I’ll Fly Away

I thought about you this morning, Miss Margaret. When I heard the Carter Family sing “I’ll Fly Away” on the radio, you were in my heart.

The tinny sounds of a 1930s shellac record filled my den. Maybelle Carter played guitar like a twelve-fingered prodigy. Their magnificent Virginian voices sliced through the monotony of life and made me smile.

This particular Carter Family song reminds me of something that happened a few weeks ago.

I was out for a walk when I noticed something on the pavement. It looked like an insect had been smashed by a passing vehicle. Which is exactly what happened.

It was a butterfly. She was still alive. Sort of. Her wings were shredded, but still moving. Her antennae squirmed lazily.

I sat on the highway shoulder and held her broken body in my hands. This creature was suffering, about to expire, and there wasn’t a thing I could do. It was awful. After a few minutes, she finally died. I felt hot tears falling from my eyes.

I don’t mean to be gloomy here, but have you ever noticed how this earth is indifferent to us? It robs us of every wonderful thing, then bills us for the damages. Nothing—not one thing—lasts, and it stinks.

Show me a beautiful day, and I’ll point to an approaching thunderstorm. Show me a handsome young man; I’ll show you a guy who will one day keep his dentures in a glass of water. Introduce me to a stunning mountain range; I’ll show you the future construction site of a T.J. Maxx.

I dug a small hole in the ground with a stick, I buried the butterfly, and said a few words. I felt like a fool when I recited the 23rd Psalm to a deceased flying insect, but it had to be done.

Then something happened. Something you will probably think I’m making up, but I’m not.

On my walk home, a colony of butterflies emerged from the nearby woods and filled the sky, fluttering beneath the sunlight like a National Geographic TV special. There must have been a dozen butterflies. But it might as well have been ten times ten thousand. They were only visible for a brief instant.

Then they flew away.

And the thought occurred to me: what if I have death figured all wrong?

I know this is going to sound weird, but what if death is not what we think it is? What if The End is completely misunderstood by our species? What if butterflies know something we don’t?

After all, butterflies are polymorphic creatures. A butterfly enters this earth as a microscopic egg, clinging to the backside of a leaf. Then it becomes a chubby little caterpillar. It lives an entire lifetime like this. By the time lesser insects would be ready to die, the caterpillar simply transforms itself.

And do you know what I’ve been wondering? Do caterpillars know they’re about to become butterflies? Or do they mistakenly think they’re dying? How do they know what comes next? I promise you, if I had to curl into a coffin-like cocoon, I would not be happy about it.

Boy, what a surprise it must be for a caterpillar to reawaken within a bright universe only to discover, “HOLY COW! I’M ALIVE! WHOA! AND I CAN FLY!”

I know what I’m about to say is not exactly cocktail party conversation, but I’m terrified of dying. Sometimes I get frightened merely thinking about all the deaths of loved ones I’ve endured.

I’m a coward of the highest caliber. I avoid pondering the inevitable. And the inevitable is, one day my wife or I will eat supper without the other. One day my loved ones will speak of me in the past tense. I’m ashamed to admit how this scares me.

But, like I said, what if I have death all backwards? What if this earthly life is only a glorified batting practice? What if the real ballgame awaits?

And how about the concept of time? What if within the next realm, time ceases to exist? And if there is no time, this means no future or past, either. Which means that calendar years won’t matter, now will they?

And IF THIS IS TRUE, then what year is it in heaven right now?

Think about it. I mean, since timelines aren’t a thing up there, how do we know it’s not perpetually 1974, or 12,310 A.D., or 1229, or 9 B.C., or 1620, or 5320? Or maybe all eternity is happening at once?

Maybe in heaven, Chistopher Columbus, sabre-toothed cats, space launches, and flying automobiles are all coexisting at the same time.

If so, then it would stand to reason that since past and future are occurring simultaneously, all your loved ones—past and present—are already there waiting for you.

And if they aren’t already there, hey, time doesn’t exist, remember? You won’t have to wait more than a few minutes to see them. Your whole family will be arriving before you’re even finished checking in.

