Oh Nuts, It’s Grief

Written by Mary Lee Jensvold

Grief – the hard stuff of life.  We’ve been dealing with it this week and learning about it too.  It has stages such as denial, anger, and sadness.  I learned about this through our grief counseling session with CHCI staff, interns, and volunteers.  And so where are Tatu and Loulis?  Denial was apparent in the beginning, on Saturday.  And there was the anger that day and in the next few days.  And the sadness, definitely, poured over the week like chocolate syrup on a hot fudge sundae, just not as tasty.

Today is Saturday December 1… one week after Dar’s death.  A week filled with activities for myself and Bonnie and staff… things like autopsy reports, memorial planning, media (which resulted in some well-written articles:




oh, and lets not forget, it’s the last week of classes so all the stuff that goes with the academic calendar and last but truly first, Tatu and Loulis.  The emptiness in our beautiful large facility echoes through all of our hearts.

I got reports from caregivers all week: Loulis looked me in the eye; Tatu and Loulis finally went into the East Room (the room where Dar left us); Loulis is inviting to play chase; Tatu and Loulis are playing… and so it went.

On Saturday in the first moments after Dar’s death I gave Tatu sip-by-sip an entire can of Coke.  In case you don’t know me and my workings with chimpanzees, I am a Sugar-No-Man – so not my usual modus operandus, but neither was Saturday.  In the next couple of days Tatu was pretty angry with me.  Mid-week she asked me to groom… aaahhh, some work on healing. Moments into it my phone rang – the media – so much for grooming.

I am a nut eater.  On Thursday I visited with Tatu.  She likes to smell our breath.  She smelled.  I asked WHAT SMELL?  She signed NUT. My heart and hands then asked YOU WANT NUT?  Well that’s a stupid question, of course she does!  She replied NUT! I gave her some nuts from my office stash.  Friday a quick visit with Tatu and here comes her question NUT?  Yes, of course, so more nuts for Tatu.

Today was a good day for me because I served lunch.  Tatu came in and Loulis chose to stay outside.  Sunny, calm and 52 degrees in central Washington in December is a day to be enjoyed outside.  So it was my friend, Tatu, and I.  When I arrived she was very excited to see me; my heart was warmed by our greeting of kisses and pants. Yet she was worried about Loulis.  He’s her only chimpanzee companion now so understandably she’s concerned about him, particularly if he’s not with her.  She asked for and received RED CLOTHES, which are like a security blanket for her.

At CHCI meals are served in courses. First course – CRACKERS (e.g. primate chow, we have several varieties with features of the month).  I hadn’t sampled the newest feature of the month, the little ones, so the first one we shared.  I’m a low carb person so I stopped on my first one, Tatu had more.  Tatu requested POTATO but I reminded her that first we have bean soup.

The Sweet Tree (CHCI’s version of a Christmas Tree) is up with the edible strings.  She commented on the tree several times SWEET.   Together we went through a Christmas catalogue.  I signed about the sweets and cookies, she looked some, yet she was still concerned about Loulis. After crackers I brought in the soup.  T.L.C. helps us all in grief, I know I’ve been yearning for it all week, so I fed Tatu soup spoonful by spoonful. She’s always liked this. She continued to ask about the potatoes. We have potatoes in all colors right now.  White, pink and purple.  I peeled some of each and she liked the purple ones best.  Then she asked MORE.  OK.  I brought the potato peeler in and peeled them next to her and she had some more.  Then she asked ONION?  Yes I signed.  So she had an onion. She enjoyed that.  She was on a roll; ask and ye shall receive.  So after some more conversation about the Christmas catalogue she asked CARROT?  I signed NO, FOOD FINISH.  She looked down and flipped through the catalogue some more.  After a bit she asked MORE?  I asked WHAT WANT.  She thought for a second then signed NUT?  But of course, she now knows I have a supply that I’m willing to share, which I did.  After that she climbed on the bench, lay down on the tire and watched Lisa and I clean up after lunch.  Finally, a moment without worry. It was nice to see this moment in her.

There is a lot of work ahead … but our hearts will heal, never completely but some.

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3 Responses to Oh Nuts, It’s Grief

  1. My heart is with you all … it’s nice to see some sweetness peek out from under the shroud of grief. Hugs to you. xo

  2. Heidi says:

    Thanks for the details of their day. It means a lot.

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