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Widow As Butterfly Dealing with Grief and Loss

Widow As Butterfly Dealing with Grief and Loss

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Widow As Butterfly Dealing with Grief and Loss

109 página
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Oct 22, 2014


Widow As Butterfly (Dealing with Grief and Loss) is an outgrowth of a keynote presentation for the International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam and over thirty years of working with bereaved families and children. It combines traditional Native American legends and ceremonies dealing with grief and bereavement, systemic family therapy approaches of healing, and a research project on the coping skills of those who lost loved ones to AIDS. The latter was done for the American Psychological Association and the APA’s Project HOPE. It has been shared nationally and internationally with mental health professionals and hospice programs. Widow As Butterfly also examines the unfortunate similarities of what is now happening with the Ebola Virus and the fear-crazed days of the early AIDS epidemic.

Trained as a traditional Native American Storyteller, Ty Nolan studied with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in working with the various aspects of Death and Dying. His book, Coyote Still Going: Native American Legends and Contemporary Stories, received the 2014 BP Readers Choice Award for Short Story Collections and Anthologies. He is a New York Times and USA Today Best Selling Author. He currently splits his time between Arizona and Washington State.


Origin of the Butterfly

Long and long ago, there were two caterpillar people who loved each other very much, but as with all living things,  one of them died. The caterpillar woman mourned the loss of her husband. She didn’t want to talk to anyone, didn’t want to be around anyone. She wrapped her sorrow around her like it was a shawl and began walking. All the time she was walking, she was crying. For twelve moons (one year) she walked, and because the world is a circle, she returned to where she had started. The Creator took pity on her and told her, “You’ve suffered too long. Now’s the time to step into a new world of color — a new world of beauty.” The Creator clapped hands twice, and she burst forth as the butterfly. Just so, for many Native people, the butterfly is the symbol for everlasting life and renewal.

A traditional Sahaptin story retold by Ty Nolan

(From:  Coyote Still Going: Native American Legends and Contemporary Stories)

Just as life repeats art, this legend sets a pattern the Sahaptin people use in accepting the loss of a loved one.

Oct 22, 2014

Sobre el autor

My mom was one of the very first Head Start teachers on the reservation, and she always worked with three year olds.I would visit her in the classroom, and without warning, she'd walk out, leaving me with 15 preschoolers. Out of desperation, I would tell them a legend and teach them the song and dance that went with it.It wasn't until much later I realized my mom was forcing me to use the Stories I had been taught.Most recently I've worked with the National Science Foundation's Flagship Project, Synergy. I was asked to teach STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math)professors at over a dozen colleges how to use Storytelling to more effectively communicate complex concepts about technology to a general audience.I currently live in Arizona, where our local college (South Mountain Community College) has one of the only Storytelling Institutes in the United States, where one can be certified as a storyteller.My series--Coyote Cooks, has recipes included, but it's really more about ideas than how much flour to add to the fry bread.

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Widow As Butterfly Dealing with Grief and Loss - Ty Nolan


Widow As Butterfly

Ty Nolan


Nearly thirty years ago I was asked by the Washington State Social Workers Association to do a training session on working with children in dealing with grief and loss. I was serving as a Family Therapist and I had a background as the Area Director for Head Start Programs on American Indian Reservations in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, and Utah. In fact, it was because I had worked so much with Head Start families and securing services for them I decided to become a Family Therapist.

My first thought in terms of working with children was the classic nursery prayer:

Now I lay me down to sleep,

If I should die before I wake,

I pray the lord my soul to take...

Young children understand the world in a very different way than adults—they aren’t at the stage of understanding things in an abstract way. According to Piaget, the great pioneer in Child Development, they process information in a very concrete manner. For example, a male friend of mine who was a Pre-School teacher came into his classroom on Halloween dressed in drag. The response of the children was that he had become a woman.

Piaget described this phenomenon as conservation. He illustrated it by taking two different containers that held the same amount of water, but one was tall and narrow and the other flat and wide. The children involved in the experiment couldn’t understand how they could contain the same contents—they thought of it as magic as the water was poured back and forth.

