Are You Going Crazy?

I’ve worked with hundreds of widowed women, from every walk of life, and very widow I’ve ever worked with has felt stuck and discouraged at some point.

Worse yet, they all thought that feeling stuck and discouraged meant there was something wrong with them. They thought they weren’t doing something right, they thought they weren’t strong enough. Or they thought they were going crazy.

If you are feeling stuck and discouraged, here’s a few things you should know.

The first thing is, you’re not going crazy. The depth of grief we feel when the person we have lived with, so intimately, dies, is overwhelming.

When every aspect of your life changes, you have a right to feel a little overwhelmed.

Think of it this way. One day, your world was right side up. Everything was normal. Then your partner died and your world turned upside down.

If your world is upside down why wouldn’t you feel overwhelmed? Your partner died, nothing is the same.

Look at this more closely: Your love life changed, your identity changed (wife to widow, bang!), your finances might have changed, friendships change (old couple friends don’t invite you to do things anymore and your girlfriends might not be calling you either). Maybe circumstances will not allow you to stay in the home or apartment you shared together. Perhaps you find yourself needing to get a job or take a different job in order to make ends meet. Your tax status changes. If you have children, your relationship with them has changed. (Being a solo parent to young kids is the hardest job of all!)

So just for today, know you are not crazy.

Just for today, take a deep breath and know that every cell in your body is working hard to help you get through this transition from wife to widow.

Try this breathing technique: Close your eyes. Place the fingers of your right hand on your belly, just above your navel and just below your rib cage. Take low, soft breaths into this place, breathing in through your nose and breathing out through your mouth. Take fifteen more breaths just like that and know showing tenderness to yourself will help you feel better. Try this breathing technique before you sleep at night. It calms the Vagus nerve, which is command central for your nervous system.

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Are You Looking for Enough Water to Bloom in the New Year?

I’m a fan of bulb gardens in the winter.

I take vases, antique bowls and baskets and turn them into little islands of happiness to combat the often-dreary days of winter.

Garden stores carry the bulbs in the fall.

I buy amaryllis, jonquils, and tulips. (I’m not a fan of narcissi, also known as paper-whites. They’re tall and leggy, like a twelve-year-old model on the cover of Vogue, and they have a nasty smell. The flowers I mean, not the models.) I know most people grow bulbs during the holidays, but I save mine for when I really need them: those dark days of January and February.

Then they go into a labeled paper bag.

Because as I get older, it’s hard to remember what’s in there if I don’t. Once all the bulbs are safely in the bag, so to speak, I put them in the dark for a few months so they can “harden.”  

When I take them out in early January, they’re shedding and all shriveled up.

They look like a vagabond’s suitcase. You’d never guess life could be coaxed from one. Nor would you expect beauty to spring up from something so ugly. I grow my bulb gardens in river rock instead of soil, so their roots have something to cling to as they reach for the light. It keeps them from falling over and scaring the cat.

The secret to growing a bulb garden is water.

Careful watering is the secret to growing a beautiful bloom from a shriveled bulb.

Too much water and the bulbs will rot. Too little and they won’t have enough energy to bloom. But place just a trickle of water under their “feet,” and new roots begin to emerge. Then a shoot of green will force its way up to the light.

A bulb has everything it needs to bloom deep inside itself.

That’s why it doesn’t need soil, or even sunlight. Bulbs store the summer sun so they can be ready to bloom again. A bulb is nature’s most masterful solar battery.

But this year, I’m feeling like a shriveled up bulb.

I think that’s understandable. It’s been a darker winter than usual, hasn’t it. The pandemic, again, kept us from family and holiday celebrations. From meals with friends and worship. Lord, how I miss worship.

We run around like masked bandits, trying to stay at a safe distance from people we barely recognize anymore. It’s so easy to get dried out from loneliness and the unending caution. Yet we dare not stop our vigilance now. The virus is still winning and our vaccines are a springtime hope. There’s a lot of suffering left to endure.

