The greatest of life’s mysteries – Death

Image by Prajna Dewantara ॐ

I have this thing about butterflies. Is there a creature anywhere more symbolic of transformation?

A butterfly lives two distinctly different lives: first as a worm, and second, as a glorious winged being. When its earth-bound days are ending, it weaves its own shroud and liquefies. What emerges bears no likeness to what it once was.

Shortly after my father died I was sitting in my treetop house, doors and windows open, writing (as I usually am) when an elegant caramel-colored butterfly with black wingtips flew in and lit in front of me. Without pausing to think I said, “Hi, Dad. You found me.” Since then he’s hung around my garden. He always loved tending his own. Now and then he flits through my house. He’s the only butterfly that pays personal visits.

But my story today is about Mom.

She cared for Dad for years as his memory faded and he became less and less able to manage his own needs. Before he died he told her he’d meet her at the Pearly Gates. He’d be standing there holding them open for her when she was ready to join him.

Mom clung to his promise. She rehearsed it for everyone who’d listen. In the three-and-a-half years since he passed, Mom continued to live her life. She played Bingo and often won. Three times a week she exercised on the stationary bikes at Well Camp in the assisted living complex where she had her own apartment. She did armchair yoga on the days the fitness center was closed. Always social, she stayed busy and involved. The staff and residents loved her.

But she missed her partner of sixty-seven years.

Three weeks ago, Mom began weaving her shroud. She sensed it was time. She loved the story of Dad in my garden and told me I would see her with him there soon. I said I was certain of it, that I’d be expecting her.

On August 9th she passed. Yesterday, I caught sight of Dad fluttering above the coral bougainvillea. I scanned the bushes, the trumpet flowers, the heliconia. He shouldn’t be alone now. Where was Mom? From out of nowhere a brilliant white butterfly whirled into view, cavorting, swooping, dancing. She circled the handsome lone stranger three times and seemed ecstatic to be in my garden with him. Then she frolicked off, lighter than air, buoyant, free.

I was left to sort out my misconceptions.

I hadn’t expected a white butterfly. She’d be a near twin of Dad, caramel with black-tipped wings, maybe a tad smaller. I pictured them fluttering together more or less as they had throughout their married lives. But her energy was unlike the proper, dignified mother who raised me. As she looped and dived she had the effervescence of a bubbly teenager. Mom seemed to be fully and completely her own being. She was delighted to see Dad – giddy almost – but no longer dependent upon him for happiness, the picture of embodied freedom.

My sister has been sorting through Mom’s things. When I told her about the butterflies she gasped. Then she laughed and laughed and I knew there were tears pouring down her face. “You’ll never believe what I just found,” she said. She grabbed her phone and sent this photo.

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Then I, too, laughed and laughed and cried.

This morning I saw Mom again. She was alone, swirling skyward on the dry monsoons that visit Bali this time of year. Dad must be sleeping in.

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Bali – Life in Technicolor!

 

When I practiced interior design, I told clients that their homes should reflect who they were (private persona) and how they wanted to be perceived by others (public persona). We spent significant time discussing this and often who they felt they were inside differed vastly from how they wished to be seen.

Personally, I wanted my home to tell the world how sophisticated I was. My mother modeled flawless manners: setting a proper table even for breakfast, insisting that I learn piano and listen to classical music when I much preferred playing guitar with my dad. Her need to look perfect to the world lodged in my psyche.

As an adult that ingrained training dictated appearances. The color palette in both the clothing I wore, and the furnishings I chose, blended a dazzling array of – you guessed it – neutrals. The absence of color was chic and classy. The only divergence from the black, white, beige theme was a red brocade jacket pulled out of mothballs at Christmastime.

I brought that aesthetic with me when I moved to Bali. The first thing I noticed after the two thousand shades of green, was the Balinese’ flagrant disregard for subtlety in their attire. Bali style was as far from neutral as Minnesota winter was from tropical paradise.

Layered patterns in bold, clashing colors challenged my tightly held conceptions of what worked and what most decidedly didn’t.

I searched the entire island to find quiet earth tones for accent pillows and cushion covers, but Bali would not be subdued. I settled for a dignified combo of black, rust, and avocado. Now, six years later, in response to a growing community of permanent Western customers, gray, taupe, and putty batiks and ikat fabrics abound, all those lifeless non-colors that no self-respecting Balinese person would ever want.

As the years passed I was unaware of my continental drift away from ‘safe.’ The change came so slowly I didn’t notice when the vanilla person hiding behind beige, went missing.

Upon reflection, blame settled on the Bali Blue Bed. When that precious antique handcrafted half a century ago by Ketut’s father for his growing family became my most cherished possession, my relationship with color began to expand.

Tentatively I added a little china to carry the emerging theme into the kitchen.Not long after the new dishes brightened up the far end of my quarters, I discovered skirts. Until that time, capris had covered my lower half, white ones, black ones, and of course non-threatening beige. I don’t remember when the first flowy, legless clothing crept into my closet but I remember the color: hot coral!

