LEE'S SUMMIT, Mo. - Four-year-old Marissa couldn't wait for her little sister to arrive. But her excitement turned into grief when baby Allison died just days after her birth.
"The butterfly being freed from the cage is symbolic of the spirit of their loved one being freed from the sick body and now their spirit is free," said Susan Hopkins, Marissa's grandmother. "It's a sense of release and peace and letting go."
Marissa and her grandmother joined around 100 others to release butterflies at a recent John Knox Village memorial for the dead.
"The butterflies symbolize making the step into the journey of having a different relationship with those that we've lost," said Ketti Dawson of Johns Knox Village. "Some people do it with balloons, but we really chose the butterfly because we felt that was more in touch with our families and caregivers that are here after their love ones die."
John Knox Village joined the growing trend of butterfly releases instead of balloon releases because the insects have virtually no negative impact on the environment after they flutter away.
"You really have a two end environmental impact," said David Fox a geography professor at Park University. "You've got the front end of the manufacturing of the balloons that you don't have with butterflies or the back end - the actual release. The actual waste material going out into the environment."
Fox said while balloon releases can provide calm to those in grief, they also cause problems. Manufacturing them uses lots of water and energy. Releasing them pollutes the environment and can kill the wildlife that mistake the latex balloons and plastic strings for food.
That's why he applauds the shift towards releasing butterflies over balloons.
"In choosing to decide to do this, it's choosing to have a bigger environmental awareness, to be more environmentally conscious," said Fox. "So, it's really more about that whole societal change of mindset that is needed right now that so many people are gravitating to."