But it’s the New Year!

The New Year! A traditional time of rebirth; a time to try on something new, kick an old habit, take that new job. It’s time to bloom!

You’re more ready than you think!

Deep inside, you already have what you need to bloom. The trick is to find the situations and people that will give you the right amount of water.

Not everyone helps you bloom.

Some people give you so much water you begin to rot inside. (Have you ever seen a Helicopter Parent in action?) Others are too stingy, offering little or no encouragement or, worse yet, they belittle your possibility. 

But then there are people who truly believe in you.

It’s as if they know exactly how much watering you need! Somehow, they can see inside your leathery shell and they know you’re ready to burst. And they know that when you do, you’ll be amazing.

Yes, some people trickle just the right amount of water at your feet.

I’ve found the kinds of people who care about your blooming (which is not ALWAYS the same as caring about you) watch to see when you’re thirsty. They notice your droopy leaves. They have this way of providing encouragement at just the right time, in just the right way.

Places and situations can help us find the right trickle of water, too.

I often pass mountain streams in the highlands on my walk. Some have a kind of sweet, wild music that fills the air as I pass. They make me feel like blooming! Because there they are, way up a mountain pass, where no one can hear them, singing for no other reason than the fact that they can.

What songs does your heart long to sing?

In this New Year, how much water do you need?

Are you thirsty for friendliness after the animosity of the election rhetoric? Time to get off Facebook. Do you need an encouraging new friend or perhaps a savvy mentor? Or, would quiet bring just the right amount of water to your life? Perhaps you’d enjoy solitude on a hiking trail or maybe you’d like to get lost among the species in an arboretum? Is there a book that would water your thirsty soul? If so, why not buy it?

You are a rare creature.

You bloom best when gently watered. In a New Year when winter’s darkness may press upon us as never before, I invite you to find the trickle of water you need so that your life can burst forth and be made new again!

Surviving the Holidays, Part Two

On my first New Years’ without my husband. I was so exhausted from mak- ing it through Christmas without a meltdown that I didn’t think too much about New Years’. That was a big mistake, because my husband’s first massive stroke happened that night. (Both my son and I can replay
the night of his Dad’s first stroke like we’re watching a horror movie in slow motion).

Instead of doing my grief container work that morning, I made the mistake of getting up early and fussing with fancy food, so we could watch the Rose Bowl parade. Our son slept in, and I was already tired when he got up. Then we couldn’t find the right channel to stream the parade. (He was only watching it to please me.) One thing led to another, we argued, we spent time apart. Then evening came, and memories from the year before hit us both like an atom bomb, separately.

You might remember me saying that while my husband didn’t do housework, he wanted to clean the house and do the laundry the night of his first stroke. My son and I were swirling in memories from the year before and when I casually asked him if he needed to do his laundry, the roof caved in.

It was a grief-trigger that I should have seen coming. But I hadn’t thought about how to honor us that day; I didn’t have a plan. Before I knew it, we were both gut-punched by grief, and so emotionally raw we couldn’t understand or support each other. I felt stupid about the laundry thing; he was angry with me for triggering his grief. We fled to our separate rooms (after deciding not to kill each other!). In the heat of that moment, I thought I’d lost my son, too.

This story is another example of the explosive power that holidays can have.

In addition to helping you keep your cool in front of friends, relatives, and co-workers, pre-planning lets you celebrate the holidays in meaningful ways. A well-laid plan honors the intense emotions you may feel on that day while also letting you celebrate the day with a sense of safety.

If you want to celebrate Christmas or New Years with others, contact the people you want to be with and get a plan going. It’s a horrible feeling to be alone and waiting for an invitation to celebrate a holiday. Decide who you want to be with on those occasions, and call them to make arrangements. (Remember to make your gathering small this year because of COVID.) If you decide to host a holiday, take it easy on yourself. You get the place ready and let the others bring everything else. Everyone loves a potluck! You can provide the space, and others can bring food. It’s easy and often very comforting!

