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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.



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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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.