Have you heard of the Decorah eagles? No, not a sports team. They are a pair of bald eagles viewed through a webcam above their nest near Decorah, Iowa, courtesy of Raptor Resource Project. Every year I join hundreds of thousands of online fans waiting for the first egg to be laid (typically, three eggs each year) and watching with anticipation for the first pip—the first crack in the shell as the baby eagle struggles its way into the world.
Whether fending off predators that attack in the dead of night or nestling their young protectively through snow storms and all sorts of Iowa weather, the eagle parents care for their young with ardent devotion. Feeding time is a hit with fans as the eagle parents patiently serve one small morsel at a time of tasty trout or squirrel to their young. We anxiously hope each baby is getting enough to eat, and we’re rewarded by seeing them grow up right before our eyes.
Fans delight in each stage of growth, especially when the eagles discover their wings. “Wingersizing,” it’s called, as the young eagles exercise their muscles. It seems to take forever before they can hover a few inches above the nest a few seconds at a time. Some of the most entertaining moments are when they begin leap-frogging from one side of the nest to the other. Although the nest is easily 6-feet across, all those antics and gymnastics are making it feel crowded. Mom and Dad eagle spend more and more time watching over their offspring from a nearby branch. Perhaps their perch outside the nest is partial incentive to reach the next step in development. One day all three juveniles are in the nest, and suddenly, there are only two. Typically, the oldest of the three will “branch” first, or hop-fly to a nearby branch. Fledge, or the first real flight, is a bittersweet moment among fans as “our babies” take wing. After the fledge, the eagle parents continue caring for their young, teaching them hunting and survival skill necessary for full independence.
Why am I talking about eagles? What does this story have to do with grief? Observing nature often brings fascinating insights into our own lives. I’m reminded of the stages of grief described in many books. In observing the eagles, I find examples of the processes of growth related to stages of grief I’ve experienced. In the early days of my grief, I felt about as helpless as the young hatchlings, but little by little I grew in strength.
For a while, the young eagles seem to spend more time perched in the nest just watching and looking at the world around them than doing anything else. And yet, the experts say, it’s an essential stage of observing and imprinting their surroundings. In the same way, a grieving person may also appear to “waste” time doing very little, or so it seems. This recovery stage is often misunderstood and under-appreciated as a necessary part of the healing process. It may look at lot like being stuck and spinning one's wheels. There may pressure (from oneself, as well as from friends) to “get back into life.” Permission to grieve, and being allowed time, is crucial.
But, how much time? Unlike the eagles, whose growth is a relatively predictable time table, grief is not so predictable. Stages of grief are neither linear nor arbitrary. For this reason, I can’t answer the question for anyone but myself of how much time it takes, and even figuring it out for me has been challenging. Nevertheless, the grieving process is similar enough that our sharing and relating to each other is beneficial for us all. So, what is the time table for grief?
Some say, time heals all wounds. Time is not an antidote for the pain of grief, but time does allow us to discover better coping strategies, new sets of life skills, and rebuild our lives around what happened. Just like the young eagles seem to take forever “wingersizing” before leaving the nest, gaining strength after loss takes time. It’s very important not to get discouraged by thinking “it’s taking too long.”
Patience. Be patient with yourself, or be patient with the one who is grieving. The time for leaving the nest—those comfort zones, security, and safety nets we’ve placed around ourselves during grief—will come. Gradually, in stages, the young eagles work up to their first flight. And, so will the grieving one. All in due time, we will soar with eagle’s wings, because life goes on.
Sara Faith Nelson
Sharing the journey, because, I find there are so many others making the trek through life without a loved one