Dedicated to all who grieve, and those of us just finding the courage to start.
“Joy shared is doubled, pain shared is halved.”
The clear night beckoned him from Pride Rock effortlessly. Without a sound, the Lion King made his way from the warmth and comfort of his home down the beaten path and out into the savanna. It was a cooler night than usual, but Simba hardly noticed the wind firmly brushing his sides and mane.
He was on a mission, as he always did when the moon and the stars made themselves apparent. Through the grasses, over the paths, around small puddles of water, the lion made his solitary trail. His head hung low, face set in a neutral expression that mixed reverence with fear. Simba continued on in this reserved fashion until he reached the location he was looking for: a large open field that afforded him an unobstructed view of the sky.
The lion sat with his head down at his paws, the grass beneath him rustling soft dismay. He sighed. Not more than a few years ago he and his father had romped playfully about this area, reaffirming their bond of friendship and love. Now, he sat alone under the stars, closing his eyes for a moment to ready himself. He sighed once more, lifted his head to the stars and called out in a loud voice.
“Father!” His word echoed over the empty lands hollowly, reaffirming their vacancy. Simba closed his eyes and listened with all his might, hoping… praying. He was answered with a definite rustle of the grasses alongside him. On the winds, the deep familiar voice answered him like they were whispering in his ear.
“I am here, my son.” Simba’s strained expression turned droopy with relief and sadness. He did not open his eyes, yet his voice betrayed the moistness gathering behind the lids and within his heart.
“I miss you…” he said as pleadingly as a cub. His father’s tone whispered to him again.
“I know, Simba…” Mufasa said, his own voice laden with empathetic emotion, “I know.” Simba clenched his eyes shut at this, squeezing tears through as he did so. “I can feel the grief within you. It burns us, Simba. You must release.”
“Father, I can’t do that.” the lion said in an emotional whisper. “I am afraid…”
“Fear is a normal reaction, son.” Mufasa countered softly, “It is all part of the process…” Simba partially extended his claws, gripping the ground in a moment of tension.
“I am a king now, father. I am afraid of feeling helpless, it tortures me, it is an agony that—” he paused to breathe in a sob, “—that I cannot bear. And I fear the anger…”
“Then let it come…” returned the soft whisper again. “It is all part of the process of letting go, learning to live.”
“You must…” rejoined the fading whisper. A marked change came over Simba. His face contorted into a deepening scowl. His claws, already partially extended, anchored themselves into the ground. His massive body began to quiver in small short spasms as a low rumble began in his throat. After a few moments of this buildup, he lifted his eyes to the sky in a loud voice as if trying to call down the moon.
“Why did you have to die?? You promised that you would always be there! You promised, father!! But I can’t get it out of my mind, kings every night over and over again for seasons upon seasons I had to endure those few moments! Augh! And then he killed you. He killed you!!” Simba began to loose control of his anger, voice slipping into the agonized wails of despair.
“And I blamed it on myself… who am I kidding. I still blame it on myself. Maybe if I had been smarter, or stronger, or braver, or something this wouldn’t have happened. Maybe if I had just thought a half second longer instead of being such an eager, stupid cub I could have prevented it all… I could have stopped it from happening.” By this point the lion was blinking rapidly at the sky, diverting the tears as they streamed from his eyes and through his fur. He drew ragged breaths in, and breathed them out even more ragged.
“Father! It’s just not fair!!” he cried aloud, collapsing on the ground and suddenly going soft with sobs, “… just not fair.” And there, Simba lay prone in the grass, thrashing about him in the throes of abject grief.
A short distance away, two figures looked on. One in utter horror and the other in solemn reservation. The older of the two often came to observe this spectacle but this time he brought a companion. She was aghast at what she saw.
“And you let him do this to himself whenever there are nights like this?” Nala hissed softly to Rafiki. The mandrill nodded sagely.
“It is called grieving, my queen.” he returned in a soft tone.
“But he’s in such pain!” the lioness said again, somewhat tearful herself. “Oh kings, I never knew how much he was hurting inside.” Rafiki made a slight head motion to Nala.
“Grief is unique to every individual, my dear. For some, it is an immediate process of cathartic expressions. For others, the true release does not come until long after the fact. But whatever the method, the pain they feel inside is real, and we are in no position to judge such a thing.” Nala’s eyebrows knitted together in concern as she watched her mate writhe in agony on the ground. She quivered, her own fear beginning to overtake her.
“I have to go down there…” she said eagerly to Rafiki.
“Not yet…” was his response.
“But he’s hurting himself!”
“The only thing going down there right now will do will force him to internalize all that agony, and that will do more than just hurt him. It will slowly kill him.” The pair watched a few more moments in silence, before a warmer blast of air gusted from behind them and caressed their shadowed bodies. Rafiki took in the wind with a breath, and exhaled, “Now is the time… for you to be there for him.” Without another word, Nala began to pad carefully in Simba’s direction.
In the field, Simba had now sufficiently worn himself out and remained on his side. His pants and sobs intermingled until they became one.
“…father…” he uttered weakly every once in a while. “…I’m sorry… so sorry…” All was silent for a few moments near the young king, the only sounds being that of his laboured breathing. When the soft steps of another approached, he was too tired to even acknowledge the presence. It took several soft nuzzles before he even knew who it was. “…Nala…” he whispered, as weak as an injured cub.
“Shhh…” spoke the lioness gently, affectionately licking his face, “Someone wise once told me that joy shared is doubled, and pain shared is halved…” She was unable to continue, being swept into the moment by the disheveled sight of her bereaved mate. Falling next to him, she nuzzled and purred.
It took a moment for Simba to realize what had happened. Momentary questions of how she got there disappeared from his mind as he caught a fleeting glance at the sky. Somehow, her words made terrific sense and a voice within told him to follow along duly. Leaning upward, he placed his weight against her gently with a sob, immediately beginning to cry once again. As if taken by an immutable force, Nala felt tears well in her eyes. It was almost like a piece of Simba’s pain was entering her body and she accepted it fully. The pair remained like that, head to head, muzzle to muzzle, tear to tear. In the cool, clear night, a warm wind nuzzled both of them, carrying a gentle bassy voice into their ears.
“Well done… my children.”