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Swallowed by a Snake

A Grief Story

A long time ago, in a land so far south that the water never got hard, there was a village. The people in the village were content, except for two times each year when a giant cobra slithered through the village eating people right and left. This cobra was not like any snake you’ve seen! This cobra had a mouth the size of a door and a particular appetite for children.

One day, after the cobra had gone through the village, a mother was standing in the village square keening her grief. When you keen your grief, you scream your grief, and this mother screamed, “Must all our children die? Will no one kill the snake?”

Now there was in the village a flute player and he heard the mother’s sorrow. So he went to the place where he slept and got his flute, his mat, a knife, some corn and some water and he went to the edge of the jungle. He fastened the corn and water bags onto his belt, slipped the knife up his sleeve, spread out his mat and began to play his flute.

Finally, way back in the jungle, he heard a noise. It came closer and closer. The flute player played on and on and at last he could smell the stench of the snake. Suddenly, he was swallowed by the snake! It was totally dark in the belly of the snake. He could barely move. But he had just enough space to take out his knife and cut a piece out of the belly of the snake and eat it. It tasted terrible!

But the snake said, “Eyoow” and spread its stomach, giving the flute player more room. So the flute player cut out another piece and another and ate them. He mixed some with the corn and drank some of the water and after two days, the snake was telling all its friends, “Don’t eat any more of those two-leggeds. They really give you indigestion.”

Time passed. The flute player didn’t know if it was day or night. He didn’t know how long he had been in the belly of the snake. At last he sighed and said, “I don’t know if I can do this anymore.”

forward and with one large sweep of his knife, cut out the heart of the snake and impaled it on his knife.

The snake died.

The flute player crawled out through the mouth of the snake and ran to the village. “Look!” he cried. “I have the heart of the snake! The snake is dead!”

Villagers hugged him and cheered. Then he picked up his flute and began to play again.

This is a grief story. When we are grieving we are swallowed by the grief. We are in the belly of the snake. It’s dark and close and we can’t tell what time it is or what day it is. The only way we can get out is to make a first move, raise the knife of determination and cut a piece out of the grief and eat it.

We have to digest our grief and make it part of us.

We mix it with the corn of our roots, our family strength. We drink some water of support that comes from others. And at some point we’ll think we can’t do it anymore. That’s when someone says something stupid such as, “Aren’t you over that yet?” And that makes us so angry we take an even bigger piece out of the belly of the snake.

Finally, we reach the heart of our grief. We cut it out and keep it forever, because we never lose the heart of our grief. And once again we get to the heart – we can pick up our flutes and play again.

Every time you cry your grief, dance your grief, tell your story, journal your sorrow, paint your loneliness or join a support group, you cut a piece out of the belly of the snake. It’s this time of cutting, eating and digesting that finds us in the belly – doing our work, sticking with the job until we find the heart and can carry it home and begin to live again.

To which the snake said, “Good! Just lay there and get yourself digested.”

That made the flute player so mad! He cut an even bigger slice out of the belly of the snake and ate that. He kept cutting and eating, cutting and eating. Then one day he cut out a piece of the belly of the snake and there was the snake’s beating heart. The flute player lunged

From the book, Storytelling in Bereavement.