The Monarch butterflies released Monday at Hillside Gardens and Nursery for the annual Pikes Peak Hospice & Palliative Care Commemorative Celebration were more than a fluttering picture of beauty — they were a symbol.
Just as all butterflies struggle to emerge from the cocoon, all people face challenges in their lives, said Martha Barton, Pikes Peak Hospice & Palliative Care president and CEO.
“As people come to the culmination or the last phase of their life, they’re often recounting, and they’re often reconnecting, and they often look back, and they realize that struggles were part of the fullness of their living,” she said.
The Memorial Day ceremony honored late patients of the hospice center and aimed to help families cope with their losses.
Hospice workers read the names of patients who died in the past year, and a chaplain blessed a stone for each one. Visitors also listened to a recording of “To Where You Are” as a recognition of servicemen and women. The commemoration concluded with the release of dozens of Monarch butterflies, which flew past people of all ages, some of whom were crying.
Agnes Reininger, 75, said hearing people sing along with local musicians Phil Volan and Joleen Bell was the most touching part. She came to pay tribute to her husband, Albert Reininger, who died nearly eight months ago under hospice care.
“It was beautiful,” she said of the ceremony. “It was everything that uplifts your spirit. You still have to cry once in a while.”
At 18, Albert Reininger was a New York Yankees minor league player and at one point threw batting-practice pitches to Joe DiMaggio, his wife said. But he gave that up in 1941 to serve in the Army Air Corps intelligence unit during World War II. After five years of service — he didn’t like to stand in line waiting for food,his wife said — he became a police officer in St. Louis. The two later moved to Colorado Springs.
The butterflies released Monday stirred memories for Agnes Reininger.
“Last summer, we had a Monarch butterfly come every day to eat at our plants — we had flowers,” she said. “And he (her husband) called him Sam.”
The annual commemoration started 18 years ago and has taken place at Hillside Gardens and Nursery, 1006 S. Institute St., for a decade.
Pikes Peak Hospice co-founder Susan Langstaff, 86, said she remembered when the hospice opened in 1980 with a $38,000 budget. She and the late Flo Carris wanted to start a service that allowed people to spend their last days comfortably and in their own homes. So they walked down Tejon Street, asking businesses for donations.
“All we had were our driver’s licenses,” Langstaff said. “And the fact that we looked reasonably honest, I guess. And we got it. I think it was one place that turned us down. That’s unheard of.”
Today, the hospice operates with an $18 million annual budget — and instead of two volunteers, it has 600, in addition to 250 doctors, nurses and other staffers, Barton said.
—Contact Andrew Gibson: 719-636-0257.@AndrewGibson27