone else, and begged my mom not to send me to school anymore. Every morning was the same - I would kick and scream on my way to school, and my mom continued to make me go each day. I resented her at the time, but now I can see that my mom was teaching me resilience - a lesson that would serve me for the rest of my life.
As I walked into my kindergarten classroom one morning with dried tear stains stuck to my cheeks, my teacher pulled me aside. She said that she had a secret that she wanted to share with me. She told me that after her dad died, he sent her little white butterflies that followed her everywhere she went, and she promised me that my grandma would do the same for me, if I just looked. Her story brought magic to my heartbreak and soon enough, my eager eyes began to see white butterflies outside everywhere, and my fear melted away.
Many years later, my mom decided to pursue her dream and buy an old and broken-down house and convert it into a gift shop. She wanted to dedicate the shop to my grandmother but didn't want to call it "Marilyn's" because she didn't want people asking her who Marilyn was all of the time. Instead, she decided to call it "The White Butterfly."
I remember the house's white and green chipped paint, and the endless wood chips that flew all over the place during its renovation. My mom bought the house in the winter of 2003 and by the time it was spring, she was able to close on the property. On the morning of the closing, she arrived to the shop and froze. Hundreds of white butterflies flew around a butterfly bush in front of her that she never knew was there! She gasped and suddenly knew that she made the right decision.
The White Butterfly has been open for 11 years, and my mom recently opened up a cafe at The White Butterfly in order to expand her business. Most of her customers don't know about my grandmother, or the significance of white butterflies to our family, but each spring, the butterflies fly, surrounding the store.
This is a story that will continue to grow with us and inspire our customers, as well as anyone else who is in need of a "hello" from someone they loved.
The White Butterfly was voted by readers as the Best Gift Shop in Ocean County in 2013 & 2014 in The Asbury Park Press and as Best Gift Shop in NJ by NJ Monthly Magazine. It was also voted as one of the Top 25 Gift Retailers by Gifts & Decorative Magazine, a national magazine. You can follow The White Butterfly on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.