I loved flouncing around Ubud with naked legs! Breezes reached all those previously confined areas and I was so much cooler underneath! Soon the mid-length pants occupied a drawer that never got opened and the closet was full of skirts: blue, green, some with birds, others with flowers. Loose-fitting tops were the natural accompaniment and they came in various shades of bright. So the wardrobe morphed along with the house.

On the way back from the supermarket one afternoon, the bead shop lady greeted me on the sidewalk. Next thing I knew I was the proud and somewhat surprised owner of an enormous beaded basket!I’d ordered one that was half the size but when I had gone to the shop a month later to pick it up, the dear lady apologized. “So sorry, Ibu, but no small now, only this kind.” Evidently the current shipment of imported rattan baskets from Java that the woman used as a base for her beadwork, had only come in large.

As so often happened to me here, the Universe conspired to give me my heart’s desire. I’d lusted after the monster baskets so why had I ordered a small one? I knew the answer to that as well as I knew the reflection in the mirror. It was a lie as old as I was, instilled in the subconscious where it reared it’s ugly head from time to time when I wasn’t vigilant.

Thankfully, the ‘you don’t deserve such abundance’ story was overridden. I hugged the prize to my heart as the happy woman gave me a lift home on the back of her motorbike.

Then the heron came home to roost on top of the bookshelf.
It was a similar story with an interesting twist. I’d passed the bird in a shop window, stopped to look, decided it was unrefined, folksy even, and continued on. I did that several times over the next few days. Curiosity finally forced me inside to ask the price. Expensive. I left. Several weeks went by. Upon rearranging a few things in my house, a space opened up where none had existed before. The memory of that colorful creature popped into mind. I can’t explain why or how, but by the time I arrived at the shop, desire burned in me with all the passion of first love! Now every time I look at the stately bird, I smile and wonder how I could possibly have thought him provincial.

When the pillows and mattress cover on the the Bali Blue Bed recently grew too faded to tolerate, I went shopping. It was a shocking pink batik boasting mythical birds with glorious chartreuse tails that captivated me first. There followed a shimmering array of metallics for accents and a purple, orange, red geometric weave for back pillows. Handwoven eggplant colored fabric became the grounded base for all that whimsy.

The burst of color thrilled me. I loved to nestle deep in those delicious hues and absorb their intensity, to be cradled in the very essence of myself. Then it struck me: in my non-stop, stressed-out, U.S. workaholic life, I had to surround myself with boring neutrals. It was survival.

But in my laid-back, joyful Bali life, my nervous system has re-calibrated. I thrive in an atmosphere of visual stimulation, no longer living a schizophrenic existence. Who I am is on display for all to see in bold designs and brilliant hues. My house validates me the way insipid neutrals never could.

I’ve even ratcheted up the intensity in my clothing. The new temple outfit for the ultra important Hindu ceremonies I’m frequently invited to, is a hunting-jacket-orange kebaya with a fuschia sash over a hot pink-yellow-blue-etc. etc. sarong! And it just feels right.

Why did it take so long to come to this, to embrace the complex, colorful person hidden  somewhere inside? The answers have to do with fear, with the need to fit in, with concern about the perceptions of others, with self-denial, with…nevermind. Needless to say, the list of reasons is long. But the realization that all are now in past tense is sheer delight! I’ve burst the confines of conformity and traded suffocating sophistication for my technicolor Bali life.

SIX DEGREES…Who do YOU know?

Gypsy egc.

From blond to redhead, from drifting to anchored, from caterpillar to butterfly. Metamorphosis!

I’ve been writing this blog religiously since February, 2012, spilling my beans, airing laundry both dirty and clean, transparently sharing my life with anyone who cares to read. Is that the height of narcissism or the depth of depravity? Maybe both.

Simultaneously, I’ve written a book. Two actually. The first is 100% fiction, a psychological suspense novel entitled, A Subtle Revenge. It sits in manuscript form in a bottom drawer collecting gecko leavings and volcano dust.

The second is creative non-fiction, the real story of my life. Not that the blog isn’t real. It is. But Mating Season for Butterflies, the memoir, goes back to the beginning. It traces the troubled path through my mother’s illness when I was a child, five marriages and five divorces, a court case and the resulting prison sentence. It portrays a conflicted woman without a sense of self, who cycles through the same mistakes and never seems to learn from them. The picture it paints isn’t pretty because the choices I made often had disturbing consequences. But it resolves with an awakening to self-awareness and a second chance. Once I let go of who I thought I should be, and trusted the unfolding of who I was, opportunities appeared that catapulted me into a reality beyond anything I could have dreamed.

The story is finished. No, wait! The book is finished! The story is still very much being lived. But the time has come to search for an agent and a publisher. It’s who you know, the six degrees of separation connections that make the difference. So I’m asking those of you who have enjoyed reading my Writing for Self-Discovery posts over the past four years: Do you know a literary agent who would be willing to take a look at Mating Season for Butterflies? If you do, I’d love to be introduced. My market is women of all ages. The message is hope: It’s never too late to change the course of your life.

 

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