Death and Butterflies

We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes
it has gone through to achieve that beauty.  ~Maya Angelou

My mother-in-law, Joan Kuhlman, passed away a few weeks ago from Alzheimer’s disease.  A beautiful butterfly wreath adorned her door at the nursing home during her last day of life, most likely to make the staff aware that a resident was dying.  The motif of butterflies reappeared in the lovely floral casket spray, without our special request.  Because this symbol of rebirth kept coming up, the beauty of butterflies and their vision of hope made me reflect on death as a change of life rather than an end of life.

Death is a journey into the unknown, and although reports of those who have died and were brought back to life seem encouraging, it truly is the “final frontier.”  There is one, however, who took our mortality with him into death and then came through it, holding tightly to our hands:

                        Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now?  It was sin that made death so frightening

and law-code guilt that gave sin its leverage, its destructive power.  But now in a

single victorious stroke of Life, all three– sin, guilt, death– are gone, the gift of

our Master Jesus Christ.  Thank God! (I Cor. 15:55, The Message)

When Christ entered death as the Son of God in the flesh, he took our humanity with him.  Through death, he purged our collective human nature of its sin and gave us all eternal life.  Many enjoy the knowledge and experience of this gift now; others will hopefully enjoy it in the future.

The life cycle of the butterfly is a useful illustration for us to consider.  Although no analogy is perfect, the idea is probably pretty accurate that our human life now is like that of a caterpillar, growing yet limited.  The idea of death as a cocoon reminds me of Christ’s three days in the tomb, and the emergence of a butterfly reveals the promise of resurrection to a life of glory.  Maya Angelou’s quote sums up what we often think about death, that we don’t want to admit or acknowledge until it lands in our laps that it is indeed a natural part of our life cycle process.  This part of our life cycle has its mysteries and its gruesomeness, much like the process of birth into life.  Without this change, this time spent in a cocoon, there would be no butterflies.

Throughout her extended illness, the only thing our family wished was for Joan to be healed of this disease and for her to be restored to her normal personality.  It was something we hoped and prayed for, yet in some respects, we were wishing for her to stay a “caterpillar.”  We are certain, beyond any doubt, that Jesus Christ was with Joan in her cocoon, and just as certain that he will be in ours, too. For her, Alzheimer’s disease was an extended cocoon through which Joan, in her full glory, would emerge, more whole, well, and beautiful than we ever knew.

~by Nan Kuhlman

7 comments so far

  1. tjbrassell on


    Somehow in reading this, and in your writing, I literally experience the beauty of our Social God! Thank you for participation with Him in His REAL Faith, Hope and Love! The thought of seeing the renewed and recreated Joan thrills me! I have literally, this morning, been in the mindset of seeing my dad again and dancing with Him! I literally danced and teared up! And now, I envision waltzing with Joan, too! HaHa! This Hope is REAL to me in the shared grace of the Father, Son and Spirit! 🙂 Thanks for reaffirming it!

    Our condolences to you, and Peace, Love and Blessings to your entire family from all of us Brassell’s!

    Brother Timothy

    • Nan Kuhlman on


      I’m glad to hear your comment and your encouragement. I love that you knew Joan in her prime and that she had the privilege of knowing you. Although she did listen to a couple of your sermons over the past three years, I don’t know that she fully realized your giftedness for preaching like she knows now. The veil has been lifted, and all are celebrating!


  2. Jeannine on

    Beautiful, Nan. Last night, I love the analogy of caterpillars, cocoons and butterflies. What an amazing experience it must be for the former caterpillar (how many of us have had dreams where we discovered we’d had the ability to fly all along? – and then the thud of disappointment upon waking).

    Last night, my husband dropped me off for a few minutes of shopping while he ran to pick up our kids. I had a few rare minutes to sit and people watch while I waited for them to return – and as I saw people drift by, so many looking depressed or with evident low self-esteem, I wondered, can Jesus really live in people at large like I believe He does? At that moment, a blank looking woman turned to see her young son running toward her and for just a second or two, her face changed – honestly, I can’t even describe it. Love had transformed her face and I knew the answer to my question. Reading your post today, I see that I caught a glimpse of the butterfly.

    • Nan Kuhlman on


      What a lovely story! If all love originates with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, then any love we feel or express began with them. We simply get to participate in sharing that love with others. Thanks for illustrating this so beautifully!


      • Jeannine on

        Amen, Nan! 🙂

  3. Jerome Ellard on

    Your post and all the wonderful comments form a full, beautiful blessing! My dad, almost 89, will be nearing the end of his time as a “caterpillar” at some point and it’s hard to let go, especially as he doesn’t display any hope or belief in God. Maybe it should be easy for me to let go, so he can see that he really was intended to be a butterfly after all. Blessings on your family.

    • Nan Kuhlman on


      I don’t think it’s ever easy to let go of someone we love, even when we know that the transition of death will bring them into a much better state/place than he or she is in currently. As for your dad not having any hope or belief in God, well, you can be confident that the Father, Son, and Spirit have enough belief and hope for him and for all of us. If our salvation depended on any of us having sufficient belief, we would all be in a bad spot. Take heart!


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