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How Following Butterflies Drastically Improved My Life

Butterflies are often seen as a sign of transformation and change. Some cultures even view them as spirit animals that guide us on our journey through life.

Bud Ward
Bud Ward
4 min read
How Following Butterflies Drastically Improved My Life
Photo by Erin Minuskin on Unsplash

My mother took her last breath in October 2013. She'd 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 the entire day with her one-on-one before she passed. We reminisced and had deep conversations about life. She remembered how much I'd loved writing essays and fictional short stories when I was younger. She asked why I didn’t write more as I got older.

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 had that day, but I’ve also carried some guilt. That day was one of only a half dozen times that I had been 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 significant changes in my life. I wanted to -

  • Simplify
  • Focus on having a positive impact on the world
  • Be more present in my experiences
  • Leave a legacy for my family

I decided to start writing again, but I got frustrated with most writing apps. I was searching for a new tool and tried at least a dozen of them 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. I found it to be 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. It helped me complete many freelance writing projects over the next few years.

I was happy to be writing again.

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

🦋 A butterfly.

I’ve had an amazing journey making life changes, but it hasn’t always been easy. People haven't always understood my decisions or reasons for doing things. Sometimes I didn’t know why I needed to make certain changes - I just knew that it was the right way to go.

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

I decided to switch to home healthcare to allow more time for creative and freelance work. 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 was walking with a patient in front of his house. It was a warm summer morning and we were enjoying some light conversation on our walk. As we returned to his front porch, at least a dozen large butterflies fluttered around us 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 on my finger as I admired the colors and patterns of its wings.

Just before discovering the butterfly, I had been thinking about my career and writing projects that I wanted to start.

Once again, I thought of my mom and the last day we spent together.

🦋 A butterfly.

Thinking back, I can truly say that switching to home care was exactly what I needed at the time. 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 and make a bigger impact on their lives.

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

I spent an hour with each patient. Most of them were at least 80 yrs old and multiple health issues. The treatments were easy to deliver compared to outpatient sessions, but medical management was more challenging.

Some places I went were unpleasant, 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 of the bay.

The best parts for me were the conversations and the chance to make a difference in these patients’ 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 mins so we could finish our conversations.

They thought that I was only helping them.

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

Helping me fight the guilt that I still carried from not being able to spend more time with my mother before she passed.

Helping me feel less empty.

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

I’m sitting here years after my mother’s passing feeling happier and more centered than I have in a long time.

It took a lot of work. I had to commit to continuous improvement through small changes.

I’m grateful to have come so far in my journey. I arrived here because I followed the butterflies.


Bud Ward Twitter

I'm a writer, speaker, & consultant focused on continuous improvement, mindful productivity, & sustainable well-being. I've contributed to blogs, magazine articles, courses, & digital health apps.

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