Here’s the most important thing: Make sure you begin and end each of these days in your own grief container time. Private grief time is how you will prevent grief bursts during the day. When you work with your emotions before the day gets going, you’re less likely to be ambushed by them. When you have a plan to honor your feelings later that night when everything is over, you can tell yourself, “I’m not going to react to that now. I’ll deal with it tonight.”

When you honor your emotions in private, it’s much easier to enjoy others and have self-control in public. Accepting yourself and your grief by making a plan is a healthy way to get through any special occasion or holiday!

Try It Out!

HOLIDAY STRATEGY TWO: take a piece of paper and write important holiday dates in a column on the left. Next to each date, write how you want to celebrate and anyone you’d like to celebrate with. This is the year for YOU to make a plan for each holiday that honors YOU. Plan something fun to look forward to. That could be watching a holiday movie or streaming The Nutcracker from the internet. It could be calling friends to wish them a happy New Year. (Or all of the above!)

Surviving the Holidays Part 1

Holidays and special occasions (like Christmas, anniversaries or birthdays) often bring overwhelming emotions and cascades of memories for a widow.

If you don’t have a plan for how you’ll honor your grief and emotions, then these “special days” will ambush you. Without a plan, grief can attack you out of nowhere and leave you bleeding on the pavement or weeping in front of family and friends months after the death.

STRATEGY #1: Get out a calendar and mark it with the dates this month and next that could be filled with more grief than usual (like Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve).

I learned to make a plan with a calendar in hand the hard way. My husband’s death anniversary came in early November. Then our wedding anniversary, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years (the anniversary of his first stroke) came racing in, one on top of the other. By January 2nd, I was exhausted.

It started with our wedding anniversary, which arrived the week after his funeral, the week before Thanksgiving. I was still in shock and had spaced on the date. My house was a mess; I was a mess, and I decided I should dust. (Why I do these things is a mystery.) Anyway, I was cleaning up my den and went to feather-dust our wedding photo when I accidentally tipped it off the mantle with the duster.

Of course, the hand-painted ceramic frame fell to the floor and broke. The tears came, as did the screams and shouts of anger that I’d done something so careless and stupid (thank God our son was at school).

When I took the pieces into the kitchen I glanced at the calendar and saw it was our wedding anniversary! How could I have forgotten? My knees buckled. I sank onto the big slabs of gray and blue tile, shaking and crying so hard I thought my bones would break. When the tears finally stopped, I curled up in a fetal position and rocked myself there for almost an hour.

The power of that uncontrollable outburst shocked me. It was a powerful encounter with the rage and sorrow that were living inside me. I decided right then and there I wouldn’t get ambushed like that again. What if our son had been home? It would have scared him to death!

So I took that to heart and made a plan for every “special occasion.” These strategic plans, which included working with my emotions, helped me stay safe and sane. My pre-planning was a wise strategy.

Pre-planning for your holidays and special occasions is so powerful I might even call it life-saving. At the very least, it will save your sanity. “Special” days have extraordinary power. Without a plan, they can, and will, drop-kick you to your knees. So get that calendar out and mark those dates.

FREE Zoom Event: How to Have a Happy Holiday Even If You’re Alone or Grieving


Please join me for a fun and upbeat conversation!
Friday, Dec. 4 at 4 p.m. (EST)

Few things can disrupt a widow’s life as much as the holidays.
No matter where you are in your grieving process, or how many years it’s been, the holidays are thick with memories and the “we used to…” and “we always…” thoughts.

But life is too short (as you well know) to allow the past to ruin your present.
It’s going to be harder this year than ever because of
COVID’s isolating reality. But, trust me, you can do it!

You CAN have joy this holiday season.

It’s all in how you approach things, how you honor what’s happening in your heart, and
make plans that suit YOU. Plans for doing things that bring YOU joy.