I realize this all sounds hokey and bizzare, maybe even irreverent, although I hope not. Because what I’m getting at is this. When I heard you were receiving hospice care, Miss Margaret, I started praying.

In fact, I still am. I’m praying that we humans are wrong about death, and that it has no sting. I’m praying that when we pass from this life into the next, our left-behind loved ones understand that we are not leaving this universe, but we are unfolding two bright, colorful wings, soaring upward into the undiluted sunlight of Joy.

Just like the Carter Family once sang about.

Either way, I’m thinking of you and your family, Miss Margaret. And I will continue to do so until I fly away.


  1. Dru - January 6, 2021 7:11 am

    What a beautiful image, the colony of butterflies. I have never seen one. Those were holy tears, as I am sure your friend Miss Margaret would understand. “One glad morning . . . .”

  2. Dru - January 6, 2021 7:18 am

    I hope you don’t get two comments from me. The first vanished into cyberspace or so it seems. 1.) Butterfly tears are holy. 2.) The cloud of butterflies thanked you. 3.) If Miss Margaret can read this, she will love it.

  3. Mark D MACINTYRE - January 6, 2021 7:40 am

    Not hokey at all Sir. It is healthy to ponder such things. But you really don’t die, you just change form. The clay sarcophagus falls away and you become spirit reunited with the Lord. That is actually a glorious day!

  4. Deborah L Blount - January 6, 2021 9:46 am

    Thought provoking. It’s also the way I believe the afterlife will be. Thank you.

  5. Linnea Miles - January 6, 2021 10:17 am

    Sean- These ponderings aren’t hokey at all. “He who never doubted never half believed.” I’ve worked as a physical therapist, mostly in nursing homes with both the elderly and younger handicapped folks since close to your birth. I think “I’ll Fly Away” has always been one of the most requested songs in these settings. Right now, I work in a locked dementia, psych, and younger handicapped facility where many are in wheelchairs. A local college art department helped residents paint an amazing rendering of a long cage with sturdy, heavy bars behind which you can see wheelchairs, but also birds- flying toward and out of the cage opening, in anticipated, then realized freedom. At the opening are scrawled the words, “some bright morning” and “I’ll fly away.” Scrawled by those who were still behind the bars of a twisted body. When a precious resident passes on, I think of this art, and often stop just to be taken in by it.

  6. Dana Everhart - January 6, 2021 11:01 am

    You are a great theologian. Never second guess your heart my friend. Thank you for this gift today and for saying what I’ve thought scripture teaches. You have such a wider audience go for it!

  7. Dale Edwards - January 6, 2021 11:09 am

    The I’ll fly away blog touched my heart. You’ve almost got it ! I’ve taught and counseled bereaved widowers and the one concept is that in God’s time table a thousand years is a day, so take that and calculate how long whoever has passed has been gone. You’ll be amazed. Those who have gone before us will be amazed when we show up and they’ve only been there a few minutes. Think about it.

  8. elizabeth - January 6, 2021 11:20 am

    Thank you, again. Beautifully written!

  9. MermaidGrammy - January 6, 2021 11:24 am

    I have a particularly bright sister who mused one day, “without death, there’d be no reason for time”.

  10. Debbie g - January 6, 2021 11:27 am

    Happy tears 😢😢😢and glorious rainbows 🌈🌈🌈🌈thank you Sean Beautiful!

  11. Sue Kass - January 6, 2021 11:42 am

    Yes! Yes! Yes! Sean, you’ve got it exactly right. There is nothing hokey, bizarre or irreverent about your words. My dad passed back in ‘66 after a 1.5 year long battle with lung cancer when I was just seven years old. I can remember his visitation like it was yesterday, which is nothing short of a miracle since I can barely remember what I had for breakfast yesterday. My dear, dear pastor equated our human lives and death to a caterpillar/butterfly and explained things just like you did here. This is how I have grown up understanding death and my amazing life to come, through the grace of my savior Jesus Christ.
    Thanks for sharing these thoughts and words so eloquently. May God bless you.
    PS…check out John Burke’s book Imagine Heaven if you haven’t already read it.

  12. John Steinbach - January 6, 2021 11:47 am

    Bravo, Sean, for having the courage to speak your heart about life and death and time. I think you’re right on track.

