Support group honors memory of their children with butterfly release

A butterfly rests on an envelope as Mary Lee Nichols prepares to release it in honor of her son, Merritt, Wednesday night at the Children’s Memorial Garden in North Platte.

Mary Lee and Jack Nichols lost their son 13 years ago and while the time doesn’t erase the loss, the couple have found that the support from a local group has made dealing with their grief easier.

“(The hurt) never really goes away,” said Mary Lee, who sported a button with Merritt’s photo on it. “They are always in your heart.”

The Nichols were among 15 people who honored the memory of a child during a butterfly release Wednesday night that the Compassionate Friends of North Platte held at Children’s Memorial Garden.

It was the third year the event has been hosted by the support group for families who have lost a child or a grandchild.

Members of the group stood in a circle, read a pair of poems and then, one by one, said the name of a child or grandchild as they opened an envelope to free a small butterfly — some of which clung to their host for a few moments before finding freedom in the garden or a nearby patch of grass.

“The butterfly just symbolizes hope for a lot of people,” said Gina Spellman, the leader of the North Platte chapter.

The local group is one of 600 national chapters spread across the country.

The group was started in the city in the early 1980s and has about a group of 25 individuals who turn out for the monthly meetings.

“We just support each other,” said Gina Spellman, who is the leader of the North Platte chapter. “their heartache of losing a child or grandchild is tremendous. There are no words that are going to make it better but we are here for each other and support each other the best way we know how.”

Tessa Helle has mourned six children and three grandchildren, and has been involved with the support group for seven years.

“I didn’t think I needed any help dealing with (the grief),” Helle said. “Then Mary Lee said, ‘You should come to one of our meetings.’ It’s one of those things where you hear about a place and then you come to find its where you needed. That’s what happened.

“It was hard at first but become easier,” Helle said of the meetings. “You know there are people there who understand what you are going through.”

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