But there’s too much to talk about here so I’ve scheduled a fun afternoon
conversation for this Friday on ZOOM. (If you don’t have the app, it’s a free download.)

Donna Marie Todd is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.
Topic: Widows Pre-Holiday Meet-Up
Time: Dec 4, 2020 04:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
Join Zoom Meeting
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/3012088815
Meeting ID: 301 208 8815
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Meeting ID: 301 208 8815
Find your local number: https://us02web.zoom.us/u/kbkQY2P30G

I hope to see you there!

Transitions: Part One


Transitions are so awkward.
You have one foot one place and one foot somewhere else. You’re afraid to leave and can’t wait to go all at the same time. 
 
They’re rarely neat and clean.
Transitions often come with a lot of back and forth. For instance, I’ve taken my fleece jackets in and out of the closet for the last 30 days. Ditto all my long-sleeved tops. One day it’s 70 degrees and the next it’s 50. Or its 60 when I go to bed and 37 when I wake up. It’s hard to know what to wear so I go with layers and shed them all day like a snake.
 
The wild kingdom is in transition, too. The bears are back, raiding our trash, and the squirrels race to and fro with their cheeks stuffed full of acorns, which are huge and plentiful this year. The trees have shed most of their leaves. The vines clinging to the garage are the last stronghold
of last months’ reds and yellows.
 
Transitions are clumsy.
Being anxious during transitions is utterly natural. I’m not sure it really matters how many times you do it. Each transition brings its own angst, its own set of harsh realities and challenges.
 
You’ve been in transition your whole life.
Starting when you were forcefully ejected from the warm, quiet safety of your mother’s womb and came screaming out into a
glaringly bright, loud, busy world.
 
The fun continued when you learned how to walk, which started with you falling down a lot. Human bipedalism is a dicey thing to master. And before you could take the first step, you had to build your strength and coordination. You had to pull yourself up again and again. And there’s a never-ending irony to that. It’s like my pediatrician’s nurse always said, “We tell our babies to hurry up and walk, hurry up and talk, and then we tell them to sit down and shut up.”
 
No wonder we’re leery of transitions.
I think half my adult insecurity comes from my first day in kindergarten. I remember standing in the doorway of a cavernous space in the “other” big church in town, First Baptist. As the Methodist pastor’s daughter, there I was, behind enemy lines, holding my mother’s hand, and looking at all these little people my size that I didn’t know. Mother handed me off to the teacher who led me to my “place” at a long table filled with paper and crayons. Learning “my place” has been a life-long activity.
 
At the end of that day, I had a clumsy drawing of the letters A through D, a belly full of graham crackers, Kool-Aid stained lips, and no new friends. I was the new girl on the block most of my childhood. All those childhood transitions made me good at meeting people and slow to make friends.
 
Transitions are risky affairs.
The status quo is boring but predictable. The transitions we’re in right now are like playing a slot machine without any quarters.
 
We’re transitioning from one president to another. We’ve gone from stock market highs to struggling economies; from the safety of a first world nation to victims of a pandemic that has no national boundaries.
 
Between the presidency and the pandemic, we’re faced with an ugly truth:
As a widow, you already know we’re not in control of life’s transitions.
 
Transitions are awkward, clumsy, risky things
they make us feel insecure and out of control. But the truth of the matter is you and I aren’t in control. You never were in control and you will never be in control. Control is a delusion – a fatalistic one.
 
The only control you ever really have is over how you react to what is.
So perhaps with all the transitions coming your way, it may be time to take a step back and quiet your heart. To feel your breath rising and falling, entering and leaving. Every inhale gives you another moment of life while each exhale rids your lungs of what no longer serves you.
 
When transitions are hard, security can seem very far away. No matter what transition you are facing, know that God is there. Remember that God is in control and God is already on the other side of that transition, ready to give you your next breath.

Never forget that God is there.

The holidays are coming. If you, or someone you know,
would like some ideas as to how to move through them
gracefully, click here to download my free planning guide.