  13. Julie Patterson - January 6, 2021 12:06 pm

    Thank you. I have been eating alone since August 30, 2020. Grief sneaks up behind me and grabs me by the neck, shaking me until I am limp, at odd times. Yesterday was one of those days. I saw a couple walking, holding hands, and suddenly I missed slipping my hand into his. Cancer broke his body just as surely as a vehicle can kill a butterfly. But one day my hand will find his again, and he’ll smile and say, “What took you so long, Love?”

  14. Eric Colby - January 6, 2021 12:07 pm

    Sean, Thank you for sharing your “unmanly” concern over the death of a butterfly. I too, feel bad for the death of living things – from butterflies to the oak trees dying on my farm for reasons no-one can identify.
    Would you not think that the kaleidoscope of butterflies that flew to greet you, were the species sharing with you it’s beauty in appreciation for the care that you administered to the just deceased specie member ?
    You rue “Nothing—not one thing—lasts, and it stinks.”. I rue particularly the damage inflicted on this earth, by humans. Some of us live gently. Some of us rape and plunder I think you live gently.

  15. Jean - January 6, 2021 12:09 pm

    As a child my friend and I would go to my Aunts house and play her old time pump organ…and our favorite song was I’ll Fly Away. We all are scared of what happens at death. We just have to trust that Heaven is real and the people we love are thee waiting for us.You have such a tender heart…and I love that about you.

  16. Meredith Smith - January 6, 2021 12:11 pm

    Oh boy I don’t know how best to answer this because I feel so different than you about death, yet I can understand your humanly feelings about Miss Margaret. And I do send my best wishes to her ~ I’m so sorry she has taken this step. I understand and my love goes out to her and you and Jamie. The only thing I was saying
    about death in the beginning is that I dont fear it personally. I see it as a means to enter Heaven, which I believe
    is a better and more beautiful place than earth. Take for instance your butterflies 🦋 ~ what a beautiful story. That came from heaven in my mind. I hope you can find a place in your heart to welcome heaven when the time comes. Meantime ~ give Miss Margaret all the love and attention you possibly can. ❤️

  17. dcmccain1 - January 6, 2021 12:44 pm

    This is lovely. And I do believe your thoughts are right.

  18. Beau - January 6, 2021 12:50 pm

    Sean, when that day comes when our Creator returns, I hope you are among the ones alive, or outfitted from the grave.

  19. Katy Maddox - January 6, 2021 12:54 pm

    Sean, I love everything you write, but I really loved this piece. Your thoughts were a gift to me this morning which I didn’t even know I needed. I’d like my wings to be like aspen leaves that glow in early mountain air-

  20. kathy thomson - January 6, 2021 1:25 pm

    i think you’re spot on!

  21. Susan Parker - January 6, 2021 1:25 pm

    Sean, I think your story of the butterfly is the best example I have heard any Christian give, including in Seminary, of the eternal fantastic life awaiting us, and awaiting Miss Margaret, in Heaven. She know doubt will be impatient for her Savior to take her Home. May God be with you and her other loved ones. Hugging you from here.

  22. Susan Parker - January 6, 2021 1:26 pm

    I second that prayer, Beau!

  23. Bill in Tennessee - January 6, 2021 1:27 pm

    By George, I believe you get it, Sean.

  24. Lydia - January 6, 2021 1:29 pm

    Sean,you get it.Read “Imagine Heaven” by John Burke. Heaven will be glorious!

  25. Janice - January 6, 2021 1:34 pm

    Your absolute best column/article ever!! Thank you. I feel so much better now.

  26. Susan Wold - January 6, 2021 1:59 pm

    Your thinking is my thinking, as though it were my words, (yet yours more eloquently spoken.) I once wept on the sidewalk after a hawk dropped one of two baby squirrels, that it snagged from a nest, to the ground below. The baby squirrel was alive still and I was helpless to save it, having watched it fall from the top of the tree. My empathic personality took the tragic suffering of the squirrel inside me as though it were my own fate, with no means of stopping it from entering, I cried for 3 days. It’s been months and it still hurts. Yes, I understand the food chain and how nature works but I hate fear, pain and suffering. I too have a friend is hospice. She doesn’t want to die, her family needs her and she is much too young. I told God all of this and he told me he knows, yet he still is bringing her home. He must need her more. Believing what you wrote allows me to endure such things as they come my way. Thank you Sean.

