thepurplebutterflyblog


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Newly released book with more details

All,

Thank you for reading my blog. It was the launching pad for my recently released memoir, The Gift of Goodbye: A Story of Agape Love.  The book is an expanded story from this blog and covers the three-year period from my mom’s terminal cancer diagnosis to her death.  The book provides ideas on how to handle difficult conversations and ways to show your love, for those also going through similar situations with their loved ones. The story also covers my own growth through discovery and this loving relationship and the lasting gift of this process for me, a choice to live my most authentic life now, not wait for another day.

More details about the book are available at the following website: http://rebeccawmunnauthor.com/

Happy Reading,
Rebecca

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what a difference a year makes

here I sit nine years after saying goodbye to my mom, I am more settled and grounded than ever, even when she was alive. why, I wonder, would that be the case? probably because of two things: 1) the far-reaching impact she had on teaching me by example to live each day to the fullest, to not sweat the small stuff, and showing me visibly by example how to give from a bottomless heart full of love and 2) my choice to continue my lifelong passion for learning, expand my edges, and believe I am worthy of a continued connection with her spirit. it is that belief that continues to surprise me when I least expect it.

today, as I walked my chocolate lab around Richland Creek, thinking of the many stories I had just heard from my two teenagers about the profound impact of the past week they had spent giving of their service and talents to special needs children, allowing those children to experience as close to a normal camp experience as feasible…I paused from my thoughts and stared up at the trees to see if I could discern what might be transpiring with the bird who was speaking out loudly, making beautiful sounds as it spoke…as I brought my eyes back down to the hiking path, there it was…one of those sweet little iridescent purple butterflies, flying across the path from left to right at eye level, making sure I would see it. It warmed my heart and brought a smile to my face. As I processed this surprise and reflected on my children’s experiences at Camp Barnabas, I realized my mom had been a powerful and busy angel the past week, working through my teenagers to expand their hearts as they served other children and to remind my precious children how fortunate each of them are.

while I have seen many instances of purple butterflies since the first time three days after mother passed from this physical life, whether on cards in the store or on boxes of Scotties tissues or painted on a cookie in a Starbucks recently when I stopped in to meet my friend Brad or on a sponge-bob float that my massage therapist saw at Disney this past week, I have been amazed with how I am no longer caught off guard by these experiences, the continued proof of mom’s and my connection beyond time and space. these purple butterflies are something I have come to believe will show up when I need it, either to help me celebrate the many joys of life or provide support in times of challenges.

one such challenge that cut me to my core, yet again, was experiencing the impact of the past two years, watching my teenage son be affected with central nervous system damage, a side effect from the HPV vaccine…it has taken almost two years to have his body return to a somewhat normal state, sans some permanent scar tissue in a scary place…and to think his case was mild compared to others I have seen on CNN…somehow I had the strength and courage to put one foot in front of another every day that he missed his 9th grade year of school, every day that the pediatrician refused to admit my son could be experiencing adverse reactions to the vaccine and take action, every day that my son would wake up and crawl to the bathroom because he said his legs wouldn’t work, and every day that went by without treatment as the virus caused more damage…I know it was my belief and my faith in something bigger than myself, my connection to my mother’s spirit that kept me going. and here I am, delighted that my son is strong and healthy again, finishing his 10th grade year with flying colors, and knowing the purple butterfly made an impact…what a difference a year makes.


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pushing my edges

It’s been eight years since my mother passed. While I miss her physical presence every day, I have countless stories of purple butterflies along my path, whether live in nature or painted on someone’s face in a grocery store or on a card, and always when I least expect it. One of the most memorable was a few years ago when my children and I ventured to Asheville, North Carolina. We went for a hike along the great smoky mountains trail. We randomly picked the hike, or so we thought. As we approached the opening of the trail, we came upon some bright yellow and black butterflies gathered around something on the ground in a pool of water. Maybe that was to draw our attention to be present on the trail, in the moment. Maybe a coincidence. As we continued on the path, our hearts and edges were expanded as we saw a swarm of tiny purple butterflies appear almost out of nowhere. There were at least 15-20 butterlies flying around so effortlessly, following along with us as we walked. Everytime we tried to take a picture or a video to capture the moment, the iridescent little treatures barely showed up to a naked eye. Evidently we were meant to experience only and not take a momento with us. Our hearts filled with warmth as we shared our hike with these purple butterflies, connecting us to mom and pushing our edges of belief further that she was with us.

