Instead of grief … an elephant who is NOT in the room

Jack Byron, with second wife Barbara Byron

Jack Byron, with second wife Barbara Byron. Jack was remarried to a woman he met at a youth workers conference a few years after Lois died at 54 of heart disease.

On Jan. 2,  2011, my father-in-law, Jack Byron, died.  We still mourn him. We still are unable to mourn him. Grief is much bigger and more intrusive than the three bereavement days we allow it.

Grief is the elephant
    that is not in the room.
So it leaves you free
    to lead a fundraiser for elephant victims.
Free to buy an elephant gun
    and shoot everything within 20 yards.
Free to demand that you be carried in a howdah
    everywhere you go.
Free to go on safari to see that most peculiar animal —
    like a wall, like a rope, like a snake.
An elephant?
No, you’ve never seen one.
You just know they’re dangerous.

And since there’s no elephant in the room

    you can’t know what causes that foul odor

     that makes the air so chokingly thick
    that it clogs your eyes with tears.
It’s not an elephant
    that has filled the room
    in sticky, stinking shit that you couldn’t possibly dig out
    even if you could find a good square-edged shovel
    or a river.
And it isn’t an elephant that squashed you
    unable to move
    unable to decide to move
    unable to want to move
    unable to want.
Because there isn’t an elephant in the room. 

    Grief is the elephant that is not in the room.

There are so many ways we mourn, and fail to mourn, our loss of a man who, years into Alzheimers, had lost all language except two sentences:
“I love you! You are very wonderful!”
When intellect and social convention had deserted Jack, all that was left in him was the character of Christ, carefully cultivated over many decades, which offered God’s love and the very blessing of Creation to every person he met. After his death, staff at the nursing home where he spent his last days wept with his widow.
“Who will tell us they love us now?” they asked.

We must tell one another. Living in this room where there is no elephant of grief, we must tell one another of our love, and God’s love. It’s what Jack would have wanted.


About Carlene Byron

Writer, editor, publicist, communications project manager ... I've written technology and infrastructure; I used to edit New England Church Life and The New England Christian and I've freelanced to publications ranging from Commonweal to Christianity Today. I'm now living in my hometown in Maine and am speaking about global perspectives on suicide prevention.
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