Thursday, October 23, 2014

Widow As Butterfly (Coping with Grief and Loss)

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 K├╝bler-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. 



Coyote Still Going: Native American Legends and Contemporary Stories

Winner of the 2014 BP Readers' Choice Award for Short Stories and Anthologies

Here are some Stories (Traditional Native Legends) and some stories (personal history.) 

I am a professional storyteller and a therapist. Coyote Still Going retells the mostly Sahaptin and Twana traditional legends I was taught by my relatives. It's also a memoir of how I have told these stories, from celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of Mr. Rogers to using the Sahaptin legend of the Butterfly at an International AIDS Conference in discussing grief and loss. Traditional Native American legends are powerful teaching tools. 

The book also contains recipes. Food, spirituality, and community are always woven together—you can’t understand one without the others. I was raised with the importance of the sacredness of food and the legends that explain why we celebrate the First Salmon Ceremony, or why we understand taking a sip of water before a meal is a type of prayer. 

Many Native Nations begin a Coyote legend with some variation of “Coyote Was Going There.” Trust me—Coyote? Still Going. It’s about time Ebooks caught up with that crazy Trickster. 


Long and long ago, when the world was still new, the Creator watched children playing. He watched their sheer joy, and enjoyed their laughter. In the four directions he looked, he saw beauty—before him, behind, him, above him, and below him. He smelled the sweetness of flowers, heard the song of birds, saw the bright blue of the sky, and tasted the first touch of the coming cold on his tongue. This reminded him that time was passing--that winter would come again--that these children would all grow old and pass away as he had watched human children do over and over again. The leaves would turn brown and fall from the trees, and the flowers would fade to replenish the Earth. 

He decided to create something to memorize this moment, something that would be a part of all this beauty. And so he gathered the blackness from the hair of the children’s parents. He took the orange and reds of the falling leaves. He grabbed bits of sunlight, and the colors of the flowers. He took the evergreen needles of the pines. He took the soft whiteness of the clouds, and added all these things into a bag of buckskin. He smiled and after a moment, added the songs of the birds to his bag. 

When he finished, he held the bag close to his heart, and called the children to him. He handed them his bag and told them to see what was inside. When they opened the bag, a cloud of butterflies emerged. They were like winged jewels. They were all the colors of the rainbow. It was as if flowers were flying. The spirits of the children and the adults soared like hawks, for they had never seen anything like this before. The butterflies, light as a lizard’s lick, touched on the heads and shoulders of their grateful audience. The butterflies swirled around and began to sing. 

But then a bird flew to the Creator’s shoulder and began to complain. “Why have you given our precious songs to these small and pretty beings? You have already made their wings more beautiful than ours—why give them our songs as well? You promised us that each bird would have his or her own song. It is not right to do what you have done.” 

The Creator looked at the small bird and nodded. “You are right. I promised one song for each bird, and it is not fair to give them away to others.” So the Creator made the butterflies silent, and thus they remain today. But their beauty touches all people and opens up the songs in our own hearts. 

It is said the world is a reflection of itself--the world of dreams and the world of work. It is taught these two worlds are like the wings of the butterfly. The dream world is one wing, and the working world is the other. The wings must connect at the heart for the butterfly to fly and live. Real life – true life—happens because of the movement of the wings. And this is what marriage is like. It mirrors the butterfly’s heart, kept alive by the love of the husband and wife, moving together.



Memoir of a Reluctant Shaman: A Story of Native American Magical Realism

"My grandmother's song would make her wooden dolls dance without strings, something I have sought to do in my own relationships without much success. Perhaps my song is not strong enough, or perhaps I would be better off with stiffer relationships than the blood and bone-based lovers I've chosen--or that have chosen me.

Living in cities that are so bright they blot out the stars at night, my lovers have had skin washed pale as fish bellies back home, and I have never quite figured out how to explain to them what happens on our reservation, where stars look new and are strong enough to burn our bodies brown. How do I explain to my vegetarian significant other that he can buy a t-shirt in the tribal store that reads, "Vegetarian is an Indian word for poor hunter." How do those for whom meat is something wrapped in plastic you use plastic to buy, make sense of my siblings hacking meat off a still-warm carcass? Do they really understand that the smooth hardness of the drums of mine they touch and admire is the flesh of the animal scraped clean?" 

Thus begins a coming of age story of Native American Magical Realism interwoven with traditional American Indian Legends. The first chapter was a finalist in National Public Radio's Short Fiction Contest under "Dolls" by Ty Nolan. Now discover the full story of a most remarkable family.
This now includes a standalone story specifically created for the Real Story Safe-Sex Project--Coyote's Condoms.
  • "A Story from a Master Storyteller"
  • "Ty Nolan's "magical realism" is truly magical."
  • "A terrific follow up to Nolan's Coyote Still Going: Native American Legends and Traditional Stories."