Just a little over three weeks ago, a beautiful girl named Mikayla died at the age of 17. Mikayla was fiercely loved by her parents, family, and friends. She was very involved in FFA, 4H, and in the Vet Science program. She was a teen leader on the livestock team and participated in grassland judging. It has grieved my heart deeply to witness these parents lose their only child and for all of her family and friends to be without her. Her visitation was filled with people of all ages mourning the loss of this incredible young lady.
A vigil was held in her honor the night of the funeral. Her family, friends, and community members gathered to remember and to honor her. People were given an opportunity to share memories of Mikayla. We heard of a young lady who was described as sweet and sassy. We heard from her friend who had been battling cancer. This beautiful girl shared of how Mikayla was with her during her battle. We heard of how Mikayla loved animals. We also heard of how Mikayla had chosen to be an organ donor in her life in order to be able to still help others even after she had died. It was so heartbreaking to see her parents, family, and friends in so much pain. I watched as her wonderful mom went from person to person before the vigil handing out ribbons for each person to wear in honor of Mikayla. I listened as someone else told her that they would do this for her. I heard as she explained that she needed to be the one to do this. She said, “This is what is keeping me going.” Mikayla’s loving, hurting mother was expressing her grief by giving others something to wear in honor of her daughter. My heart hurts for and with them.
Through the news in the last several weeks, I have been watching an endangered killer whale known as Tahlequah as she carried her dead calf on her head for 17 days and drew international attention. I listened as a biologist and wildlife conservationist Jeff Corwin told CBSN last week, “She literally is pushing her baby to connect with it and, hope against hope– hoping that it will take a breath, which it will never do. I can imagine this (mourning period) could take a very, very long time.” CBS reported that Deborah Giles, a research scientist and research director for nonprofit Wild Orca said “watching the orca with her calf was emotionally draining.” Giles told the Seattle Times, “I am sobbing. I can’t believe she is still carrying her calf around.” It has been reported in the news that the span that Tahlequah has carried her dead calf was approximately 1000 miles.
Deborah Giles, also a University of Washington biologist, explained to the Washington Post, “You cannot interpret it any other way. This is an animal that is grieving for its dead baby, and she doesn’t want to let it go. She’s not ready.” Because I am a mom who had to bury my own child then my heart cries with these words. I have never felt ready. I do not ever want to let go of my son. Tahlequah was outwardly showing the world how she did not want to let go of her calf. Tahlequah was showing what myself and other grieving parents feel…. I do not ever want to let go. Tahlequah was showing the world her expression of grief.
I have listened and read as a variety of news outlets have followed Tahlequah and her journey of carrying her dead calf across the miles. It has been a clear expression of grief and has touched the hearts of many. The Center for Whale Research shared in a statement the “killer whales and dolphins have been known to support and transport their dead calves for as long as a week,” which the centre says “is a testament to the amazingly strong mother and offspring bond.”
Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard, with the Vancouver Aquarium said, “killer whales have a very strong family bond, and offspring stay with their mothers for life.” He said, “mothers are often seen grieving the loss of their calves. They often carry it around for hours or days, and it’s a really sad thing to see. It’s heartbreaking,” said Barrett-Lennard. Barrett-Lennard continued, “When you see that there are no words, there’s no way to understand that except that there is this love or affection, whatever you want to call it… there is a very strong social bond between the mother and her calf.”
One of the most beautiful summaries that I have read about Tahlequah’s journey was in a post that was published by Angela Miller on August 8, 2018 entitled “I Will Carry You” on her site entitled “A Bed for My Heart.” (A link to her website where her incredbile article can be read is located at the bottom of this blog post.) Angela begin her post with these words, “A mother’s love. A mother’s grief. Tahlequah is every grieving mom. If only grieving parents had this kind of support to help bear the weight of grief.” Angela continued a little later in her paragraph, “The female orcas are now taking turns helping the Mama Orca carry her dead baby across the sea. . . so the grieving Mama Orca can eat and rest. If only every parent grieving the loss of a child had this kind of support, space, honor, reverence. The whales are literally surrounding and uplifting this mama, helping to carry the weight of her grief. Is there anything more beautiful than this kind of love and support when someone is deeply hurting?”
