Sierra and the caterpillar

On Saturday, we found a caterpillar. A yellow caterpillar, crawling up the side of the south-side Target, impossible to miss, reckless to ignore.

“Sierra! Isaac! Come check this out!”

Sierra fell in love, and we brought it home. We put it in a plastic bug carrier that she had received for one of her birthdays. We gave it two leaves and a bit of grass. And we watched as it tried to crawl the sides.

It never ate those leaves, and it never touched the grass. Last night, it died.

You and I know that this caterpillar could have died from any number of things. The cold, the new location, some sickness or old age or whatever. Nothing to do with us; in fact, nothing to do with anything other than the random cycle of life.

If everything had gone according to plans, this caterpillar would have turned into a moth. Instead, it died.

Sierra asked about it, and we were blunt. We tried to explain that it was probably sick before we got it, and that there would be more caterpillars in the future, and that we should be happy that we gave it a good home until the day it died, as if we were some kind of moth hospice and the kitchen counter was some kind of converted hospital bed.

Tears. All of them, at that moment. Tears until there couldn’t be any tears left.

Explaining death isn’t that easy. It shouldn’t be. It should be something that’s felt, not explained away as a cold scientific fact. This encounter with death was Sierra’s first conscious brush with the concept; there will be many more, and it will never get easier. Never.

That’s okay.

So Kerrie took Sierra out to the garden. One trowel, one clump of dirt, a hundred or so tears. And there Alicia the Caterpillar lies, in our garden, next to a dying tomato plant, surrounded by worms and soil and compost. Sierra is convinced those worms will take care of her favorite caterpillar in the entire world, and we’re not dissuading her.

She came back inside, read a few books, and began to let it go.

She hasn’t gotten over it yet, though.

That’s okay, too.

This was lovingly handwritten on October 18th, 2011