The other day I went for a walk around Richland Creek, something I do every week with my chocolate labrador. I was feeling unsettled in my heart, exhausted from a couple of crazy weeks with school starting and work struggles. As I started on the loop, I paused for a moment and decided to break my pattern of always turning left first. I changed my normal routine for a day and turned right instead. As I did so, I became very focused on the trees and flowers, as it seemed liked a brand new trail for me, something I had never done before. I became more connected and present in my surroundings and explored every turn with wonder, not sure what might be around the next corner. Completely focused in the moment and aware of my surroundings, my heart started to calm a little as the beauty of nature took over my focus. As I walked along, I was welcomed by a surprise around the next turn. A tiny iridescent butterly, flying above a bush at eye level. When I had tried in the past to watch this type of butterfly, I was not able to see the color of the outside wings as it landed on something. Every other time the butterfly would appear to vanish, until it took flight again. This day was different. I stopped and allowed myself to feel my mother’s presence from the inside out, connect with her at such a deep level like I had not done since she passed. The butterfly landed on a leaf and as I stood quietly, I could see the outside wings. Mostly white, with some specs of grey and black. A calm feeling poured through every cell in my body. A belief that mom was there with me in that moment. She was helping me release my struggles and return my focus on what matters most, connections of the heart.

I have been reminded lately of how precious life can be with several personal experiences. A friend discovering that her husband has cancer. A lifelong friend loosing her mother suddenly in the night. And for me, results from a preventive screening that surprised me. While it turned out ok, it was something that caught me off guard, an opportunity to give me pause and connect with what is most important. To push my edges of illusion that tomorrow will come just as yesterday passed.

What is your symbol of connection to those you have lost?


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evidence of the symbol of connection, a first

Back home, the reality of mom’s passing smacked me hard. I could feel a deep wall of grief similar to quicksand taking over my presence. And a pervasive pain in my upper body so strong it felt as if my chest was cut wide open, with a deep ravine carved through the middle. I struggled to make it through an hour without crying. When I ventured out to feel normal, going to a grocery store I shopped at many times a week, I found myself paralyzed. I walked in the store with my list, only to feel like I didn’t know where I was and not sure what to do. When at home, I walked around in a daze, I would start one task, only to end up focused on something else and not able to account for the time in between.

As I wondered around in what felt like darkness, I felt lost. Gone were the daily calls with mom, feeling connected to her in a physical way. I would pick up my phone some days to call her, only to remember she had passed. I wanted most to touch her, wrap my arms around her. I began to grasp for any physical representation that connected me to what she loved. Magnolias were one of her favorite flowers. She would always have cut magnolias in the house when they were in season. One day I felt more lost than most. I walked into my backyard and wondered around a little aimlessly. As I turned towards my neighbor’s backyard, a flash of light caught my eye, a beautiful flower blooming half way down on the magnolia tree. I found an ounce of energy, grabbed some clippers and cut the flower off, leaving several leaves on the stem, just as my mother had done countless times. As I walked back in the house holding the stem, feeling the roughness on the back side of the leaves made me feel close to mom. I stopped and rubbed the leaves, closing my eyes and imagining mom was standing next to me. Silly maybe, but it calmed my heart for a moment- something I longed for each day yet rarely felt.

In an effort to find peace amidst the darkness, I went to the neighborhood park to take my lab for a walk. I walked around the park loop a couple of times fairly briskly and saw several white butterflies fluttering near the trail. Being outside in nature seemed to calm the deep pain in my heart for a little while. On the fourth time walking around the loop, I saw something that caught my eye in one moment and was gone from sight the next. I walked closer to see if I could discern what it was. I sat still and waiting for it to reappear. As if appearing out of nowhere, there it was again, fluttering about three feet over the creek. Moving ever so quickly, I could see it was clearly lavender and almost iridescent in color. I stopped to watch this very special gift in hopes of seeing it land on something. It landed on a leaf, and disappeared almost instantly, virtually invisible to the naked eye. So amazing to me, this little butterfly.

I stood in shock, amazed of this evidence that my mother was connecting with me. Just as she had said she would before she passed. Tears rolled down my cheeks and chills spread through my body. I closed my eyes and imagined mom was standing there with me. I could feel her warmth and comfort that I had counted on for so many years. A calm filled every inch of my heart. When I opened my eyes, the purple butterfly was gone. Happily, the calm remained for a while and I felt a new feeling of expansion, of my edges being pushed beyond anything I had experienced before. In this moment, I was fully present to experience this deep connection of the heart, transcending heaven and earth, and validating my willingness to be curious, my choice to believe, and my journey to expand. And to think only one year earlier, I did not believe purple butterflies existed in nature.


