I have read about female elephants. How when one is giving birth or is injured, the others rally around her and protect her from anything that might bring her harm. They form a circle around her and provide protection from the outside world, they celebrate the new life and they help her to take care of herself. These female elephants know how to take care of their friend, they know she needs to feel safe, loved and not alone. I am beyond grateful to have found my tribe of elephants and I had the rare opportunity to witness them share their strength with me, when I had none.
Two years ago my father died and the very next day I delivered a beautiful baby girl.
That day, that moment, my elephants came and stood their guard and they haven’t left me since.
This series of events is not normal. It should not happen. When such a loss is followed by such a gift, the human brain and human heart can not make sense of it.
What that day and all the days after have taught me, is how to be an elephant. How to receive the love of those who are in your tribe and how to help when your sister elephant is hurting. My tribe showed up in ways that were thoughtful, creative, raw and real. They taught me lessons in helping and loving. I want to pass these lessons on, so we can all help our sisters when they need a tribe to circle around, protect, help and love.
Show up – without being asked:
Two amazing elephants in my tribe came to my hospital room and helped me in the early stages of delivering my baby, because my husband had to be with my other daughters. I did not ask them to come. I actually said I was going to the hospital alone. They made a plan together and showed up.
Friends who ask how they can help, are so kind, but friends that see a way to serve and then simply do it without being asked – are a treasure. When someone is in pain and can’t make sense of their situation, they often don’t know what they need. Sometimes a friend who is on the outside looking in, can see what needs to be done and just needs to make it happen.
Make a meal, babysit, put together a care package, drop off a bag of snack food, fill her pantry, mow her lawn, fill a bag with activities for her children (coloring books, craft supplies, books, movies, etc), drop off bagels and coffee.
Ask the hard questions:
Before this happened to me, I don’t think I understood the importance of asking the hard questions. I thought that maybe if I didn’t ask about the lost loved one, then maybe my grieving friend wouldn’t think about it. That is not how it works. Your friend is constantly thinking about their grief, their pain and the person who has passed away. If you ask about it or not. My friends who had the guts to ask difficult questions, helped me to know that they “got it”. I felt understood and felt I was given permission to grieve.
Here are some question ideas:
“How are you handling this?”
“Are some days harder than others?”
“Does it help to talk about your feelings or would you rather we talk about something else?”
These questions help. If they are asked or not, the person going through this is struggling, she is grieving, she is confused. Asking hard questions helps her to know that she has a safe place to process her feelings and that you are willing to listen.
Recognize hard anniversaries:
Everyone says that the first year after losing someone is the hardest. This is so true. The birthdays, holidays, anniversaries – are all so brutal. The friends that recognized that, truly helped. It is important to not just recognize the obvious ones (birthdays, holidays) but the ones that might go unnoticed but are often harder.
My father loved the Indy 500. He had gone religiously for over 40 years. The fact that he passed away in the month of May makes this month almost unbearable. The people that knew him well, know that you can not think of the race without thinking of him. It means so much to me when my friends reach out to me on Race Day.
Each April/May has been very painful and hard to process. The emotions of grief and the excitement of celebrating my daughter’s birthday, make a strange mess of emotions in my heart and mind. The elephants in my tribe that acknowledge these dates and mourn and celebrate each one, they have helped me cope and made me feel safe.
Find a creative way to honor their loved ones:
A dear friend of mine rallied our friends together and purchased a brick at the Speedway in my father’s memory. This will always be one of my most treasured gifts. She had only met my father a few times, but had paid attention and knew that this would mean the world.
This creative way to honor my father, has honored my whole family.
Share your memories:
When a friend loses a loved one, they often fear that he/she will be forgotten. When you are left with only memories, you crave to hear other’s memories of the person you loved so much. The elephants in my tribe have told me memories, funny stories and lessons they have learned from my father. To hear his name spoken and the impact he had on others, helps me to know that he will not be forgotten.
Grief is hard, it is messy and it doesn’t make sense. Your grieving friend needs you to love her. I know I needed my elephants, their love kept me afloat. If you have the amazing opportunity to be an elephant, go and stand guard for your sisters who are hurting. If you are hurting, let those sweet elephants circle round and protect you. You will all be stronger together.