When a mother elephant loses her baby, other herd elephants gather in a circle around mother and calf. They don’t rush the mother elephant to move on. In fact, they stay, touching her with their trunks, quietly supporting her, pressed together, sometimes for days (a long time for nomadic animals), to console her, and to grieve a life, together.
Humans have a lot to learn from animals. When a mother human loses her baby, she is expected to move forward, return to work after 5 days (not enough time to grieve anyone, let alone a child), return to routines, return to relationships, return to responsibilities, return to life.
Grieving parents are expected to move on. Not because it is best for them, but because it is more comfortable for others. It is hard to watch someone you love suffer. It is hard. But when a mother loses her baby, no matter the age or stage of life, she will suffer. Whether you bear witness or not.
I am alive today, because I have my own circle of elephants. People who have gathered around me, and my baby, pressing together, for almost three years now, (a long time for a society uncomfortable with grief), to console, to grieve, to honor his life, together.
That circle of symbolic elephants has allowed me to grieve, has enveloped me in protection from the world, sat and listened, cried with me, laughed with me, walked in the woods, or on the beach with me, worked beside me, run beside me, traveled beside me. I have been touched lightly by those around me, those who press together, willing to stay, allowing me to stay, not asking me to move on, or away from my loss, my pain, my son.
My elephants are loving and patient people: mother, husband, sisters, brothers, children, grandson, family that became friends, friends that became family, therapist, nutritionist, trainer, art teacher, yoga teacher, spiritual guide, just to name a few. They have circled around and given me the space to just be. They have shown grace, forgiven me when I’ve lost patience or laid blame. And they have reminded me that I hold every basic tool for survival. They have encouraged my very breathing.
They have taught me to care for myself again. They've taught me how to explore. How to seek love everywhere. How to play. How to find joy without guilt. How to feel my sadness fully, and find power in that. They have learned to accept that it’s ok for me to not be okay some days.
What my elephants have illuminated most clearly is that I want to live, even on my darkest days. What a precious gift that is.