Just so, upon the death of a grandparent, to tell a young child (as many adults do) It’s like Grandma is sleeping, makes a great deal of sense to the adult, but the child can take that statement literally. Given that context, can you imagine how terrifying it can be to teach a child that sleep=death? Another awkward nursery rhyme goes:

Rock-a-bye baby, in the treetop

When the wind blows, the cradle will rock

When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall

And down will come baby, cradle and all

Who knew what a dangerous place a nursery can be? Fast forward many years to when the AIDS epidemic began. The terrible toll this disease took meant I was asked to work again with bereavement not only among the couples and families I saw in therapy, but with my fellow health professionals who had begun losing literally hundreds of their patients to AIDS.

This book is an outgrowth of my many years of working with Death on a number of levels—in Hospices, Hospitals, and with the traditional funerals on American Indian reservations. It reflects the many workshops on Grief and Loss I have led across the United States, Canada, and Europe. One question I was often asked: Does the fact you teach this means it’s easier for you to personally deal with loss?

The answer: No. The fact that I have access to a number of resources may make my personal dealing with loss more efficient. But the pain is the same. The approaches and techniques described in this book don’t lessen the pain of loss. That’s part of our humanity.

Chapter One: Suffer Now Or Suffer More Later 

My family has long been Ones Who Bury. This is a traditional role on many Native American communities. It isn’t unusual for such communities to have what anthropologists refer to as a Death Taboo. This means that certain preparations and rituals are often restricted to specially trained families or individuals. This may be a hereditary role, or it might be the result of someone having a vision that this is to be his or her path. If everyday members of the community were to touch the Dead, they would need to go through purification ceremonies. The purification ceremonies were also done for the Ones Who Bury. I have been living in Arizona and was struck by the outbreak a few years ago with something called the Hantavirus that took place in the Four Corners area and more recently in Yosemite National Park. The potentially deadly disease is passed on by contact with fecal matter of infected rodents. But it does mean that unsuspecting humans may contract the virus while digging around or hiking. Or poking around where the Dead have been buried.

For cultures that historically did not have a modern medical understanding of infectious diseases, it makes sense that there was nonetheless an awareness of potential dangers that needed to be addressed. Even after HIV was understood within the medical community, such knowledge has not necessarily sorted itself out in the general population after decades of health education. For example, Pat Robertson, a right-wing conservative televangelist the week I’m writing this, announced on his television program AIDS can be passed on through towels. As I watch the heartbreaking results of the Embola virus unfolding, it’s like watching the AIDS epidemic happen all over again, where so many people respond according to their fears and ignorance.

There will always be a need for Those Who Bury.

From a historical perspective, it’s been estimated that for my Native American ancestors, up to 90% of the Native population died within two generations of White Contact. Native Americans had no natural immunity to the diseases European explorers and settlers brought with them. This is not only about illnesses like scarlet fever or plague. This is about so-called childhood diseases like mumps and measles. Lewis and Clark wrote in their journals about passing by villages of my mom’s people on the Columbia River that had populations of 3,000 people. On their return voyage, there would be less than three hundred people remaining there.

In epidemiology there is a technical term: decimation. This literally means that one out of every ten people in a population dies during an epidemic. There is no real term for what happens when nine of out of every ten people dying in this context. Unless it’s called genocide.

But it does mean that Native American communities had to learn very early on how to cope and survive with overwhelming loss. As a result, all the Native Nations I know place an extreme importance on funerals and their related ceremonies. We see over and over again both the effectiveness of dealing with bereavement in this way but also the destructiveness and pain that can happen when people lack the tools and resources to deal with grief and loss.

I was trained by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, and one of the things she said that really struck me was: You have a choice. You can suffer now, or you can suffer more later. In her experience, many people tried to put off dealing with grief and loss rather than immediately confronting the reality of their loss.

One year I was visiting a friend of mine when I was down to lecture at Berkeley. He was a psychiatrist. His wife had been recently diagnosed with cancer. Her brother was a photojournalist who had fallen to his death while on an assignment in Tibet and there was a difficulty with the Chinese government in terms of having his body returned. While we were having coffee, my friend’s brother called him. His brother and sister-in-law were pioneers in the field of Marriage Counseling and were letting my friend know they were about to get divorced. He said a few words, hung up and took another sip of his coffee. He acted as if nothing had happened. I asked him about his response.

When I was in medical school, he said, "I was in the Emergency Room

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