The butterfly or the mermaid?

Grieving people find a hundred ways to look at a butterfly, which is tricky, really, cause it's not as though they stop flying long enough for you to really see. Except for when they're printed on greeting cards.

The common idea is that the butterfly represents the beauty of the release from pain in the physical body, flesh become spirit. Death is maturity, life is pain, wings are eternal and lovely: who woulda believed this could come outta that icky caterpillar…? And so on. The butterfly shows us how our loved one shuffled off of his mortal coil.

Disabled people use butterflies a lot because they are free, nimble, they take the air easily, and their beauty is truly transcendent: beyond all our earthly understanding.

The butterfly is change, metamorphosis, radical. Worm to angel. As much as the old shape hurt to live in, I’m really sure that butterfly in the chrysalis is numb (apparently it’s a blob of mush in there for a while, neither/nor) and then awakes and stretches into exquisite pain. Not something you do unless you have to.

The butterfly’s also a symbol of the grieving person and how they are transmuted, painfully, into a beautiful creature, released from the grey shield, no longer walled inside our own home. And yes, we widows blossom spectacularly, if you wait long enough, if we can just remember that there IS a way through.

But grieving people can't change form or environment as quickly as the butterfly, and we're expected to last much longer.

And if I was to have movement -- or even "a" movement -- I needed something — an image, an icon, an avatar — with competitive color, to adore, something to look up or outward to. So I used the mermaid, even though I had to change the ending of the story (and I don't really know the NEW ending, either).


Sandy said...

This is an absolutely beautiful post. I love the correlation with the butterfly. Thank you.

Ericka Lutz said...

Beautiful. Six months after my husband died, I began the process of getting 7 life-sized real-to-life butterflies tattooed on my back. I had no idea of the symbolism, I just knew I needed it done. You can see a picture of my back here, on my website: http://erickalutz.com/about.php

Griefcase said...

Nice article on butterflies. Thanks for sharing.

Linda Della Donna
...And sometime when I wasn't looking, I got a new life
Widowed in 2004
Founder, Director

Jill Schacter said...

I think you're right, we widows can blossom spectacularly. It takes a lot of flitting...sometimes just sitting...sometimes you get stepped on...and sometimes you just make a spectacle of yourself. With time, with time. Thanks for this lovely post.

annie said...

I missed the butterfly analogy it seems, but I dismiss most of the "grief as a process" or even a journey, analysis.

What I found in the couple of different groups I attended is that people mostly just want to be able to talk. They don't want lessons or steps or to approach grief as though it were a minor mental disorder. They just want to talk to people who have been there too.

There's a new book out debunking (hopefully for good) the Kubler-Ross stages, which were misappropriated and used to build an industry to "treat" something that is normal.

The current studies on grieving show that there are no steps and it's really all about our personalities and resiliance, and that most of us regroup and move on quickly when we are not interfered with. There are probably no butterflies involved either.

I would really love to see a day when grieving is promoted as normal and that our feelings are not evaluated as right or wrong but simply given space and allowed to be.

I never had a physical symbol but I did look at widowhood as part of what was taking me forward to where I was meant to be. I am more of a destiny person.

Mermaids though are not changeable though. They are free but bound to their element, a contradiction but not really. We are all bound just not necessarily free within our boundaries. At least they are not water nymphs/dryads, they have serious limitations.

Interesting as always.

Anonymous said...

...and yet so few people understood why I chose to wear a bright, sparkly butterfly shirt (the whole thing was even shaped like a butterfly) to my husband's funeral.

Apparently funeral sparkles aren't the done thing.... pfttt!

Supa Dupa Fresh said...

Thanks, all, for your kind comments even though I thought I was being critical of the whole butterfly thing! Sometimes my points are not very sharp... and sometimes my points are less important than my thoughts, I guess! Thank you!

Annie, I'm not sure being a mermaid is about "process," and that's part of why I don't like butterflies much. Metamorphosis is too linear.

But it is frustrating that they are bound in their element, which is why, I let them be a little cartoony.

Gotta tell my crazy story my own crazy way, right?

Hira Animfefte (Xera Anymphefte) said...

It's funny, because I see butterflies and I think of thyroid disease (because of how thyroid glands are shaped, on your neck) and lupus (the signature rash)...both use the butterfly as their symbol. I'm hypothyroid, so I wound up learning about these things. Autoimmune diseases, you know. They've got their own stigmas. I have to say, widowhood is worse. Widowhood always takes the cake. (What! I sound like a fan!) *sob*

Anonymous said...

I love this. I've had a strong affinity with butterflies ever since I found the strength to leave a toxic, codependent relationship after 15 years and morphed into someone I didn't know it was possible for me to be. That was 10 years ago. But since my husband's suicide, 10 months ago, I find I'm more drawn to moths... Same imagery, but they are nocturnal and less "flashy" than butterflies. This suits my widow self.


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