You Can’t Sleep With a Butterfly

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Several years ago, one of the cancer patients I counseled told me she was going to the Hawaiian island of Kauai, where her mother lived, to resolve her difficulties with her mother and die there. She accomplished all that she had hoped for and died there feeling loved, complete and at peace with herself.

About 18 months after my patient’s death, my wife Bobbie and I were invited to the island of Kauai to do an outdoor weekend workshop. I was thrilled to go because I love the islands and feeling close to God and the process of creation when surrounded by mountains, the ocean and the beauty of nature. That plus my patient dying there, who I felt close to, really attracted me to go there and contribute a workshop on the art of healing. So off we flew.

We arrived early on the Friday before the workshop, got settled in our hotel room, and then went out to get something to eat. After the meal we went into a neighboring store to get some supplies we needed and saw a butterfly circling around the store’s ceiling lights. No one seemed to notice it or show any interest in rescuing it but we are always rescuing creatures. Our home has been a zoo for decades. Every species shared our family room and bedrooms with our five kids and were not confined in any space. In the yard we did fence in the goats, ducks and geese. Please understand we do not live on a farm we broke multiple zoning laws on our two acres but never were reported by the police or neighbors because they knew we did it because of our reverence for life and not neurotic behavior.

We incubated all the eggs so whatever hatched imprinted on our kids and followed them everywhere including to the school bus stop every morning and afternoon. My folks lived on a lake where we took the birds for release when there were too many for us to handle. My Mom called me to ask, “Why do the birds come out of the lake and up to the street every time a school bus pulls up?” I told her they were looking for our kids who they saw as their family.

Now that you know who we are, let’s to get back to Kauai. When she saw the butterfly, my wife climbed up on the store counter and held her open hand up towards it. I was amazed when instead of being frightened by my wife’s hand, the butterfly flew over and landed on her hand.

I helped my wife down and we walked out of the store with our purchases and the butterfly on her hand. When outside my wife extended her arm with the palm up and both of us expecting the butterfly to happily fly off and be free again to live its life. But it just sat still on my wife’s hand and wouldn’t fly off even when she shook her hand to suggest to it that it was time to leave.

So the three of us climbed into our rental car and drove back to our hotel. We again tried to release the butterfly but it refused to fly off and instead settled itself on my wife’s shoulder and went into the hotel and up to our room with us. In the hours before our bed time it became family, staying with us no matter what we did to get it to leave. It began to get rather mystical and I truly began to feel it could be the spirit of my dead patient connecting with me through the butterfly, which is the symbol of transformation; the transition and struggle from caterpillar to butterfly symbolizing the life and death transition.

When bed time approached, the butterfly was still perched on my wife Bobbie’s shoulder so I said to her, “Honey you can’t sleep with a butterfly.“ She went outside on the porch and came back saying, “I brushed it off my shoulder.”

I responded, “Look at your other shoulder.” Yes. it had flown over to her other shoulder and came back into the apartment. I took lots of photographs of it sitting on Bobbie’s hand or shoulder and they are all around our house. Now I felt and knew this was no coincidence and that it was my patient’s spirit joining us so the butterfly became family. We enticed it to sample some water we sweetened with sugar and when it began to drink we jumped into bed.

The evening went smoothly. The next morning, we became family again and I started talking to the butterfly through our consciousness. I told it that I wanted to use it at the workshop as a symbol of transformation. My plan was to have it climb into a paper bag and that I would discuss its symbolism with the workshop participants and then open the bag and release it to reinforce the symbolism and surprise everyone.

The butterfly went right along with my plan. So we drove to the site of the outdoor workshop and just before we got there the butterfly was carefully placed in the bag. At 9 am, I began my presentation and after discussing the symbol of the butterfly, transformation and its relationship to life and survival I picked up and opened the bag. Out flew the butterfly and of course everyone expected it to fly up and away but it just circled overhead while I told everyone about my patient and her story.

If you need help accepting what this experience portrayed, I can tell you of many other experiences in my life and the lives of people I have counseled, including lifesaving ones, where the appearance of meaningful creatures occurred that they knew represented a deceased loved one because of what the creature represented in the life of their family member.

I will conclude with what convinced me. The workshop was a scheduled nine to five event. The butterfly circled overhead the entire day. When I announced, at 5 pm, that the event was concluded the butterfly flew up and away from the group and my wife and I for the first time since we had rescued her.