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transitions with peace

My heart was heavy as I flew to Austin. Even though I knew the time was near, it still felt like fresh news that my mom would be leaving us soon.  The tears welled up in my eyes as I thought of what I would find when I arrived. Focusing on the deep love I shared with mom helped me keep my composure. And I remembered the symbol again, delighted to have something unique to our connection and yet still had no clue what it really meant.

When I saw mom, she was quite weak and slept mostly. My sisters and I celebrated dad’s 82nd birthday with him while sitting on mom’s bed, including her in the celebration as best we could. We each did our best to celebrate while we knew the end was in sight. We even took pictures willingly. Mom went in and out of sleep as we celebrated. Her blood pressure was quite low these days, around 50, and she had stopped eating mostly.

As I sat with mom later one on one, I could hear her voice even when her eyes were closed and her lips were still. As if her soul was talking to me. She said she was scared to leave, not sure of what she would find when she left. How it would feel to transition and if she was worthy of receiving God. It was a little surprising to observe such a faithful woman still having doubts. What happened next was probably the most amazing and expansive experience for me yet, definitely pushed me way beyond my edges of understanding and belief. It was as if I was given the gift of being a vessel to help mom visit where she was headed, reassure her of the peace she would feel and help her embrace self-love completely.

I held mom’s hand and closed my eyes. Somehow she and I were all of a sudden standing on a beach, one of mom’s favorite places to spend time. It was similar to a dream or a vision of what was to come, a pristine place with white sand stretching as far as we could see. I could feel the sand between my toes and the water lap at our feet as I held her hand. All of a sudden we were not alone. There were hundreds of people around us clothed in white who shown brightly from the inside out, like a candle, and looked like they might be angels. What I felt was the most pure and expansive love in every cell of my being, as if I was radiating light myself. In the bible, Jesus spoke about the highest form of love being agape love. A type of love that gave life meaning and substance. In this moment, what I felt was this form of love, a source of pure strength and power that could transcend time and carry us forward. As I looked at mom, the fear started to dissipate from her face, her muscles all started to relax, and a smile began to emerge on her face. A smile of pure joy, without any pain or regrets or suffering, just pure light. Time seemed to suspend as we stood there, just taking in the beauty and grace of the light around us. After a while, mom spoke to me. She said she felt at peace and was no longer afraid of where she was headed next. All of a sudden, the experience was over and I opened my eyes. Still sitting on her bed holding her hand, in Austin, Texas, and still feeling the pure love in every inch of my being.

I had seen experiences like this in movies and had read of people’s experiences similar to what I was able to feel and see, but it seemed far out of my reach. Something only for the few to experience. For some reason, I was chosen to help mom in this moment one last time. Maybe through the process of opening my heart and allowing my faith to guide me over the previous three years prepared the way for me to be open enough to embrace this journey of love. Not sure. What I did know was how very grateful I was for that experience and the ability to provide one last gift to mom, a gift of service to set her free.

It was now Friday and time for me to go home, wrap my children in love and support them for what I knew was next. I was so torn about leaving, not really wanting to let go for good. As hard as it was to leave, knowing I would not be there when she passed, I knew in my heart that I was at peace with my connection to mom.  Over the past several years, I had practiced giving selflessly from my heart to mom, something she had done for me my whole life. I had the gift of time to say all I wanted to say and to heal the past when I could not receive mom’s love. I had transitioned from the little girl who was not capable of feeling mom’s love growing up, although she was so very thoughtful and giving, to a woman whose heart had expanded several times over and now shared a deep bond with mom.  And more than anything, I knew mom would want me to go be with my children and support them when she passed. I headed back to Nashville.

A couple of days went by and early in the morning on May 22, I was awoken by the sound of pouring rain and loud thunder. It was 4 am. Mom used to calm my children through storms by telling them that when it thundered, it was the angels bowling in heaven. And boy were they loud on this Monday morning. I sat there quietly in my bed, listening to the storm, and then I felt it. Felt mom’s physical life come to an end.  At  4:30, the phone rang. It was one of my sister’s. She had awaken as well and gone in to mom’s room right as she took her last breath. I spoke with each of my sisters and my father for about an hour, feeling the peace that mom’s suffering was over. It felt as if I was in the room, transcending thousands of miles, and very connected to each of them and to mom. While a deeply sad moment for each of us, we had experienced a unifying bond that brought us all closer together over the past year, a great blessing in the midst of our loss for sure. A waterfall of tears started flowing down my face, in part selfishly for my loss, and in part pure joy, for the depth of love I was able to share with mom.