How to …

There’s a Science to It!
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LEARNING TO BE SINGLE AGAIN IS HARD

After 23 years of marriage it was hard to keep my spirits up as I learned how to live as a single woman again. I’m having trouble with that again during all this isolation due to COVID.

I TRIED TO BE HAPPY

I’d plan something fun to do (like go to the farmer’s market or the movies) and I’d enjoy myself!  Then I’d hope and pray that feeling good would last longer than 20 seconds. But this almost never happened. Instead, the happiness would vanish and I’d find myself depressed again.

FEELING DEPRESSED IS DEPRESSING!

Worse yet, I was depressed that I was depressed again. There was something about the “up” energy of those happy moments that made the “down” energy of those sad moments worse.

AND THEN I LEARNED WHY

I was reading a book that my son, Mr. Science, had given me. This book explored the science behind happiness (WTW?!!). I was skeptical, but the author was convincing AND he had lots of initials after his name. In a chapter about something called “negative bias” I learned why it was so hard to be happy!

OUR BRAINS ARE WIRED TO REMEMBER PAINFUL EVENTS

Back when we were cave-girls and boys, this negative bias kept us alive. If we lost a tribe member to a snake bite or lion raid, our brains made sure we remembered that snakes and lions kill people. This information kept us safe. It kept us alive. We still need our negative bias for this purpose. We use it when we drive (“Stay in your lane so you won’t crash!”), we use it when we go out at night (“Did that shadow just move?!”)

BUT REMEMBERING YOUR PAIN IS NOT HELPFUL NOW

When you’re recovering from a painful event, like the divorce or the death of your partner, negative bias is no longer your friend. But you still have it, whether you like it or not.  

ARE YOU CHASING YOUR TAIL IN UNENDING CIRCLES OF SADNESS?

Every time my sadness returns, I feel like a hamster on a wheel, running to nowhere as fast as I can. To continue this metaphor, I’m in a tiny cage inside my mind. My best girlfriend then and now is named Depression. She’s always available on the weekends when my friends aren’t.

HERE’S HOW TO USE BRAIN SCIENCE TO FEEL BETTER FOR GOOD

The book also introduced me to something scientists call neuroplasticity. That’s a big way of saying that your brain is, in fact, quite flexible and open to suggestion.  The really cool thing is that you can literally hard-wire your brain to be happy. (There’s even a book about it called “Hardwiring Happiness” by Rick Hanson, Ph.D.) But as I discovered early in my widowhood, you can’t just plan a happy experience and trust it to last. It doesn’t work that way. But it does start that way!

PLAN A HAPPY EXPERIENCE

Call your pet over for some loving, arrange a bouquet of flowers, take a long walk, bake something sweet. Having this experience is the first step. The second step is to let this experience expand in your mind. Pull those happy feelings as far into yourself as you can.  Keep absorbing the sweetness of the experience. Focus on it for as long as you can. Repeat this process several times each day. Become aware of moments when you’re happy and when you feel those, stay with the happy feelings, absorb them into yourself.

FOCUS ON YOUR HAPPINESS AND YOU’LL HARD-WIRE IT INTO YOUR BRAIN

When you linger with a happy experience and expand it you are literally rewiring circuits inside your brain. The more happiness circuits you make, the happier you become! How cool is that?

But this science stuff gets even better. The more you practice having happy moments and then absorbing them for 15 or 20 seconds, the more happy moments you find in your day. If you build circuits for happiness every day in a few months you’ll actually BE happier.

WHEN DARK THOUGHTS COME, YOU’LL HAVE A STRATEGY

Your new happiness circuits are ready to help when those dark thoughts arise. When you feel depression or sorrow sneaking into your thoughts, tap into your happy memory circuit and let it touch the darkness. Expand your awareness of the happiness you hold there. Let it get bigger and bigger and bigger. Now link this expanded happiness to that dark thought. Literally let the happiness push the darkness out to the edge of your awareness, where it belongs.

