Years ago, across three summers, I traveled extensively in Costa Rica. My experiences each summer varied widely and, at the same time, held some repeat visits to certain people and places. Every summer I visited the Monteverde cloud forest region where butterflies, howler monkeys and the famous resplendent Quetzal make their homes.

Each summer my fellow travelers and I took in the Monteverde Butterfly Garden where global visitors get a close up educational experience about butterflies. From feeding and breeding habits to habitat loss and its implications, I learned a lot about these unique beauties. But on a deeper level, these amazing creatures taught me a powerful lesson that stays with me today.

Somewhere in those visits I came to a new understanding of the process from caterpillar to butterfly. The aged caterpillar disappears inside the chrysalis where it is completely transformed as it becomes a butterfly. During the transformation, the caterpillar literally becomes cellular soup in the process of being reshaped into something completely new and different.

A new shape

What struck me was the very depth of this transformation that happens in order for each caterpillar to turn into a butterfly. Something as earth bound as a caterpillar; a creature totally reliant on the mobility of legs becoming a creature of wind and flight. An animal intuitively slipping into an indefensible, vulnerable state of being, willing to wait in the mystery of the process all while at risk of becoming someone else’s snack.

The cocoon is a total surrender and time of waiting while living out the intuitive drive for the next life stage—butterfly. And, it is a death to self—the old way of being is transformed into something entirely new.

The caterpillar simply follows its natural instincts. (Unlike us humans who want to control our processes and sometimes get in the way of our own natural instincts.) Yet, the caterpillar takes on a new shape—a shape unknown to even itself at the beginning of the process. How could the caterpillar ever imagine being able to fly?

That struck me as such a good metaphor for the process of mourning a significant loss. It takes time, willingness to be vulnerable, patience, uncertainty and process, process, process—at the cellular soup level. For me, the mourning process felt like complete transformation. Who I was before, is not who I am now. My losses—from leaving a career path; to the deaths of my parents; to leaving behind a beloved community as I made a move across the country; have transformed my life into something else. At times it felt like I was completely in the dark; inside the mystery of the chrysalis and all its unknowns. Inside was the soup of doubt, fear and ultimate letting go. Just like the caterpillar can’t control the process itself, neither could I.

While I may not be completely clear of my chrysalis journey yet, somehow, hope has arrived. After years of transformative losses I feel a growing sense of direction. I know I am no longer my caterpillar self. Flight awaits.