Painted butterfly a tribute to Lebanon man’s late wife

Ed Haas Jr. stands in front of a butterfly that he painted with his stepson Lee Wright on his Lebanon home in honor of Mr. Haas’ late wife Della, who passed away on Nov. 17, 2013, after a battle with colon cancer. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

LEBANON — Passersby to Ed Haas Jr.’s home in Lebanon often notice the beautiful purple butterfly painted on his chimney.

What most people don’t get is the full story behind that butterfly, which has adorned the house for around a decade now, and how it came to be.

Mr. Haas said it represents a true tale of life’s struggles, love and metamorphosis — and added that the butterfly will remain on the side of his house off Sorghum Hill Road for at least as long as he is alive.

That’s because it is a tribute to his wife Della, who passed away on Nov. 17, 2013, after a battle with colon cancer. She was 56 years old.

“My stepson (Mrs. Haas’ son Lee Wright) and I painted it for my late wife as a Mother’s Day present,” Mr. Haas said. “She was always fond of saying that I changed her from a caterpillar to a butterfly.”

Mr. Haas got a real-time reminder of just how much people notice the colorful present he made for his late wife when he went out for dinner on Christmas Eve two years ago.

“I had taken my stepson and his wife to the Texas Roadhouse and the waitress happened to live in the neighborhood and that’s when she recognized me,” said Mr. Haas. “She mentioned (the butterfly) and said it has become an icon in Lebanon. She knew we were across the street from the church in Lebanon and were the ones with the butterfly on the chimney.

“My wife was big into butterflies and even had butterfly seat covers in her car. I recently had the exterior (of the house) remodeled and was talking to my stepson about it and he was worried we were going to take down the butterfly, and I said, ‘No, that’s not going to happen. That butterfly means even more to him than it does to me … and that’s a lot.’”

Mr. Haas said those around him who know the history of the butterfly feel kind of like he does. They want to see it last and they understand that it represents a long story.

Mr. Haas is pictured with his late wife Della and Mrs’ Haas son and Mr. Haas’ stepsson Lee Wright. Mr. and Mrs. Haas were married June 15, 1985. (Submitted photo)

However, it sometimes can be a bit of a two-pronged tribute for Mr. Haas. He has lived in his house in Lebanon since 1994.

“Anything that reminds me of Della’s death is hard for me to deal with,” he said. “I do know one thing — it will never come off. It’s a reminder of everything we had and it’s hard to talk about.”

Meeting and growing together

Mr. Haas, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, said he met Della on Nov. 9, 1984, at the Brown Fox in Dover. Her brother, Mitchell, was playing in the band that night and she was there with her mom and dad.

He remembered that when she came out of the ladies’ room and walked by him that he leaned back on his barstool and asked her to dance.

“She said yes,” he said. “When another song came on, I looked over at her. She was beaming and waving at me like I was some kind of rock star. At that moment, she touched my heart.

“From then on, we were a couple. Immediately after the holidays, during the first week of January, we moved in together. As Della would often say, ‘Seven months and six days later, we were married.’”

That unforgettable wedding day was on June 15, 1985.

Mr. Haas admitted there were some difficult periods of adjustment during those early years — with each of them having their own troubles, like many new couples — but things changed dramatically after Della packed a suitcase one day and told him she was going to stay with her mom for a few days.

“At that time, those three days were the worst of my life. Believe me, I took a long look in the mirror and effected an immediate attitude adjustment. In order to let off steam, I became a jerk at work instead of at home,” he said with a laugh.

It took some difficult days of personal growth, but both finally grew comfortable within the realm of their relationship and it began to prosper.

That’s when Della told her husband that he had changed her from a caterpillar to a butterfly.

“Our house began to fill up with butterfly images,” Mr. Haas said. “Butterfly wall plates, butterfly dishes, bowls and cups, butterfly refrigerator magnets, butterfly stickers and patches.

“Everyone began saying we looked like brother and sister. We were best friends and soulmates. Astrologically, we were a perfect match. She was born on the cusp of Aquarius and I was born on the cusp of Libra.”

Butterfly flies away

In April 2012, those happy carefree days quickly came to a devastating end. That was when Della approached her husband and said, “Ed, I have a lump in my side, and I don’t feel well.”

Mr. Haas said, “My heart felt like lead in my chest and I knew deep inside she had cancer. Her father, younger sister and younger brother had all died of cancer. We went to her doctor and he ordered X-rays. When he got the results, he gave her a referral to Helen F. Graham Cancer Center (on the Christiana Hospital campus).

Ed Haas Jr. said those around him who know the history of the butterfly feel kind of like he does. They want to see it last and they understand that it represents a long story. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“She went through the standard series of tests, including a colonoscopy and a biopsy of her liver. The final assessment – Stage IV metastatic colon cancer.”

Mr. Haas said deep in his heart he believed she could beat the cancer and deep in her heart she believed him.

However, 19 months later, she became jaundiced. Three weeks later, on Nov. 17, 2013, she died.

“She was in a daybed in our living room,” said Mr. Haas. “Mom was on one side and I was on the other, holding her hands. Her brother Mitchell was playing at a cancer benefit at the American Legion that day. She fought like a tiger, then finally gave up.

“I laid my head on her chest and heard nothing. ‘She’s gone, Mom,’ I said.”

And 29 years and eight days after they first met, his Lebanon butterfly was gone.

Mr. Haas might not have realized it at the time that his wife wasn’t the only one who experienced a metamorphosis during their years together — but he did as well.

And it shows each and every day in the form of a purple butterfly on the side of his house in Lebanon.

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.