I heard a great story recently about the life cycle of a butterfly. As we all know, butterflies start their lives as caterpillars. The caterpillar builds a cocoon and then emerges some time later as a butterfly. The butterfly life cycle is of course a great metaphor for metamorphosis. A caterpillar is literally transformed into a butterfly. It becomes something altogether different from what it was. What I only learned of recently is the enormous struggle that goes on for the caterpillar inside of the cocoon. During metamorphosis the “caterpillar” is neither caterpillar nor butterfly, but rather some kind of primordial goo of undifferentiated imaginal cells. Only very gradually does the cocoon become to small for the “soon to be” butterfly. In his own time, the butterfly “pushes out”, and flies away
In my view, the most important thing about the butterfly story is that if there is any interference from the outside, that is any attempt to “speed up” the emergence of the butterfly, that butterfly will die. The butterfly needs to struggle to fully emerge as a butterfly.
In many ways the butterfly story is the struggle of every parent who has ever had trouble “letting go” of his adult child. It could also apply to “letting go” of a loved one in the process of the death transition. Hard as it is, we simply must let our loved ones leave us to continue on their journey…when they are called to do so.
As a parent, it has always been difficult for me to watch my child suffering as she struggles to do things “on her own”. This is especially true if I think I can ease the suffering. Similarly, as a sister, it was difficult for me to “let go” when my older sister was dying. In truth, my sister was “reconciled” to her death before I was reconciled to her leaving me. But it wasn’t my “call”. It was hers. If I’m left with unfinished business…that’s my work.
My challenge now is to think of “letting go” as a process of allowing both myself and the person I am letting go of, to expand and grow beyond what we now are. The opportunity is there for both of us to “reach up to meet” whatever is next. In doing so, I strive to honor and cherish the past, be fully in the present, and look forward to the uncertain but exciting unfolding of the future.