Bernie Siegel

More Articles Written by Bernie

Dr. Bernie Siegel, who prefers to be called Bernie, not Dr. Siegel, was born in Brooklyn, NY. He attended Colgate University and Cornell University Medical College. He holds membership in two scholastic honor societies, Phi Beta Kappa and Alpha Omega Alpha and graduated with honors. His surgical training took place at Yale New Haven Hospital, West Haven Veteran’s Hospital and the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. He retired from practice as an assistant clinical professor of surgery at Yale of general and pediatric surgery in 1989 to speak to patients and their caregivers. In 1978 he originated Exceptional Cancer Patients, a specific form of individual and group therapy utilizing patients’ drawings, dreams, images and feelings. ECaP is based on “carefrontation,” a safe, loving therapeutic confrontation, which facilitates personal lifestyle changes, personal empowerment and healing of the individual’s life. The physical, spiritual and psychological benefits which followed led to his desire to make everyone aware of his or her healing potential. He realized exceptional behavior is what we are all capable of. Bernie, and his wife and coworker Bobbie, live in a suburb of New Haven, Connecticut. They have five children and eight grandchildren. Bernie and Bobbie have co-authored their children, books and articles. Their home with its many children, pets and interests resembled a cross between a family art gallery, museum, zoo and automobile repair shop. It still resembles these things, although the children are trying to improve its appearance in order to avoid embarrassment. In 1986 his first book, Love. Medicine & Miracles was published. This event redirected his life. In 1989 Peace, Love & Healing and in 1993 How To Live Between Office Visits followed. He is currently working on other books with the goal of humanizing medical education and medical care, as well as, empowering patients and teaching survival behavior to enhance immune system competency. Bernie’s realization that we all need help dealing with the difficulties of life, not just the physical ones, led to Bernie writing his fourth book in 1998 Prescriptions for Living. It helps people to become aware of the eternal truths and wisdom of the sages through Bernie’s stories and insights rather than wait a personal disaster. He wants to help people fix their lives before they are broken, and thus not have to become strong at the broken places. Published in 2003 are Help Me To Heal to empower patients and their caregivers and 365 Prescriptions For The Soul, in 2004 a children’s book about how difficulties can become blessings, Smudge Bunny, in 2005 101 Exercises For The Soul and out in the Fall of 2006 a prescriptions for parenting book Love, Magic & Mud Pies. Published in 2008 Buddy’s Candle, for children of all ages, related to dealing with the loss of a loved one, be it a pet or parent, and to be published in 2009 Faith, Hope & Healing with survivor stories and my reflections about what they teach us. His web site is www.BernieSiegelMD.com. Woody Allen once said, “If I had one wish it would be to be somebody else.” Bernie’s wish was to be a few inches taller. His work has been such a growth experience that he is now a few inches taller. His prediction is that in the next decade the role of consciousness, spirituality, non-local healing, body memory and heart energy will all be explored as scientific subjects. For many, Bernie needs no introduction. He has touched many lives all over our planet. In 1978 he began talking about patient empowerment and the choice to live fully and die in peace. As a physician, who has cared for and counseled innumerable people who’s mortality has been threatened by an illness, Bernie embraces a philosophy of living and dying that stands at the forefront of the medical ethics and spiritual issues our society grapples with today. He continues to assist in the breaking of new ground in the field of healing and personally struggling to live the message of kindness and love. His web site is www.BernieSiegelMD.com. Dr. Siegel appeared on the radio show “Healing the Grieving Heart” with Dr. Gloria & Dr. Heidi Horsley to discuss Finding Thanksgiving After Loss. To hear Dr. Siegel being interviewed on this show, click on the following link: www.voiceamericapd.com/health/010157/horsley112708.mp3

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  • Connie says:

    Hi Dr. Bernie. This is the very first time I have logged into ‘open to hope’ and your story was the first I read. I was drawn by the pix of the yellow and black butterfly. My husband died very unexpectedly at age 45. As we were sitting at his grave site and family members were speaking, a yellow and black butterfly that could have been yours twin continued effortlessly to circle my head. It only rested when it would land on my knee. It stayed with me the entire time and followed me to the car. As I got in the car and the driver pulled away the butterfly hovered where the car had been. For the past 8 yrs I have regretted leaving the butterfly behind. It was amazing to read your story.