Butterflies, Body Art, and Bittersweet Memories

Butterflies, Body Art, and Bittersweet Memories

My butterfly tattoo is a tangible reminder of who gave me wings.

My freshman year of college I got a tattoo.
It was my first tattoo ever and my mom was pissed. My friends thought it was “basic”. Some of them even thought it was cool.
It is a simple black butterfly on my back shoulder with some scribbles underneath
It was perfect.

The last time I saw my grandmother before she died, she told me she wanted to be reincarnated as a butterfly. I didn’t know she was dying and that it was my last chance to say goodbye.
I just remember picturing her taking flight, continuing to be a presence in the world.
When she passed, there was no question that I would be getting a tattoo to commemorate her.
I also knew that I had to go to Thailand.

About a year before she died, I had started planning my first trip abroad. It was going to be a mission trip to Thailand and Laos for a few weeks. Neither one of my parents had ever traveled except one trip to Costa Rica when we were kids. I was excited to go off on my own and “make a difference”.
Except I had no idea how I was going to pay for it all. I was only in high school, after all. My mom and stepdad ran a small landscaping business that was barely scraping by. I accepted that the Thailand trip may just be a far-off dream.
I wrote my grandma a letter and at some point she called to tell me that she would fund my trip. I was excited of course, but it felt a little surreal. I wasn’t so sure I would have the courage to go. At least I had one person rooting for me.

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Gigi passed away shortly after that. I forgot my trip completely as I dealt with the anguish of losing someone I was so close to. She had always been my role model.
She was the one that taught me how to use makeup, what books to read, and the importance of education.
She was the first feminist I ever knew.

I remember yelling out, wishing for one more moment with her. If only I had had the chance to say goodbye. To tell her how much she meant to me.
It has been nearly seven years since then, but the passion has not left me. It is because of her that I went to college, became an activist, and have a passion for travel.

My butterfly tattoo is a tangible reminder of who gave me wings.


But at the same time, I knew I needed to do something greater. I needed to take a trip to Thailand on my own, in memory of her.

This past September was my first solo trip abroad. I went to Thailand for an entire month, with no plan and completely on my own. There are a million things I could say about Thailand and my experience there, but there are not enough words to explain the emotional importance and meaning of this trip.


I have struggled with self-confidence issues for most of my life. I have anxiety, OCD, and have bouts of depression. I grew up in a low income household and had struggled to support myself through 5 years of college.
By traveling on my own, relying on my own strengths and abilities, I was able to prove myself. Mostly to myself and to my grandmother who passed on. I felt more secure in my femininity, intelligence, and capabilities. I was able to fulfill what my grandmother always said I would be able to do.

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As cliché as it sounds, I felt like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon: reborn.
I feel more confident, capable, and courageous.

I also feel closure. Even though I wasn’t able to say goodbye, I still get the sense that my grandmother would be proud of my journey.

All of this came together as I walked along a beach on Railay Island.
The walkway was being kissed by the waves on my right, flowers and foliage to my left.
I reached the end of the trail and I found myself surrounded by dozens of butterflies.
They each fluttered by with their wings of blue and white and green. I felt at peace.


At peace with my grandmother’s passing, and at peace with myself.
In the end, I felt fulfilled by following my heart.
Even though the call to travel solo seemed daunting to me, I simply KNEW I had to go.
And I believe that going to Thailand in Gigi’s memory was my purpose all along.





21 thoughts on “Butterflies, Body Art, and Bittersweet Memories

  1. What a beautiful story! I’m so glad you followed your heart and went on a solo trip to Thailand. I’m sure your grandmother is so proud of you! The butterfly may be cliche, but it’s such a profound symbol for many (myself included)

  2. I agree with Eva. This is such a beautiful and insightful story. Thank you for sharing such a personal experience with us.

    I have to say I really like your way of writing. It’s very colourful and personal. Can’t wait for more stories!

  3. Absolutely one of my most favorite blogs I have read. This is inspiring and I’m so glad you never lost your passion and were able to fulfill yours, and Gigi’s, dream. Well done!

    1. Thank you so much, Mo! That means a lot to me <3 This trip was over 7 years in the making but it was well worth the wait. Can't rush things like that. Plus, it has brought me so much closure.

  4. Oh my! Your story brought tears to my eyes. My grandmothers were both very creative, independent women whom I will always miss. Thank you for bringing back their wonderful memories!

    1. Thank you for your comment, Carmen. I am glad that this story reminded you of your own grandmothers. I am sure they were amazing women as well

  5. Wow, what a story. I got shivers when I read about the butterflies flitting past at the end of the trail. I’m going to quote Harry Potter (it happens a lot) in saying: “The ones who love us never really leave us” and I think your post proves that to be correct.

    1. <3 Thank you! I am happy that I am inspiring people with this post. I like to think that my grandma is always watching over me.

  6. This is lovely. Solo travel is one of the best things you can ever do, and the idea that you had such strange motivations behind it makes it even more life changing.

    You’re an inspiration to us all.

    1. Aw thank you! That means a lot 🙂 Not your usual reasons why you would want to visit a place but it did bring closure for me. And Thailand is just beautiful

  7. So beautifully written! Thank you for this little insight into you! I’m sure she’s beyond proud of you for taking the trip and the even more so of the courage to go alone! Keep it up, such a refreshing read ?

  8. Wow. That’s so heartening. You are indeed brave. Though I have been on solo trips abroad, I’ve never been on an unplanned or month long one. Hats off to you. Your grandma would be so proud of you.

  9. What a beautiful story. It’s fun to see that you were able to overcome your lack of self confidence. Yet, the power of a loving grandmother and a butterfly gave you strength you never knew you had. Happy travels to you! You are an inspiration to many.

    1. Thank you, that means a lot for you to say that. I like to think that she is proud of me. I hope she continues to inspire me to travel.

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