  27. Kate - January 6, 2021 2:08 pm

    I so enjoy your reader’s comments

  28. Susan Wold - January 6, 2021 2:09 pm

    I was once grieving my father and wanted so badly to know he was with God. On my walk a flock of Cardinals flew from the trees and then were gone into the forest. As you may not know, Cardinals don’t tend to fly in flocks. Since then a single cardinal comes to my window and watches me. I say “Hi Dad” then he flies away.

  29. Jan - January 6, 2021 2:11 pm

    Love this! I’ll Fly Away was my mother’s song. We sang it at her graveside. I pray it will be sung at my graveside. Possibly I will hear it as my soul does indeed fly away to be with my mother’s, my father’s and all those I love who are waiting for me on the other side of the sky …

  30. Charlie Mathers - January 6, 2021 2:21 pm

    Don’t ever put yourself down for not being smart again, Sean. You just earned a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree from Heaven U. !


    p.s. I am not being funny! You broke the code! ❤️

  31. Amy - January 6, 2021 2:35 pm

    Oh Sean! This isn’t hokey or irreverent at all. I think you have it exactly right and it is absolutely beautiful. Thank you for blessing my morning.

  32. Sue Rhodus - January 6, 2021 2:36 pm

    After all..we are only walking each other home 💞

  33. Cheryl - January 6, 2021 2:50 pm

    So very well expressed, Julie. My husband left behind a broken body 12 years ago this month, and I still miss his presence. The most unexpected instances still trigger that savage grief. I can hardly wait to run into his arms again.

  34. Rose Mary Cousins - January 6, 2021 2:54 pm

    This brings me comfort today. A dear friend (81) is in the hospital with Covid and has significant underlying health conditions. Another close friend has brain cancer and the limited time she has left is overshadowed by Covid and the lockdowns. We have lost at least seven family and friends in the last year. I am praying for butterflies…

  35. Michael Dale Milita - January 6, 2021 2:57 pm

    Thank you Sean, I too believe that your concepts are spot on. After losing the love of my life after 45 years together, My Sweet Caroline, I have been able to see eternity just outside my window, and at times I want to go jump into it, and then knowing that there is an afterlife, heaven if you will, I remember that I have 3 daughters and grandchildren, that Sweet Caroline would kick my nippy if I failed to love and care for them. I believe the sting of death does not exist for me any longer and transition from human to spiritual is just a split second in our time. My Sweet Caroline saved Monarch butterflies by the hundreds and from the tiny egg on the back if a milkweed leaf till the moment she released them to flight was miraculous. My Sweet Caroline is now perfection, which I cannot fully comprehend, and I can hardy wait to be a “Newest Arrival” and see her.
    Thank you for making us think about the good in life.
    You and Jamie are loved
    Michael Dale Milita

  36. Phil (Brown Marlin) - January 6, 2021 3:04 pm

    God bless and comfort Miss Margaret, and God bless and comfort you, also, Sean. Amidst all your country bumpkin comedy and philosophy, you are a true tender-hearted, loving soul. Your message took me, also, back to that wonderful Carter Family song. The first verse of Hymn of Promise then bubbled up,
    “In the bulb there is a flower, in the seed, an apple tree;
    in cocoons a hidden promise, butterflies will soon be free!
    In the cold and snow of winter, there’s a spring that waits to be,
    unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.”

  37. Julie - January 6, 2021 3:04 pm

    Have Faith, Sean…Butterflies Know✝️

  38. Christine - January 6, 2021 3:41 pm

    When our son died in 2013, I asked God to please let me know he’s safe with Him in Heaven.
    Gary always asked if I had seen the otters lately. After getting up and opening the blinds, there sat an otter by the pond, looking at our house.
    Thank you Father for answered prayer.

  39. Anne Snow - January 6, 2021 3:42 pm

    Thank you. What a glorious expression of how to look at death- and life. I am moved to tears.

