Originally Published: August 19, 2018 5:43 p.m.
Seventeen days. That is how long an orca whale carried the corpse of her dead calf. The twenty-year-old grieving orca carried her calf over one thousand miles in the ocean off of Vancouver. And when she got tired, other whales in her pod helped by taking over the “carrying duties.” The 400-pound calf died shortly after birth, and scientist say that the mother orca, called J35, went on a “tour of grief.” Death will do that. Why let go?
My spunky little mare, Sedona, died a few years ago. She suffered from a rare pituitary gland disease that caused her legs to swell and her hoof walls to break down. We tried everything. Special diet, shoes, medicine, stall rest, but at the end she could barely walk. We had two ravens that used to sit on the side of her stall fence and spend time with her. For hours every afternoon, the two black birds would hang around and “talk” with Sedona.
One day, I was able to get Sedona up and she walked from her stall to the arena. Her best horse buddy and love, Baxter, watched from a distance and galloped to her side. He nuzzled her and encouraged her to come out to the cool pasture under a huge shade tree with him. He pranced back and forth at her side. But, in the end, she turned around and hobbled back into her stall. She had chosen in that moment, her last trail.
Sedona died a few days later. Two ravens sat in tree tops going “caw, caw, caw” for about 10 days. Baxter started kicking the barn, refused to eat, and developed a stomach ulcer. His forelock turned pure white and he mourned for a winter.
Nothing is easy about endings. Grief is the wall of darkness that can engulf us. It separates us in an excruciating way from someone we love. Even inanimate objects take on new meaning. The saddle that hangs silently in the tack room. The coffee mug that sits empty and waiting. A shirt that will never be worn again. A baby whale that will never swim and grow.
When my father died, my mother eventually placed all of his clothing in bags for the Goodwill. She put them in the trunk of her car and kept them there for three months, until one day, she found the strength and courage to drop them off. Never again would she see a familair suit, or cozy sweater he wore. Now it was all memories. It was time to let go.
Grief is a result of love. Caring is the thread that connects all living creatures. The clothes and “stuff” that reminds us of someone is only that . . . a reminder of a life gone by. Compassion is what really “carries” us through difficult times.
One heart-broken orca and her pod of whale friends displayed the essence of humanity — that we will help “carry” your burdens. For 17 days . . . or as long as it takes.
Judy Bluhm is a writer and local realtor. Have a comment or a story? Email Judy at firstname.lastname@example.org.