For the first weeks after Sacha died, I was drawn to the “information for fathers” sections of baby-loss books (which, by the way, have absurd names to match the absurdity of the situation: “Empty Cradle Broken Heart”, “When Hello Means Goodbye”, :We Were Gonna Have a Baby But We Had an Angel Instead”, “I’ll Hold You in Heaven”… you can’t make this stuff up!). I needed to be told what women are assumed to already know: that I was allowed to have feelings, acknowledge those feelings and even express them.

Days before, I’d been stepping into the role of single mom. I was choosing a new apartment, plotting daycare strategies, recruiting community support and getting my will notarized. Every one of my molecules was focused toward caring for, protecting and raising my son (as I watched the winter Olympics, all I could think about was the relative danger of each sport; I would teach Sacha to ski and ice skate, I decided, but ski jumping and speed skating were out of the question). And just to make sure that stress didn’t impact the baby, I was also meditating several times a day, listening to calming music, journaling, basically doing everything possible to keep me and my kiddo from simmering in stress hormones. It all worked, we were so happy.

Then in a matter of hours, the welcomed tasks of parenting disappeared and were replaced by the very different, unexpected, unwanted tasks of grieving. I was crippled by self-consciousness. I knew that I needed to work through the grief, but I had no idea what that really meant (if it sounds like I was detached about the whole thing, that’s because I was; it’s called shock… who knew!).

I felt vulnerable and exposed, and I was afraid that others would judge and analyze how I was acting. Seeing other animals mourning brought me a lot of comfort. I learned that grief is natural and inevitable. It’s so fundamental that the necessary emotions are beyond logic or judgement. As a good friend said to me, “grief is grief, it’s different for everyone and it just happens”. I also saw that, because of very poor logistics and my own physical state, I had missed out on a lot of the experiences that are natural for a grieving parent to engage in. That gave me the very helpful opportunity to mourn for the loss of those experiences as well. Links to some of my favorite pictures and videos after the jump.

Macaque mother with dead infant

Video – Dolphin wake

Video – Mourning elephants

Photos – Various animals

Video – Interview with Barbara King, author of How Animals Grieve