  40. Carolyn Waldron - January 6, 2021 3:54 pm

    Important story to me. Thank you! 🙏🏻🙏🏻

  41. Martha Young - January 6, 2021 4:03 pm

    One glad morning, I’ll fly away ! I believe.

  42. Anne Arthur - January 6, 2021 4:38 pm

    Beautiful, Sean. This story is deep! And yes, many of my friends and I have seen butterflies after someone’s death. Why? Don’t know. But it’s beautiful. I firmly believe in your description of heaven, and it will probably be more beautiful than we can imagine. After all, Jesus promised each of us a place over there and
    I cling to the knowledge that he always speaks the truth. Until we fly, let’s enjoy the butterflies and everything else that’s so beautiful on this earth. Happy New Year.

  43. alisonbaird765 - January 6, 2021 5:07 pm

    Many years ago I taught second grade. A student of mine lost his cousin suddenly in a terrible accident. At the same time we were studying butterflies and watching their transformation. I will never forget that when a beautiful butterfly emerged from his cocoon and began flying around the netted cage, my student looked at me sincerely and said ” The cocoon is kind of like being buried. The old caterpillar had to die in order to be changed. Just like my cousin.” We both teared up and then smiled because being reborn is scary, but we realized God gave us butterflies as a reassurance that death is not the end, but a new beginning!

  44. Cindy Peterson - January 6, 2021 6:47 pm

    I needed this today. I believe there is a heaven and my loved ones will be reunited. But the thought that a Caterpillar turning into a butterfly after weaving its coffin just really resonates with me. Thank you for caring about the butterfly. There are those, like Shirley MacLain, who believes you recycle into a new life. Maybe you helped a soul onto a new life.

  45. Jennifer M Moon - January 6, 2021 7:17 pm

    Sean, my children’s father is very ill and we’re not sure how much time he has left. Your story touched me beyond words and so I forwarded your email to them. I’d like to think this will help them deal with current circumstances.

  46. Suzanne Moore - January 6, 2021 7:23 pm

    This really touched my heart. I think that many people might need to see it.

  47. Dru Brown - January 6, 2021 7:30 pm

    This is inspirational, too. Thank you for taking care of them.

  48. Dru Brown - January 6, 2021 7:31 pm

    That last was meant for Susan Wold.

  49. MAM - January 6, 2021 8:06 pm

    Charlie Mathers has it correct! You have a Ph.D. in philosophy about heaven! Your vision is why I am not afraid of dying. I’m sure there’s a better place where I will not be anxious so much of the time! Thank you, Sean!

  50. Denise DeVries - January 6, 2021 8:35 pm

    What a wonderful vision that is bound to ease others in their fear of death. Love it.

  51. Bette - January 6, 2021 8:54 pm

    I say this a lot, Sean, but I really think this might be your best one yet!!

  52. Linda Moon - January 6, 2021 9:17 pm

    I never heard that song ’til I met the man from the Primitive religious tradition. He stole my heart and so did The Carter Family’s song. For most of the day I thought of death because I was with my Health-Care Heroes who’ve helped me stay alive by beating cancers for 15 years. When I do pass on, Sean, you are welcome to say a few words over me. ( Not IF, but WHEN). I’m scared of the dying process, but I’m not afraid of death. But. between now and then, I’ll joyfully think of you often!

  53. Bill - January 7, 2021 12:44 am

    When we die, we will be in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in heaven. Here there is no pain and suffering. There s joy and happiness in the presence of our Lord. There is no time because God was, is, and will be forever. It says that in the Bible, the word of God. Amen

  54. Joy Taylor-Lane - January 7, 2021 1:37 am

    Beautifully written. I will pray for Miss Margaret and all of her loved ones. My grandmother passed away on November thirtieth right after Thanksgiving this year. Christmas hard this year. We enjoyed our family time, but there was an important piece missing. I love your take on death. Remember that death is a part of life. We all have to make the transition to the next plane. I think about when I was pregnant for the first time. The idea of giving birth was terrifying at times. But. I found comfort in the fact that it was inevitable and that millions of women had gone through the exact same experience. I think about death in much the same way. It is inevitable and all who have come before us experienced death. I believe that the death of the body is the beginning of the next step for our soul.

