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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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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gifts from the heart

My day of respite from the fog of grief lasted two days, a much needed break especially for my body. The sadness and grief had been manifesting in my body as headaches, nausea and leg cramps. Interesting that my two good days coincided with two good days for mom. She was upbeat and in good spirits. Funny how connected our body can become with those we love.

The next day the tears were back, welling up in my eyes and hard to control. Mom’s two days of feeling good changed quickly. Her sodium levels were dangerously low and blood pressure still erratic and high. She was back in bed and able to be open about how bad she felt. As we talked, mom commented on how amazed she was that I could remain so positive with all I had been through. It was difficult to be able to really explain how to her. In talking about how with her, I realized that I had merely made a choice to face the pain and live through it. Move forward one step at a time. I had other choices for sure, masking the pain or going crazy, literally. Maybe it was my two children who depended on me for strength and guidance that kept me going and led me to this choice. Maybe my growing ability to trust my faith was also a reason, feeling in my heart that even when I could not see through the fog, I knew whatever was happening was all for me. Just had to be patient some times for the clarity to be revealed.

At the end of March, mom decided to stop taking her blood pressure medicine since it was not working. And once again, she had strength. She was able to go outside and walk down the street, to the big tree in the middle of the road, about 3 houses away. Dad was convinced she had ‘turned the corner’. I was supportive of his positive outlook even while I felt this tug inside- kind of like a yo-yo. Mom experienced really good days and really tough, low days. The rollercoaster continued to change direction quickly and the emotions followed. The low days came back strong with a vengeance. As we moved into April, her headaches were increasing so much and with the low sodium levels, Dad became very worried and took her to the emergency room on April 1. When the doctor came in, Mom told him she was ‘not supposed to be there’. She told the doctor she ‘felt like she should already be dead and something was keeping her here’. Probably shocking for the doctor to hear and even more so to dad. Mom spent the day in the emergency room while they stabilized her. She would not let them run any tests on her so they gave her fluids. We did learn that the lung tumors were likely depleting the sodium in her body, and may eventually cause a heart attack. When she told me about the experience later, mom said she was trying to shut down her body, she really didn’t want to live in the state she was in. She was done. Mom actually believed that her mind was strong enough to shut down her body. She never ceased to amaze me with her expansive beliefs, even now. I listened intently, yet didn’t quite comprehend. A part of me had a feeling of wanting to help her, I just didn’t know how.

Dad was finally able to convince mom to let Hospice come help. Mom wanted to stay at home and Hospice would be able to help her feel more comfortable and manage the pain better. This news was a confirmation that her time to leave was really near. While I knew it was coming, it was shocking nonetheless, the pain in my heart increased and cut deep to my core. I knew it was time to take my children to see her, to say goodbye in person.

We traveled to Austin in early April. It was hard to see her in such a frail state. I realized that in her current state, she was not able to walk down to the lake anymore, something she cherished. Mom had followed Dad to several different cities and states during their 55 year marriage and she had always said she would get to pick where they retired. Her choice was to retire on a lake. As I reflected on this, a thought popped in my head. I could take the lake to her. Really? Well sort of. I realized I could in a way and took a plastic tub down to the lake and filled it with water, sand and shells. I carried it back up the many stairs to the house. Not sure how I managed to do that but something was giving me strength. I think my sisters thought I had lost my mind. When I brought it to her and placed each foot in the water, her eyes lit up so brightly and she seemed to feel peace. It was as if she was imagining standing in the lake while feeling it lap at her feet. It brought me such joy in my heart that I could grant her this moment in time, a break from the pain.

Feeling the well of grief trying to break out and needing support, I reached out to my friend Corinne. I asked her to go on an errand with me. It was healing to have her support and feel the deep pain for a little while, in a place I didn’t feel the need to be strong. We talked through the situation and the signs of the end approaching quickly. I was struggling to figure out how to help mom feel loved every day even though I could not be with her. I had read about the healing power of certain crystals and had decided to make her a necklace. Corinne and I went to the bead store and I found what I was after. A deep purple amethyst crystal and two smaller rose quartz crystals, mom’s favorite colors- pink and purple. I strung all three together on a pink piece of leather with the amethyst in the middle and the rose quartz on either side. Later when I brought it to mom and tied it around her neck, her face lit up again. Her joy was beaming from the inside, almost as if the light was shining straight out from her heart.

As we sat together, I could see mom visibly relax. She closed her eyes, yet still had a grin on her face. When she opened her eyes again, she shared how calming the necklace was, how she felt more settled with it on. We then moved to a discussion about her time on earth being short. Dad had asked a few weeks previously for each of us to write an obituary. While the thought was quite sad on some level, I felt prepared mostly, as mom had shared so much in the months preceding April about her life. There was one more thing I wanted to know, in her own words. So I asked. I wanted to know how she wanted to be remembered, what she would say about her life. Mom said that ‘she gave all the time and love, and it was so easy for her to give. But so very hard to receive.’ It gave me peace to give a little gift from my heart back to her, with the lake water and necklace. In that moment, I felt in my heart that my gifts from the heart had made a difference.


