Following Butterflies

A journey of transformation and healing

image of a monarch butterfly on a flower

My mother took her last breath in October 2013.

She had fought long enough. She had beaten the odds and survived for almost ten years with stage 4 breast cancer. She was a warrior, but her fight was over, and it was time to go.

I was fortunate to spend seven hours with her one-on-one the day before she passed. We reminisced and had deep conversations about life. Eventually, we got to the topic of writing. She reminded me how much I loved writing essays and fictional short stories when I was younger. She asked why I didn’t write more as I got older. I didn’t have an answer other than being busy.

As we continued our conversation, she brought up her love of butterflies and how she wanted me to think of them as a sign that she was with me after she passed. She wanted them to remind me of her as I moved through the rest of my life. If she could find a way to send me a sign from beyond, this would be it.

I’ve always been grateful for the time we shared that day, but I’ve also carried guilt. That day was one of only a half dozen times that I was able to visit her that year.

I’d been very busy with my physical therapy practice during her last few years and could only spend one day every couple of months with her. She lived 2 1/2 hrs away, so it just wasn’t practical.

Her passing set me on a quest to make changes in my life. 

  • Simplifying
  • Focusing on having a positive impact on the world
  • Being present in my experiences
  • Leaving a legacy for my family

I decided to start writing again, but most writing apps had poor interfaces and features that frustrated me. I searched for a new tool and tried at least a dozen when I found the perfect one called Ulysses.

Ulysses turned out to be exactly what I needed. It was available on all Apple devices, but the iPad version was the deciding factor. It was the best iOS writing experience, and it could sync flawlessly to the cloud and my other devices.

It was intuitive and allowed me to write anywhere as long as I had my iPad or iPhone. I even dictated short articles via voice-to-text while commuting to work. Ulysses made it easier to complete freelance writing projects.

I was happy to be writing again.

So, how did I find Ulysses? It was the app icon that drew me to it.

A butterfly.

I’ve had a transformational journey making life changes, but it hasn’t always been easy. People don’t always understand my decisions or reasons for doing things. Sometimes, I don’t know why I need to make specific changes, but I know it’s the right path.

In June 2019, I left a great job as a director in an outpatient physical therapy practice. It was close to home, was in a nice area, and we had great patients. On the surface, it was the perfect job for me, but — I was feeling burned out, and my job often felt empty.

I decided to switch to home healthcare. Anyone who works in healthcare will probably understand why many of my peers thought I was crazy to leave such a good, “clean” job in favor of home healthcare.

During my first week in the new job, I walked with a patient in front of his house. It was a warm summer morning, and we enjoyed light conversation during our walk. As we returned to his front porch, at least a dozen large butterflies fluttered around us and then drifted into the sky.

I immediately thought of my mother and her comments.

Butterflies.

Later that summer, I was out on my deck at home when I noticed an enormous Monarch butterfly trapped under the roof of our gazebo. I slowly climbed up on a chair and used my hand to gently guide it toward the edge of the roof so it could escape. As it neared the edge, it climbed onto my finger. I was shocked that it seemed so willing to sit there as I admired the colors and patterns of its wings.

Before I discovered the butterfly, I had been thinking about my career, recent job change, and writing projects I wanted to start.

Once again, I thought of my mom and our last day together.

A butterfly.

Thinking back, I can say that switching to home care was what I needed to reset. On the surface, there were practical factors — good pay, no administrative duties, autonomy, and a flexible schedule. But on a deeper level, the job allowed me to connect with people deeply and positively impact in their lives.

It also allowed me more time and mental energy to write and create.

I spent 45 mins to an hour with each patient. Most of whom were at least 80 years old. The treatments were easy to deliver compared with outpatient. Medical management was more challenging because most patients had multiple things going on.

Some places I went to weren’t too pleasant, but others were amazing — like the patient who had the Chesapeake Bay as his backyard. We sat on his porch to do his exercises while listening to the water and feeling the breeze off the bay.

The best parts for me were the conversations and the chance to make a difference in their lives. I got to share their incredible memories and stories from decades of living.

Often, at the end of the treatment sessions, patients thanked me for spending the time with them. They appreciated my staying an extra 15–20 minutes to finish our conversations.

They thought that I was only helping them.

They didn’t realize that they were helping me too.

They helped me process the guilt I carried from not spending more time with my mother before she passed.

They helped me feel less empty.

Each of those experiences filled my soul a little more. I looked forward to those moments.

I’m sitting here ten years after my Mother passed, happier and more centered than I’ve been in years.

I’m grateful to have come so far in my journey. 

I arrived here by following butterflies.