We were driving through the Hualapai Mountains in Arizona,
moving slowly through the winding roads as we soared in elevation, soaking in the calm and serenity of nature. Soothing for hurting hearts in need of healing. Sacred mountain, earth, tall pines, blue skies, fresh sweet air. And several happy elk on the side of road.
There they were, leisurely nibbling fresh spring growth on small green bushes. As we pulled to the side to get a closer look, a young elk paused to look at me with curiosity. We gave each other a good once over, our eyes meeting for a moment. He kindly posed while I took pictures. Then he went back to his lunch, finding the sweetness of crunch more interesting.
How beautiful the connection we can feel with animals. Of course, with our pets – but with an animal “in the wild” who shows no fear and no hostility. Just a mild curiosity, hmmm, another soul in a day’s meandering.
Did you know the antlers of bull elk fall off every year and, within days, new ones begin to grow?
The cast-off antlers, with their minerals and proteins, are a gift of nourishment to squirrels and mice and other small creatures. And one day, these small animals go back to the earth, and become the grass and bushes the elk eat. Symbiotic cycle of life.
When an elk loses its antlers he seems “less-than” for a while. Until new little buds form. Little buds growing into strong antlers. The in-between time is simply a transition – a transformation – to even bigger antlers. A loss leading to growth. Every year older a bull elk is, the bigger and stronger his antlers become. Have you ever seen a mature elk’s antlers? Massive, strong, fierce looking. Sometimes looking too big for his body to carry. But that never happens, does it? No elk ever falls over because his antlers are too big.
Which leads me back to hurting hearts in need of healing. A loss – the death of someone we love, a divorce, an illness, a job we love, any kind of life-altering loss – we feel like we’ve lost a part of ourselves. We feel like we’ve lost our balance, the thing that kept us standing, or our guiding light. We feel “less-than” before.
Endings always bring new beginnings.
We need to heal, in our own way, in our own time. And then one day, we notice a little bud in our hurt heart.
What is that, we ask? Is it hope? A moment of joy?
We discover we are healing. The bud in our heart grows larger, and we find we have room to hold both hurt and hope as it expands even more.
Every loss brings an opportunity for our hearts to grow. Loss leading to growth and expanding out. Then we, in turn, can help others – with the wisdom and compassion and understanding that come from transformational experiences. Symbiotic cycle of life.
No one has ever fallen over from a having an ever-growing heart.
Debbie Augenthaler, LMHC, NCC, is an author and psychotherapist in private practice in New York City, where she specializes in trauma, grief and loss. Her award-winning book, You Are Not Alone: A Heartfelt Guide for Grief, Healing, and Hope combines her personal story of devastating loss with practical insights and simple suggestions for healing. Join her Facebook community, Grief to Gratitude, and follow her on Instagram.