If you have been around here or here, you may have noticed I have a love of elephants. It began when a friend who knows her animals, listed off some facts about elephants and when I heard these things and then looked into the eye of an elephant, I fell in love. It was kismet.
Did you know elephants grieve? It’s one of the things that make them incredibly rare in the animal world. They mourn the dead. If the elephant is in their herd, they form a funeral procession. If they come upon a fallen brother or sister, they lift their feet and feel with their trunks–learning this elephant and saying goodbye at the same time.
Their pregnancies take 22 months and so life blooms slowly as grief is observed. I know my pregnant friends cannot imagine two years of pregnancies but maybe that is why these animals care so much for their dead. Someone once told me that if a mother’s baby elephant dies, she would try to lift him, over and over again, until she breaks her tusks.Grief is a hard thing. Saying goodbye to my papa was much more difficult than I ever anticipated. As someone who will do anything to avoid emotional pain, I was suddenly in fear of all my relationships. It wasn’t enough to only have people in my life who wouldn’t hurt me because they loved me, because inevitably, they would whether they wanted to or not. Glennon Doyle Melton writes about a conversation with her son and a dead goldfish, “I told him that we don’t love people and animals because we will have them forever, we love them because loving them changes us, makes us better, healthier, kinder, realer. Loving people and animals makes us stronger in the right ways and weaker in the right ways. Even if animals and people leave, even if they die, they leave us better. So we keep loving, even though we might lose them because loving teaches us and changes us. And that’s what we’re here to do. God sends us here to learn to be better lovers, and to learn how to be loved, so we’ll be prepared for heaven” (147).
I like that. I like it a lot. And yet it is hard for me. Because I don’t want to be weak and I don’t want to be hurt and I don’t want to keep loving knowing I may or will lose. I avoid these things.
Yet his power is made perfect in my weakness. He calls and commands us to love, both himself and the people he puts in our lives. And he doesn’t include exceptions like: love hard unless you may be hurt in the process. In the best book on grief I’ve ever read (A Grief Observed), C.S. Lewis admits, “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” Oh! That makes so much sense. Fear has chased me my whole life. It chased me right into God’s arms. It still keeps me awake at night. It still pushes me towards perfectionism. I hate fear and I hate grief and I hate loss.
Elephants mourn. They grieve. This makes them unique and special. They feel. I run away from feelings. I watched a YouTube video of a herd of elephants coming across a fallen elephant they did not know. They stopped, they took their time. They kept lifting their feet, in angst perhaps? Their trunks reached to touch him.
They did not run past him. They stopped.
And here is what I have learned. You cannot outrace grief. It will beat you every time. You must walk through it. What if I just felt these things as they came, instead of fighting them off–loss, grief, fear, hurt, pain? What if I allowed my heart to break?
I think God promises: if your heart breaks, we will rebuild it into something more like mine. I never thought of it like that before and all the energy I waste fighting those feelings back, against the current of feeling, could go towards loving and grieving and the mess that is life.
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