  55. Christina - January 7, 2021 1:45 am

    “…unfolding two bright, colorful wings, soaring upward into the undiluted sunlight of Joy”. I like that! Now that’s something to look forward to.

  56. Hazel Barber - January 7, 2021 2:28 am

    Sean, I love your butterfly analogy. Beautiful and thought provoking! Thanks for pouring your precious heart into your columns. We are blessed because of you.
    Hazel Barber
    Huntsville AL

  57. Tommy - January 7, 2021 3:22 am

    Sean Heaven is definitely real but the only way to get there is faith upon Jesus Christ. “Noone comes to The Father but through Me”. The alternative? Nobody wants that.

  58. Ellen Nichols - January 7, 2021 4:56 am

    I believe this life is only a tip of the beginning of what God will provide to us. Life is ever-lasting, yours and mine, and that is not scary at all. May God hold you and keep you. And may you FEEL God holding you every day. I think you do feel it, trust it.

  59. Julie Patterson - January 7, 2021 9:59 am

    Yes, Cheryl! In the meantime we have beautiful memories.

  60. Tina - January 7, 2021 12:52 pm

    This is your best one yet.

  61. Robert Chiles - January 7, 2021 2:39 pm

    “Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.”
    1 Corinthians 15:51-52

  62. JACKIE LEON DARNELL - January 7, 2021 11:20 pm

    I was about to skip I’ll fly away, but then in a comment Myra asked, “Did you catch Sean this morning?” So of course I came over since my blog entry had been about Don’s ‘trained’ butterflies. I thoroughly enjoyed the read my friend. The best to you.
    Sherry & jack down in central Florida. .

  63. Chasity Davis Ritter. Freddie’s daughter - January 8, 2021 1:03 am

    When I lost my dad two years ago last September the monarch butterflies were migrating (at least That’s the scientific explanation for it) and for about three days after he left this earth our town was literally COVERED in butterflies. My heart knows it was the angels come to take him home. Someday we will all fly away.

  64. kip carter - January 8, 2021 1:44 am

    Lao Tzu, the Chinese philosopher, was fishing by a stream and he fell asleep. He dreamed that he was a butterfly and it was wonderful. The best experience of his life. He awoke and remembering his dream he could not decide if he was Lao Tzu who dreamed that he was a butterfly or was he a butterfly dreaming that he was Lao Tzu.

  65. Verna Montgomery - January 8, 2021 6:42 am

    I do swear Sean,every story lifts me up…this one so much so,that my heart about cracked with the love of it..
    Thank you…..

  66. Joann Thompson - January 10, 2021 1:47 am

    This was so beautiful. I’m a bit older than you, and I am less afraid of my own death than that of my husband. What you wrote about eating supper without your spouse is pretty real to me, as my husband is in poor health. Not only does he love me, he needs me. Of course, I could have a heart attack, have a fatal accident, or die from Covid, but odds are that he will go first. We talk about it some, because we know it will happen one day. We’ve made all the legal preparations and prepaid the funerals, but after nearly 50 years together, it’s going to really hard on the one who is left. I’m trying to do everything I can to protect him from Covid, because I don’t think I could bear it if he died alone in a hospital. I think you are right about the transformation. It’s comforting. C.S. Lewis wrote something similar. He also wrote about eternity being a circle with our lifetimes being just a dot on the perimeter. God sees the entirety of it, and maybe we will also when transition to the next life.

  67. elizabethroosje - January 10, 2021 2:48 am

    whew, just catching up on your blog posts and this one was beautiful as others have said. I love that the Monk Sophrony who I like reading about/his letters said in one of his letters that the day of our death is important because it is entry into our new life. What a gift, that experience of butterflies.

  68. Delphia Smith - January 11, 2021 12:42 am

    I lost my husband of 49 years right before Christmas and this helped me! Thank you!

  69. Floyd Budd Dunson - June 12, 2021 4:35 am

    My 3 year old grand daughters first song is I’ll Fly Away , her moms was Victory in Jesus. We are all scared of dying. God doesn’t wear a watch or have a calendar.


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