My mom loves butterflies.

She buys flowers and herbs to attract them—dill, rue, and butterfly weed have annual planting appointments in her patio pots and flowerbeds.

During the warm days of spring and summer she watches closely for a variety of butterflies to lay their eggs and monitors where the tiny specks appear. Then begins the vigil for caterpillar growth (she holds fast to the belief that lizards and geckos are evil and they will eat the eggs and tiny caterpillars if she isn’t on duty to protect them.)

For plants with multiple tiny caterpillars, she brings out large sections of netting to tie around plants to protect the growing “children.”

After significant growth, she brings the developing caterpillar inside to its condo—a clear glass bowl with a net roof held in place by a rubber band. Each caterpillar gets a main twig and daily portion of hand-gathered greens for nourishment. It is truly a caterpillar BnB.

Eventually, the caterpillar become stationary on the twig or the side of the bowl and begins the chrysalis phase.

Many days later, the chrysalis darkens and this sends mom into transformation monitoring.

Miraculously, the ugly chrysalis eventually breaks open and a glorious butterfly emerges, wings rolled up and wet. The butterfly must struggle to escape the small chrysalis, unfurl its wings, and allow them time to dry. It might cling to the twig inside the bowl or upside down from its net ceiling, allowing the wings to hang open, with an occasional slow motion flutter to stir the air. Usually a couple of hours go by and then, suddenly, the butterfly transitions to quick movement and restless activity.

Transformation complete, it is time to set the butterfly free.

Mom carries the glass condo outdoors, gently removes the net, and slowly puts her hand in to allow the butterfly to climb on her finger. The butterfly might stay for a few minutes or immediately fly away to a nearby flower. Freedom and joy on full display.

Sharing Wonder

I have watched my mom educate others on caterpillar-to-butterfly development. When the chrysalis condos line her counter and someone stops by for a visit, they usually leave with this unusual gift and detailed instructions on how to set it free when the time comes.

Giving others the opportunity to witness God’s creative transformation is a gift she treasures. She passes this information on to adults and small children alike to cultivate a desire to learn about the world around us.

My mom also delivered these gifts to oncology nurses and patients when she herself went through cancer treatment.

What a life lesson in empathy and grace to all who see her acts of kindness.

Transformative Grief

Chrysalis transformation also presents a picture of the human grief process.

We move through our days — living, working, and gathering nourishment. Then something traumatic disrupts the routine and shakes our foundation.

When unexpected events, loss, and tragedies occur, grief often causes us to isolate and protect from further hurt and pain. If we don’t pay close attention, we can build a thick “chrysalis” around ourselves that does nothing more than hold us paralyzed in our trauma.

Time apart from others can create healthy space when we pursue intentional healing. As the caterpillar is beautifully transformed within the chrysalis, we too may experience positive transformation in the midst of post-trauma challenges.

Steps in the Process

Monitor Time

Set a limit each day for your alone time. In early days of raw pain, this may be a long span. One way to help limit this intentional space is to set a timer. Maybe 30 minutes. Once the timer dings then rise up and get to the activities of your day (which may be really simple, coping activities in the beginning). Don’t worry about the broader length of time for grief (days, weeks) as this differs for everyone…

Be Intentional

Think about the time in advance. Plan to listen to specific soothing music, read, look through memories or just weep. Whatever the choice, the goal is to work through bits of emotions each day as you are able. As time passes and you grow stronger, the daily intentionality of grief might result in larger actions that involve attending a Bible study, field trips to museums, or nature walks.

Bring in Friends

Invite friends into your grief. Many want to offer practical help and don’t know what to do. Ask them to come over and sit for 30 minutes or 2 hours. Share a meal together.

When you feel ready, invite them to get involved with the larger actions of reading, study, and field trips.

Over time, your self-imposed isolation chrysalis will begin to open and you can move into more freedom and joy. Don’t forget – this takes time, self-care, and love from those around you.

My mom’s loving care of butterflies inspires me to find the wonder in God’s creative nature and to transform seasons of life-chrysalis into learning, positive growth and beauty.

The next time butterflies flutter by, be inspired and hopeful for the possibilities of transformation in the midst of challenging life events.

(Have you experienced chrysalis time in your life? What did your transformation look like?)