Leaning through the van door to unbuckle my two-year old from his seat I jump from an unfamiliar sound. "What's that, Mommy?" my son asks. "I don't know." "Maybe an Elephant" he suggests. "sure" I say as I am trying to non-verbally hurry him along. It is sprinkling out, I still have another child to put into the wrap I've already tied around me and I am in the parking lot of the zoo on a day that I had better things to do.
Again I hear the sound, it is low and long. It isn't a roar, yet it isn't the normal elephant noise. Whatever it is, it sounds like distress. And it is times like this that I begin questioning how good is a zoo (but that is a question I am not getting into today.)
After he picks up on my cues that we are suppose to be moving and not just lagging behind in the car, he starts speeding up the process of disembarking from the car and starting our adventure - the zoo in the rain. Luckily for now the rain isn't bad and for now we can mange. But as I see the buses of children arrive for a school field trip I am less then excited to be on this adventure.
Finally we come to the lion den and we learn what this weird noise is. It is the lion. She is alone in the den sitting in a lounge position, everyone is getting great photos. After a few minutes she stands up and from deep inside her body she lets out this low and long and loud noise - it is coming from deep and her body is trembling with the noise. It is not quite a purr but it isn't a roar. I had never heard such a noise and I began to worry about this beautiful creature. Was she OK? I wasn't sure. It didn't sound like a happy noise but instead a noise made in pain. Come to find out, she is mourning. Recently she lost the other lions (the male and other female) that she had lived with. They died. And in her grief and sadness she called out. It was beautiful. All of a sudden the others were all sad for this lion and many felt pity for her but I was overwhelmed with wonder and awe. As I always am when I see animals grieve.
As humans we like to think we are much more evolved then the creatures around us and yet when it comes to our instincts and our raw emotions we aren't that different. It is in wonder that I watch other animals grieve and understand the sense of loss. It only enhances our understanding of human grief and loss. And the emotion of pity that all those felt for the lion, stems from their own understanding of loss and grief in their own lives. They could project that feeling on that lion.
When I worked at the hospital I was called to a unit one evening for a women who had died. It was not completely unexpected, however it was a little faster then most thought. Her daughter, a friend and her daughter's friend were in the room and as the custom in their tradition they were waling. It was this deep noise that comes from within and as it comes out with the force of the whole body, the body trembles and the wale escapes. When I got to the room, I realized I was called up not because these women need Spiritual care but because the unit wanted them stop. It was late in the evening and people were trying to sleep not to mention the noise was basically freaking out the staff. So we moved into the hallway outside of the unit to finish - although there would be more waling at the funeral. When the daughter expelled her final wale she stood up, wiped her face off with the back of her palms and headed back into her mother's room calmly to say goodbye.
When we are struck with loss it is within our nature for our bodies to express the overwhelming feeling that fills us up. Even if we don't make a physical sound, the body often slumps over or our heads hang low. In a real way we are struck with the emotion of grief and it hits us in the core of our bodies.
Therefore grief is an emotion that needs to be felt and to be expressed. Grief is not an emotion to hold in or to hide. This powerful lion was no less of a threat to us - had there not been glass - now that she was grieving. She still was a beautiful and powerful beast, yet in her expression of grief, I was not struck by her weakness but instead her strength. Her body held her up, even through the tremble. Her voice strong and clear sent out the sounds of distress. Her expression of grief was one that transcended above species as I could clearly hear her distress before knowing the source of the sound.
In our own grief we must be comfortable in expression. We must not let grief build inside us but instead allow it to transcend us. All our grief to shed light on our relationship with the Creator and bring us closer to knowing the Spirit that dwells within us. We can learn from letting go of our emotions instead of letting our emotions take hold of us. Let us, the next time we experience loss, lift up our grief to God and in that moment let our emotions of loss and fear transcend into moments of hope and love.