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a celebration of love

As I prepared to be in Austin for mom’s 77th birthday on March 9, I could feel myself getting more depressed yet happy at the same time. In my daily calls with mom, I started to notice her coughing more.  Probably the part that was putting me in a funk. The happy part was mom had survived long enough to be able to enjoy all of her daughters, son-in-laws, grandchildren, and one granddaughter-in-law in Austin as we came together to celebrate mom.  My godfather and his son were able to come as well. It was probably the most enjoyable all family gathering I had experienced yet. We spent time out at mom and dad’s house on Lake Austin. And one day, dad rented a paddlewheel boat for all of us. We spent several hours out on the lake, enjoying the sunshine, relaxing out on the water, and celebrating mom. It was hard for her to receive all the love that was gathered just for her. She was not used to the spotlight and was more comfortable in the background. And she was becoming much more visibly out of energy and more introspective as days past.

When we got back to the house, I was able to give mom a foot massage, something that we were all starting to do more and more. It seemed as if this type of love was something she could receive openly. I was also able to talk a little to my dad. It was becoming harder for him to watch mom’s energy decrease and the signs of her health deteriorating increase. He asked that I make sure he was never put in a hospital after mom died, that he wanted to be left where he was. And that mom was the most giving person he had ever met. We were then able to talk about the need for hospice and he agreed that he needed to talk to mom about it. Although he acknowledged that they didn’t communicate well. He committed to try as he knew hospice was needed. The next day, we had a photographer come out to the lake to take family pictures. Such a fantastic idea and such a blessing that we were all together. Family photos we usually not a fond memory, after yearly trips to olan mills when we were growing up. Several of my sisters really did not like their pictures taken. On this day, we all seemed to surrender and participate, knowing we would have some lasting memories documented. Later as we all prepared to leave on the 12th, dad asked each of us to write an obituary so we would be prepared, not knowing how much time we had. That left a sinking feeling in my stomach as I headed to the airport. I really did not want to leave. I was not sure I would see mom alive again.

The next day, back at home, I learned from one of my sister’s that mom had a rough night after we left, with lots of coughing and difficulty breathing. One of my sisters had stayed behind. Mom shared with her that mom was not sure she would make it to her birthday and was surprised that she did. Now she could let go. With this news, I started to feel completely out of control and wanted to move to Austin for a short time. Be with mom and cherish each day that was left. I was quickly reminded of my responsibilities of raising two children and working full time and knew that was not an option for me. As I considered what to do, I let go and turned my situation over to a higher power. Asking and trusting that the details of my busy life would work out as they needed to while I prioritized time with mom. Thankfully, I was able to go back to Austin the next weekend, for St. Patrick’s day. Mom loved to celebrate all the special days and holidays with décor and special food. It was a nice distraction to focus on St. Patrick’s day and tell stories of growing up, with all my sisters around.

While in Austin, I was able to talk more with mom about where she was, what her life was feeling like now. She described a feeling of being almost ‘lost’ in her own life, unable to feel her strong life force guiding her forward each day. She was struggling with even being able to feel all of our love for her. When I asked her what she was thinking about, it was all negative. The inner critic voice inside was complaining, asking why ‘she could not just get up’. She was not able to walk much on her own these days. And her appetite had vanished. She asked me if I thought it was the cancer spreading through her body or the sustained high blood pressure. Neither of us really knew, and she was no longer seeing her doctor. She told me then that if it was her time to go, she accepted it but she didn’t want it to drag on, or be a burden to any of us. We both acknowledged that we didn’t really know how or when it would happen. I still felt in my heart that she would die in her sleep.

As I looked in her eyes while we talked, I could see a lightness I had never seen. Almost angelic light shining brightly. She drifted off and closed her eyes. I held her arm as we talked. Her body was so very cold to the touch these days, almost as if it was empty. She opened her eyes again and talked about her acupuncture. Something she had enjoyed weekly for over a year. Mom talked about how she was not able to relax enough now to receive the treatment and knew she wouldn’t get the benefit if she was not able to relax. She struggled with relaxing and thought maybe it was fear, scared to let go as it may be forever. She also described how hard it was for her to do nothing every day. Mom was used to a highly active state of being and not very comfortable sitting still, just being.  I started to feel pain in my heart as we talked. Then I shared that I accepted where she was at this juncture and if her path was to leave, I accepted it. She then asked how I would remember her when she passes. Another sharp pain shot through my heart. I was so very grateful to be talking so openly with her, yet my heart was breaking into pieces from the inside out.

Mom said she did not want me to remember her in her current state. I reassured her I would remember the incredible gift of sharing such deep love with her, the unending giving and incredible support she had offered me, and the valuable guidance she had given me as a mother, learning how to raise to children from one stage to the next. Mom then acknowledged how much she felt my love and how grateful she was that I had included her in so much of my life. How she felt my presence when I would call and how she could feel my love when I visualized wrapping my arms around her when I was back in Nashville, something I was doing daily now. Such great validation for me of the deep connection we had developed. Mom drifted off again and when she re-opened her eyes, she said she knew how much I loved her. More validation and my heart filled with peace. It felt as if this talk gave both of us strength. As if we were in our own little world having this discussion, while the busyness of everyone in the house moved around us. As I prepared to leave again, my sisters and I were figuring out how to communicate better and talked about death a little easier. Dad was understandably very sad and depressed. He had seen his wife of 55 years survive late stage cancer before. He was starting to verbalize more now how he knew this time was different.

The day after I returned from Austin felt like a gift. A break from all the emotion and stress of the past couple of weeks. Felt kind of like the eye of a hurricane, calm and clear.  I felt joy again and had a skip in my step. I also could feel the love and support from my dear friends. As such, I was able to focus and knock out a couple of items on the to-do list, a helpful change from the limbo I had been living in. It was so very nice to feel normal for a day. My life was in such transition with so many changes. I enjoyed the feeling of peace and calm while it lasted.