My children and I caught an 8 am flight to Austin that morning. As prepared as I had been, I was still deeply in shock of the reality of it all. Quite distracted and out of sorts. Something gave me strength to keep my composure for my children as we shared stories of grandma on our flight. When we arrived at mom’s house, she was still lying in her bed, as if she was sleeping. She looked so peaceful and beautiful, and the skin on her face was taught, with almost no wrinkles. One of my sister’s took my children down to the lake to build a sandcastle, giving me time alone with mom. I prayed for her peaceful transition and could feel her presence so very strongly, as if she was still there. I sat there in the stillness for some time and said my last goodbye.

Mom’s minister came over to perform a service with all of us in the room. My son read a note he had written on the plane about all mom had taught him and my daughter went over and kissed mom’s face and touched her arm. I was stunned by the strength and faith of my babies in this moment, not afraid in the least. Pure love surrounded us all as the minister spoke. He shared many wonderful things about mom, how she gave so much of her time to the church, as a Stephen Minister and more. And then he smiled and shared something new. That he was amazed at how mom could embrace her traditional Christian faith, and faithfully listen to his sermons, and yet also challenged him to expand his beliefs further. How mom had studied and embraced other religions and that she wanted her pastor to integrate some of those concepts in his talks. And she did it in a calming way, he said.

Mom chose to be cremated and wanted her ashes spread in all of her favorite places. After the lovely service, we followed the funeral home car with her body to the place where she was to be cremated, supporting her safe passage. Mom had learned through her studies of Buddhism that Buddhists believed it took seven days for a soul to completely leave a body. As such, the funeral home had agreed to hold her body for seven days before completing the cremation. The seven days also give us time to grieve somewhat quietly before joining with all those who loved mom at her service the following weekend. Even in her death, she was thoughtful and giving. As we flew home, I thought of mom’s life and the lasting gifts she bestowed on me and my children. And then I remembered the purple butterfly. Our unique symbol of connection. I still had no clue what it really meant and felt a little strange thinking about it. Little did I know what would come next, how my edges would be pushed one more time….


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a loving release

As our visit in Austin with mom was coming to a close, I was able to sit with her one last time. She was much more withdrawn from what was going on around her now, seemed mostly focused inward. Her speech was slurred some and she coughed often. She was not able to walk on her own anymore and was sleeping more often during the day. I sat next to her and held her hand. Touch and space was more what we shared now. She looked up at me and smiled and then looked beyond my shoulder, as if there were someone there. It was puzzling to see her do this and smile in the process. I looked over my shoulder and saw nothing. When I asked her what she was looking at, she said her father. That he and her mother, who had both passed when I was very young, were around her now, talking to her. I didn’t quite grasp what that meant. My experiences were increasingly pushing me way beyond my edges now and this was definitely one of those moments. I decided to go with what mom was saying in that moment and let go of my need to understand.

Mom turned her attention back to me and spoke softly. She said that she did not feel she had any unfinished business and she felt at peace. With herself, her loved ones, and her life. Her words warmed my heart and I knew she was ready to leave, I just didn’t know when. Each of my kids spent time talking to mom one on one and then we said goodbye. Maybe until the next time, maybe forever. I wasn’t quite sure.

Before I left the house, I went looking for the pamphlet that Hospice had left that explained the dying process, something I had never observed so closely before. Suddenly I was more interested. And there it was under a heading ‘disorientation.’ When close to dying, a person often becomes ‘confused, may see and converse with loved ones who have died before them.’ On some level, I was fascinated by the intricacies of life and these details of the process of life ending. On another, my heart grew heavy and almost felt like it was on fire, radiating out in all directions, knowing that my goodbyes would come to an end soon.

Back home, I tried to move through my day and stay busy with focusing on my children’s needs and work. I was mostly kidding myself. I would start one thing and then end up doing something totally different, almost as if I had ‘lost’ a moment of time in the transition. Something that seemed to keep me somewhat focused was regular exercise, both in the gym and at the park on the trails. During my daily phone calls with mom, I would check in on how she felt, and what was important to her. I could feel her smile as she shared that her minister had come to her house to carry out a private Easter service for her, since she was not able to make it to church anymore. I shared that while I really wanted to come back to see her, I knew in my heart it was more important for her to have time with dad. Mom agreed. Then she talked again about her life and summed it up to having never fully relaxed, ever. She said she never just sat around and read or painted, solely focused on what she was doing. While she did those things, she was always thinking of something else at the same time. Or she would interrupt her quiet time to go help others in need. Mom shared that while she had the time now to just be still, it was somewhat foreign to her and made her uncomfortable.