AS CRAZY AS IT SOUNDS, YOU REALLY CAN WIRE YOUR MIND TO BE HAPPY AGAIN

I’ve used this science again this year as the isolation from COVID started closing in on me. When I saw my old girlfriend Depression arrive and pour herself a glass of wine I grabbed my dog and began playing keep-away with him. I let the joy in his cute little eyes burrow into my mind. I let his silliness and joy get bigger and bigger and sink deeper and deeper into me. And the more I did that, the further away she got, until finally, good old Depression took her drink and moved on.

GO GET YOUR HAPPY ON

What brings you joy? What makes you want to dance like no one’s watching? Make a list of experiences you easily create that bring you a happy moment and then take that moment and expand it for 20 seconds. Once it’s big enough to feel, let it sink into every cell, and you’ll have just created a neural pathway for joy. When you create and savor enough moments like this, your brain will learn how to crowd out the pain.

Tips for Managing Stress

Some Ideas for Managing Stress during COVID 19.

Widowhood is VERY stressful. You’ve had to make a myriad of decisions about all sorts of things, just when you feel least capable of making good decisions. Grief stresses your physical and emotional body.

Understanding and acknowledging that your life as a new widow is going to be stressful is actually a healthy thing to do. Having a plan for managing your stress can keep it from sabotaging you! Here are some things you can actively do to help manage your stress:

Set Priorities

Not everything is an emergency. Not every situation has to be addressed RIGHT NOW. Ask yourself how important this task will be five years from now. Focus on the things that are really important (Like your own well-being, for instance!).

Take Your Time With Major Life Changes

You’ve been through one of the biggest life changes there is, so if you don’t have to make decisions about where you’ll live or where you’ll work or buying that new car, don’t! The old adage of waiting a year to make any large decision is still a wise one.

Just Say No

Your grief has probably lowered your capacity for productivity. This is not the time to take on big new projects or increase your work load. Be kind to you and just say, “No, not now. Maybe in a year or so…”

Take Time to Relax

Set aside 10-20 minutes throughout your day to just relax and do some deep breathing. A mid- morning, mid-afternoon and early evening break will restore your body. Also leave several evenings a week unscheduled.

Make Distinctions Between Realistic and Unrealistic Worries

Worry is the girlfriend of widowhood. Make a list of your worries and then rate them on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the most likely to happen, 1 the least likely to happen). Fearful thinking is very stressful. Don’t give into it. Address realistic worries with an action plan.

Don’t Bottle Up Your Emotions

Keeping your emotions bottled up increases stress! When you are grieving, emotions can come out of nowhere, sometimes at inopportune times! If you feel a big emotion coming on when you are in public, try to excuse yourself so you can release the emotion in private. Express your feelings to friends or by writing in a journal. Talk to a counselor…

Practice Relaxing

Take 3 deep breaths in through your nose and release them slowly through your mouth. Make a habit of doing this every hour of your waking day. When you practice relaxing in this way, you are better able to use this as a strategy when stressful situations arise. Hourly breathing practice will have a beautiful effect on your blood pressure and mood!

Give Yourself Extra Time

Get up earlier, leave for appointments earlier, go to bed earlier, create holes in your schedule so you don’t feel pushed to get things done. Overestimate how much time every thing will take. Grief slows your mental processing speed.

Use these ideas regularly and you’ll feel less “stressed out.” When you are proactive in managing stress, you are less likely to be the victim of grief- related stress.

On Becoming a New Creature

I had cabin fever. Again. Bad. I was feeling down in the dumps, frustrated with my never-ending creative projects, my aloneness, my newly evolving life as an author and online coach. I needed to get out. Itching for action of any kind, I drove to Asheville to buy some elegant, old-fashioned bottles at the big-box kitchen store. (I wanted to make some blueberry and peach infused spirits with tall sprigs of mint again as Christmas gifts and that’s where I bought the supplies last year.)