This question of Angela’s is my heart’s cry, “Is there anything more beautiful than this kind of love and support when someone is deeply hurting?” It is truly beautiful. I do believe that this is one of the core reasons that this story of a mother’s grief and love for her calf has touched so many hearts internationally. This expression of grief exemplifies what so many who are hurting and grieving do not know how to say or to express. The news has covered this throughout Tahlequah’s journey.
Angela shares in her post, “This is grief. This is love. This is true, compassionate grief support. THIS. This is how it should be done. Sadly this is not the kind of grief support the brokenhearted usually receive from our grief illiterate culture. The orcas are showing us how it should be done. Step in. Show up. Lead with your heart. Don’t tell us (or imply) that our grief is not that heavy (of a burden to bear.) Help us carry it. Feel our broken heart. Let it break you open. It’s supposed to. Let’s carry each other’s burdens. Grief shared is grief divided. We need you– more than you know. Literally step in, show up, and help carry the weight of grief. It’s far too heavy for one person to carry alone.” This post is so beautiful Angela. Your post so beautifully shares the heart of so many who are grieving. Those of us who are expressing our grief are so hungry for that loving, true support. Thank you for sharing it with all of us.
After I lost my husband in a work related accident in August 2011 and my only 18 year old son in a car accident that instantly killed him in June 2013, then my heart was searching and longing for this type of understanding of grieving and loving. This is what is happening in this story of Tahlequah. As the experts above shared, this is her love and her grief for her calf on display for the world to see and her unwillingness to let go of her baby. It exemplifies what so many who are grieving are at a loss of words to say. Tahlequah’s journey is such a beautiful expression of her grief.
A heartfelt expression of grief that I recently had the blessing to hear was in the form of a song written by 2 brothers and a sister. The band, “We Three”, performed this song on “America’s Got Talent” in the 2018 spring season. In 2015, their mom was having severe back pain, and she went to the doctor. The family was told that there had been large masses found throughout her body. She was diagnosed with stage 4 carcinoma cancer. Her children described this as a shocking 4 months, and that their precious mom passed away much more quickly than they were expecting. They also shared that during their mom’s final months that they stayed really close and did everything together. They said, “Up to her last breath, we were there.” They said that their mom was so loved. After their mom had died, her family discovered some of her journals where she talked about losing her mom. Her children said that they found the journals at the perfect time for them. They shared that they felt like they were able to have one last conversation with their mom through her journals. They shared that they were very inspired to write the song. They said that they saw this song as an opportunity to celebrate their mom and the hope that they have that they will get to see her again.
This is a beautiful expression of their grief. Their song is entitled, “We Three–Heaven’s Not Too Far Away”. This beautiful song is about their mom, and it is written from her perspective as she talked to them in her last month. I thought the words were so beautiful that I wanted to share them… “Honey, I thought you should know that I’m in a hurry. I gotta move up north, but it’s just temporary. When I look at you, I see your beauty. Now my baby boy is gonna lose me. No honey, I don’t wanna go, just know that I have to. That kind of cancer is grown. I think it’s time I go, but heaven is not too far away. I know someday you’ll visit and I didn’t think I’d go this way. Can I please have one more minute. As death rattles my cage, I can hear your voice is fading. Each breath getting harder. I can hear the tears coming from my daughter, but I know that baby they will be fine cause they can talk to me anytime. Cause heavens not too far away. I know someday you’ll visit. How He gave you life. Now I gotta watch you leave my eyes. Honey, I thought you should know that I’m in a hurry. I gotta move up north, but it’s just temporary.”
This song is such a beautiful expression of their love for their mom and their grief. I have also linked the song below if you would like to take a few moments to listen to it’s beauty. I admired their strength as they stood on the stage and shared the story of their beautiful mom, their love for her, and their desire to honor her. What an incredible tribute to their mom and such a beautiful expression of their grief.
Expressions of grief are expressions of love for those we have lost. They are so important in our grieving process. If you are grieving and in pain then find ways to express your grief and love for those you have lost. This will not only help you to share your pain, but this will also honor the one(s) that you have lost.
“There are no quick fixes to grief. No easy answers. Every expression of grief that wants to be felt and honored and given its space, must be allowed… in order to heal.” Tom Zuba