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On the first anniversary of her father’s death, a monarch butterfly landed on Amy Rose Perry. Since then, she has viewed butterflies as a symbol of her late father.

“Whenever it’s an important day, like his birthday or Father’s Day, we always see a butterfly,” said Perry, 32. “I’ve always believed in signs and I’ve believed that our loved ones are still with us, watching over us.”

Her father, Nathaniel Machain, died in 1999 after a three-year battle with appendix cancer. He was 36 and she was 7.

“It took me a long time to process this grief,” said Perry, the eldest of Machain’s two daughters. “His death at such a young age opened up many new perspectives for my life.”

Shortly after getting engaged to Matthew Perry last year, she wanted to find a way to incorporate her father’s memory into the wedding ceremony. By releasing monarch butterflies, she decided, “she would have such a powerful symbol of him around us on that day.”

As it turned out, the butterflies were not only surrounding her, they were actually clinging to her. When Amy Rose Perry opened a glass container to release about 50 orange-and-black winged insects, she expected them to fly away. Instead, they landed on Perry, her sister, and her new husband.

“It was just indescribable,” Perry said through tears.

The butterflies remained on them for about 10 minutes, while Perry and her wedding guests were overwhelmed by the beautiful and unexpected sight. A video capturing the moment was viewed millions of times on social media, sparking a flood of supportive emotional comments from people who were moved by it and shared their own stories of processing their grief.

“I lost my dad and my mom always says he was a butterfly,” wrote one commenter.

Perry said she knows many people don’t believe in signals from the universe or signs from deceased loved ones, but for her, it’s something she’s held onto since she was a child and it’s helped her cope with her intense grief and feel close to her father.

“I feel so lucky to have received such a powerful sign from someone I wanted to be with me so badly,” she said of the butterflies, adding that the encouragement from strangers since the video was posted online by photographer Brit Perkins has been overwhelming in the best way.

The video that attracted the attention of both local and national news outlets and has more than 10,000 comments.

“Your father played a huge role in this special day. May he rest in peace,” wrote one commenter.

“This made me cry. He surrounded her with his love,” wrote another.

“All those butterflies came from him when he hugged her… He was there and he was proud,” wrote a third.

Although Perry only knew her father for seven years, he left a deep and lasting impression on his daughters, she said. Perry described Machain as “the life of the party” who lit up any room with her vibrant personality. “He made ordinary moments extraordinary.”

She described her father as a giver, even as he fought for his life.

“Even when he was battling cancer, he put everyone else first,” Perry said.

On one of his final days, he wrote a series of cards to his two daughters to mark future milestones after his death, such as birthdays, graduations, and weddings. Perry’s mother gave her the wedding card to read after her bridal shower, about a month before the wedding, knowing it would be too painful to read it for the first time on the big day. She had no idea he had written her something for her wedding.

“The first line is, ‘Of all the cards I’ve written you, this is by far the hardest,'” Perry said.

“It really made me think about his perspective and how difficult it must have been for him to write, knowing he could never walk me down the aisle,” she said. “But to give me the gift of having his words for that day was really, really selfless and brave and speaks volumes about the kind of person he was.”

Perry thanks her mother, who walked her down the aisle, for helping to carry on her father’s legacy.

“When her husband died of cancer, she thought of us and took photos and videos so we could keep his memory alive,” Perry said.

Perry said she had long felt a hole in her heart because of her father, but after her engagement the emptiness grew even bigger.

“Planning the wedding was very emotional for me,” she said. “Not having him there for such big life events was very difficult.”

In many ways, Perry said, her husband reminds her of her father. Like her father, Matthew is “incredibly caring, patient and down to earth.”

Before he proposed, “he took my mother and sister to my father’s grave to ask all three of them for permission,” Perry said.

During her wedding on Cape Cod last month, as she was releasing the butterflies, an audio recording of her father from an old home video was played in which he says, “A hug and a kiss for my little girly swirls” – which is what he called Perry and her sister, Molly Machain, 30.

When the butterflies were released and then attached themselves to the bride and groom, guests were moved to tears. Whether they felt their father there or not, guests said it was a breathtaking sight.

“It was just the craziest thing you could see,” said Perkins, a Boston photographer who photographed the wedding and posted photos and a video online for the public to see. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Leslie Ries, a butterfly ecologist and associate professor of biology at Georgetown University, said, “This is not behavior I would have expected at all. Monarch butterflies are not a species that normally lands on people.”

“I can feel and imagine what she felt in that moment and understand why it was so profound,” Ries said.

She said biologists generally discourage the release of butterflies for a variety of reasons, including that captive-bred monarch butterflies can spread disease to native populations. But she said she recognizes that the releases allow people to “experience the magic of these butterflies.” The company that hired Perry to release them, Michigan Native Butterfly Farm, says it follows strict guidelines to prevent disease in its butterflies.

“The more people care about butterflies, the more we can do to protect them,” Ries said. She suggested that Perry and other butterfly lovers create a butterfly garden.

For centuries, many cultures and religions have believed that butterflies represent the souls of lost loved ones. They are also known to be attracted to burial sites as they are drawn to certain flowers and plants.

“Death is such a scary and challenging concept for people, and just the hope that they’re still with you is incredibly powerful,” Perry said. “It was very emotional and healing.”

Perry said she felt very close to her father on her wedding day and that it was a feeling she will never forget.

“I really felt his presence and everyone else’s presence and love was amplified in that moment,” she said. “It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.”

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