Pulling up in front of the store, I parked in the shade. (It was hot out! It’s August! Did you know that? How did that happen? I think it was June the last time I went out.) The lot looked quasi-empty but I didn’t think much of it, there is a pandemic going on after all.

Focused on my project of the day, I slid my leopard print mask up over my face and headed across the parking lot. But when I got to the door, there was a big lock on it (like the kind realtor’s and the IRS use). I glanced in the window and the store was empty. Completely empty. It was like the kitchen products had vanished in the middle of the night, or left in June, who knows which? I couldn’t get my bottles; I couldn’t make infused spirits without them. I laughed to myself that it was probably a holy sign that I should take up needlepoint instead.

And that’s when I saw her. The most enormous butterfly I have ever seen in real life. This huge, gorgeous yellow swallowtail was pressed up against the curb outside the store. I knelt to look more closely and lightly touched her wing. She fluttered but couldn’t seem to fly. The heat was radiating from the pavement and my heart melted for her. Something that beautiful shouldn’t be baked alive.

So I took off my mask and offered it to her as a magic carpet and she climbed slowly onboard. She pressed her wings flat against it as I carried her to the shade. I offered her a chance to move into the tall grass but she refused it. She was a gift that couldn’t be given away. On the drive home we listened to solo violin music. I’m pretty sure she liked it as much as I did.

I Goggled wounded butterfly and learned she would savor the same nectar I’d made that morning for my hummingbirds, and to put it on a sponge so she could use her feet to find it. I followed the directions and, clearly delighted, she unfurled her tightly curled proboscis to take a long drink. It turns out my new friend is a female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail who is probably exhausted from laying her eggs.

Looking into the rows of eyes on her wings I was transported to an internal sanctuary. To gaze upon her is to see holiness. It had been an exhausting week, stuffed full of new ways of being, new possibility, and, correspondingly, a hundred ways to fail. It was another one of those weeks when you’re either in a cave shaking, or cliff-walking with nothing but hutzpah to keep you from falling to your death. This year seems to have brought a lot of those to a lot of us.

I needed to hit pause; to stop my monkey brain from bouncing around on my neural networks as it pondered new ways of being. I needed to find some meaning in all of it.

And as I looked at her, so wounded and beautiful, strong and soft, fragile yet alive, I began to cry. Like me, she had suffered through a true metamorphosis to become a butterfly. As a caterpillar, she had to survive five instars, sheddings of her exoskeleton. During her last instar, she transformed the skin of her soft, tubular body into a hard chrysalis, after securing herself to a branch, so that the unthinkable could happen. Inside her chrysalis she first digested herself and became liquid so that she could restructure her cells and become an entirely new creature, in a process known as histogenesis. Her ancient process is the foundation of modern-day stem cell research, how fascinating is that?

More tears flowed as I thought about my own instars in a way I never had before. Learning more about her journey helped me understand my own. What I had seen as failures or do-overs were actually a process deeply necessary to my own metamorphosis. I had to shed my no-longer-useful exoskeletons.

Without shedding and cocooning, we cannot be made new.  She’s slowly fluttering her wings as I write, drinking her fill from a sponge on a plate. She is safe for now and so am I. The small deaths in my life, my journey back from widowhood, these are not things to be pitied or mourned. I’ve been undergoing histogenesis. No wonder I’ve felt semi-solid this year. My metamorphosis is almost complete. Soon I will dry my wings in the sun, and then, I’ll take flight.

Now I understand the message I was sent when I saw her pressed up against the hot pavement in a parking lot. If we can survive the threats of life long enough, stop clinging to our old skin and the baggage that comes with it; if we can digest the hard places within us, then one day we can emerge. When we let go of the old selves that no longer serve us, we become a new creature, in an ancient act of unspeakable freedom and beauty.

This is a difficult time to be a butterfly. Take a few moments to use this healing meditation to gain strength for the freedom that awaits YOU.