Illustration by Neve O'Brien

One sunny afternoon in their Miamian second-floor apartment, a big black moth paid Nathalie and her dad a visit. Nathalie thought the moth was beautiful. She said to her dad, “I want to get that tattooed on me!” She later found out that their little visitor had been la mariposa de la muerte, the Black Witch Moth. According to the Aztec myth, the first person in a room who sees the flying animal will die.​​

Nathalie didn’t think much of the incident until the prophecy came true. Her dad passed away the following Christmas. The moth is now drawn on her stomach. For many people, butterflies are a sign that a loved one is watching over you, but not Nathalie. For her, the sign is a moth. Every time one enters a room, she thinks of her father. 

Nathalie Saladrigas is a Latina activist for LGBTQ+ rights, Community Organizer, and Miami native with Cuban and Colombian roots. She also commemorates the deaths of animals, from rats to lizards, pigeons to moths. Nathalie and I briefly spoke about her appreciation for the morbid when we first met at Miami Dade College, but I’d always been a little hesitant and, frankly, scared to know more. Now, reflecting on the loss of my uncle, I felt brave enough to bring up the topic again. So I called her on Zoom, and I got the chance to discover another side of my dear friend.



What is the origin of your interest in moths?



Moths are very special to me. When I was younger, my professor gave us this jar of dead moths, which is the one that I kept since middle school. He made me sort through them all to check for different types of moths. I asked him if I could keep the jar. And I kept it for years and years.

So, that’s when it started. I started doing my graffiti tags with moths. I think they’re really beautiful. I liked how they keep coming to the light, and how they are just there floating around all of the time. I really liked them because they were everywhere. 



Could you share a little bit more about your experience with grief?



My first experience with grief was during the deportation of my mother. My mom being deported, having to stay in Colombia, and grieving not being able to be with my dad. That was the second instance of this pain and separation: Grieving the idea of what a family is supposed to be.

And then, my grandma passed away. I remember when I was in elementary school, I told the school therapist, “I don’t want to get close to my grandma because I’m scared she’s gonna die.” I think I took more of an avoidance stance, where I don’t want to get close to people because I’m scared, if I get too close, they’re gonna pass away.

Even through my grandma and my dad passing away, the stance I always took was a form of appreciation. I would get things that they gave to me and keep them. Like jewelry, photos. And commemorate them in that way. With everything; animals, insects, anything. I try to keep from them, so I can commemorate them in that way.



What do you think happens to the essence of dead beings?



I never think that the essence goes away. For me, essence is the energy that they leave behind and the energy that they are. Their physical selves are not gonna be there ever again. But you know how they were, you have experiences with them, you lived with them, you were able to experience their love. And that’s their essence. That’s never gonna go away because you are always gonna feel them, in any way. For me, a moth comes into my room and I’ll say, “Wow, that’s my dad.” To this day, I know my dad is protecting me and is looking over me. I never killed him. I never did that. I never thought I lost my connection with him. I still have that.



What does death mean to you?



Death is sad. My parents used to tell me: you don’t know anything. All you know is that you’re gonna die. And that’s it. I always took that to heart. 

It just happens. Things happen. You live, you learn, you love. You live this life, understand a lot of things, and then you die. It’s something really natural to me. It’s something I don’t try to fight against. I am just happy I am here right now and I know I am gonna die one day and that’s it. 

I am glad to have been here for this long, I am glad my dad was here for this long. I am glad this animal was here for this long. You just appreciate it and find ways to connect with it. Like I’ll wear this moth-shaped necklace holding a locket with a photo of my dad and of the moth that came into my house. I did a tattoo based on my dad. I take pictures of animals. I commemorate it and then I accept it.

I know death is there and that it’s coming, but meanwhile I just accept it and appreciate it.