Shadow Elephant

November 16, 2020

I’m not so good at sitting quietly with grief—mine or anyone else’s. Patty Problem Solver wants everything to be better, quickly—and if I personally can MAKE it better, bonus points! This was true in the mourning periods of my life:  following the deaths of my sister and parents, after my miscarriages, during my bouts of manic depression. I would pour my sorrow onto the page, I would jabber on to anyone who would listen—all in the hopes of speeding the recovery process. I was so vocal in my misery that I now feel terrible for the poor souls who had to endure me at my saddest. 

In recent years, there have been more losses: two friends to suicide, friends close to my own age. Another friend just lost her husband, much too soon. I have assisted at funerals at church. And as I look at the grieving, standing in their pews with their red-rimmed eyes, my fervent prayer is for them to feel happiness again, soon. I know from experience that it is a long and painful journey back to hope and joy, and I truly wish they didn’t have to walk down that road. So, when they talk to me, I tend to…talk right back to them. I share my story, however irrelevant it might be, ending with, “See? I came through and you will too!” I’m finally recognizing that this message may not be one they are ready to hear.

There is no magic wand to wave away the time it takes to deal with loss (I believe you never “recover”). Meanwhile, after floral arrangements wilt and casseroles are consumed, the endless weeks and months stretch ahead, living in a world empty of that special person. I do my best to check in regularly, to share my memories of the ones they lost (just hearing my sister Mo’s name spoken is still the sweetest music to me, 39 years later.)

But I’m too eager to fill silences, I know. And our American culture is, as well. The stages of grief are to speed through, because otherwise we have to think of our mortality, and that’s just not acceptable.

I just read a wonderful book—I hesitate to call it a children’s book, because its message is universal. It is called The Shadow Elephant, and is about an elephant who is sad (literally, blue in color). His animal friends frantically try to cheer him, but he only sinks deeper into sadness. Finally a tiny mouse arrives, and just sits silently with the elephant. They cry together, and, slowly, the shadow elephant begins to heal.

Our country is grieving right now. We mourn the toll of this devastating pandemic. We mourn a way of life that won’t soon return: travel, big celebrations, human touch. There are so many conflicting voices rising up as we struggle to cope. So much noise.

I propose, for starters, a moment of silence. Then let us weep together. And start to heal.


    I am an author (of four books, numerous plays, poetry and freelance articles,) a director (of Spiritual Formation at a Lutheran church,) and a producer (of five kids).

    I write about my hectic, funny, perfectly imperfect life.

    Please visit my website: or email me at



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