Talking of Elephants


Hands up! – everyone who knows that ‘elephant in the room’ scenario.

It sits implacably, a topic to avoid, something not to be talked about, even though we all know it is there and we displace it by talking about the weather, our lives, the garden, anything other than the elephant. The elephant can turn up in many different situations, but here I am referring to the thorny conversational arena of grief. Experience tells me that the elephant does disappear, eventually. And this seems to happen regardless of whether it is discussed, or not. But I figure it diminishes and reduces less painfully, the more often it is addressed. So, if you should find yourself in the situation where you can sense an elephant in the room – my advice would be to tackle it head on. Don’t be afraid to open the subject that you know is waiting to be talked about, for the chances are your efforts will be appreciated. We are all guilty of pussy-footing around our friends and family, being too frightened of causing offence or upsetting people by our words. Even if, by confronting the elephant, you open floodgates of emotion in the conversation, this should be seen as a good thing, rather than bad.

One of the most important things I have learned through loss is that talking is one of the greatest healers, along with, of course, the passage of time. Telling our loved ones’ stories keeps them alive in hearts and minds.

I was reminded of all this by a dream I had a few nights ago. In the way of dreams it seemed to go on and on for a long time, and after I woke and thought about it, I realised it had sent me very clear messages.

In the dream, I walked into our lounge to be confronted by an extremely large box, which was as tall as I am. It was constructed of hardboard or similar, and was solid, heavy and immoveable. Even putting my shoulder against it and pushing hard failed to budge it by an inch. I figured I had no choice but to squeeze past this obstacle to get in or out of the room. It did not have any obvious lid or opening, and was entirely smooth.

Time seemed to pass, Shaun arrived home and he also found he could not move the box. The box’s height kept changing, though not its girth, so sometimes we were pushing past it up to our shoulders, and at others we were skirting round it at waist height. At times, we could step over it. Twice, we laid it like a dinner table, though it was not comfortable to sit at the first time as there were no knee holes, and we had to angle ourselves side on to it. The second time, we could tuck our legs under neatly which was much more pleasant. We were chatting and laughing as we ate, with a real sense of contentment. Once, the top of the box was strewn with flowers. At times I could sense it was open though I could not see where, but it appeared to be less substantial. Words floated up out of it, in long streams that dissipated like steam.

All through this time of the dream, I kept looking at the screen of my phone (not unusual in real time!) – but the display itself was unusual. An indistinct face appeared again and again, but frustratingly, it faded away every time I looked closely at it. Like a faint skype image, eventually I realised I was seeing James’s face and he was smiling and nodding as if he approved of what I was doing; the image strengthened into sharp clarity and colour just once, then disappeared.

Finally in the dream, my phone showed there was a new text message, with no identifiable sender. The text simply said, “Love you mum, all is well”. In the dream I knew it had not come from Stella and I awoke feeling amazingly uplifted that I had received a message from James.

My vision of the box re-affirms my beliefs about working through grief. We cannot ignore it; we have to work around, up, under, over, next to and from end to end of it to successfully reduce it to a manageable size. This takes time, effort and commitment and a certain amount of bravery in confronting something with which we are not naturally comfortable.

Did you put your hand up at the start? OK. Now put your hands together for opening the box and tackling those elephants!


2 thoughts on “Talking of Elephants

  1. Jane Donohue

    Excellent metaphor Andrea. I read your book at Nancy Rigg’s suggestion & related to it all. You are a great writer. Thanks so much


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