Several weeks went by. The heaviness in my heart was becoming a permanent fixture and the physical manifestations of my pain continued with leg cramps and feeling nauseous. I felt a moment of peace and joy when I heard what mom shared one day. She sounded weak and her speech was slurred but I could still understand her words. She shared that the brightest part of her day now was when dad rubbed her feet before bed each night. It was such incredible validation for me of the choice I had made, to create space for mom and dad to share their deep love. While it was hard for mom to talk, I could almost feel her smile when she spoke of dad rubbing her feet and I knew she was able to actually feel his enduring love for her. It made me smile. As we hung up, mom also shared that she had let go of all negative emotion and felt totally full of peace.

As Mother’s Day approached, I knew time was running out quickly and I would need to go to Austin soon. I chose to spend mother’s day with my children and go to Austin for Dad’s birthday, a few days after. I was still trying to keep a semblance of focus on work and was expected to be in Monterrey for an important leadership event the day after mother’s day. With mixed feelings, I boarded a plane headed west. As I landed in California, I knew in my heart I would not be there long. After talking with my sisters, I learned why. Evidently dad had shared something openly during mother’s day brunch. He told mom in front of my sisters that she was the love of his life, and that while he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her, he knew it was time for her to go. And that she could leave with his deep love and full blessing. So very touching and sweet. And then it hit me. Something else I had read in the Hospice pamphlet. That sometimes our loved ones wait until they are ‘released’ before being fully read to die. Dad had just released her. It was now time for me to drop everything and fly to Austin.


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a symbol of connection

While I felt very lucky to have the gift of time to say goodbye over a long period of time, the grief and pain was tough to manage day by day. One of the tools I used for support was getting a regular massage and helping my body release the sadness, providing a moment of peace from the storm. When I would visit mom in Austin, I continued this practice and extended it to her. We would have someone come to mom’s house and we would each enjoy the calm following each massage. On this trip in April 2006, my discussion with the massage therapist took a little different turn. Down a path I was not expecting or even could have imagined.

As Amy worked on releasing the tension on my muscles, she started to talk about how she had lost her mother at a young age, something I did not know. She described the need to feel connected to her mom and grasped at the smallest symbol that might have represented her mother once she died. She talked about how she would get excited at first to see a certain kind of rock, and then quickly questioned her belief and dismissed it. As she spoke, she started to make connections to my mother. How she could tell mom was preparing to leave. Amy said in that moment that I had a choice to create a lasting and true connection to mom, and work with mom to define what that was. In the midst of my grief and pain, it felt like a glimmer of hope. I didn’t fully grasp what she was saying. It was so very foreign to me. Why I chose to act on her advice I will never know for sure. Maybe it was the extension of believing in something magical as a child like Santa Claus or the Easter bunny that led me down this path. Helped me feel in my heart that it was ok, that I was not crazy.

The thought stuck with me so I decided to ask mom. I shared Amy’s advice and mom was open to hear it. More reinforcement I should continue down this path. Mom wanted to figure it out together with me, what that symbol might be so that I could be sure it was her. Mom’s request was for me to go down to the lake and think about it. Clear my mind and allow the answer to come forward.  I was not quite sure of what I was headed to do. Probably my desire to continue my deep connection with mom pushed me forward on this journey. I walked down to the lake and stood there taking in the beautiful view. Something I had done many times. This moment was different, calm and peaceful. I felt a strong sense of love around me. I closed my eyes and asked God for an answer. What kind of symbol would be meaningful to both mom and me? Surprisingly, the answer came quickly. I just didn’t understand it at the time.

I walked back up to the house, somewhat in a daze thinking of this answer, not sure what to make of it. When mom woke up, I went in to share it with her. She said it was perfect. Silently, I questioned how it could be perfect, since it was not something real. Mom beamed with joy when she spoke of this symbol of our connection- it was the favorite color that we shared, purple, and our favorite insect, a butterfly. A purple butterfly. Not something I knew existed in nature, only make believe. But something unique to our connection for sure. I set my internal critic aside and decided to cherish this special moment with her. The moment of co-creating a symbolic connection that would last forever. I had no clue at the time what this all meant. How I would see something that didn’t exist once mom passed. How quickly I would learn otherwise.