What Elephants Can Teach Us About Supporting Members of Our Herd


I want to talk about elephants.

My love for these wonderful beasts began on a tour of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. Actually, it started when I first saw “Dumbo,” particularly the scene when Dumbo is rocked by his mother, who is behind iron bars and chained up by heartless circus folk. To this day the song “Baby Mine” crushes me, and I dare you to honestly say that you aren’t completely gutted after watching.

But I digress…

As a new freshman at Rhodes College I toured St. Jude right before the start of my first semester. The hospital is a remarkable place, packed with thoughtful touches to make it feel less like…well, a hospital. I remember the “Cancer Alphabet” that hung on the walls, framed pieces of paper adorning corridors that in any other medical facility would be spotted with images of healthy-looking people reminding the sickies to wash their hands. But this particular series of artwork was decorated by the young patients, and somehow made you simultaneously aware of the gravity of their experience while chuckling at the overwhelming preciousness. I recall the K was for Kemo (I told you it was cute), and there was an eloquently-written poem all about “up chuck” beneath the scribbled letter.

I also remember that there were elephants everywhere, and at some point on the tour, our guide finally explained why. I’m obviously not able to quote her, but whatever she said went something like this:

Elephants are the symbol of St. Jude because when a baby elephant is in danger the entire herd comes together to protect the calf. That’s what we do here; we stand alongside each patient’s family and friends to help shield a child from the disease as best we can.

Everyone fights together. Whether it’s a predator, natural elements or the overwhelming tiredness that comes from a really long walk, elephants do whatever is necessary to take care of one another. People have even witnessed cases of role reversal when a calf has to step up to care for its mother. (If you have a few extra minutes they’d be well-spent reading this story about the bond between a mother and her calf, and how that calf saved his mother’s life.)

girl standing next to painting of elephants

So, take from this piece what you will. I’m not going to connect the dots or circle back to how this relates to chronic illness. I have a feeling doing so would be redundant and obvious. I just wanted to share a little extra love with you today, and maybe get you thinking about emulating these animals when a member of your herd needs an extra hand. And we all need help sometimes, not just those with a chronic illness.

Follow Anne’s journey on [still]moving.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.


Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.


Related to Chronic Illness

five things to do when a loved one is diagnosed with a chronic illness

5 Things to Do When a Loved One Is Diagnosed With a Chronic Illness

If your loved one – be that spouse, parent or child – is newly diagnosed with a chronic illness, you may be at a loss as to what comes next. There will be unanswered questions, fear, anger and sadness. Everyone reacts to situations such as these differently. You may react by going into “take action” [...]
Young girl sitting on steps at home

The Toll of a Chronic Illness

I am 20 years old, and I have been sick since eighth grade. I went to high school for one semester before I had to find an alternate route to finishing high school. I never got my teenage years to figure out who I was as a person. It was all taken from me before [...]
Side shot of a boy sitting on his hospital bed

Caring for My Child With Chronic Illness

My son, Mason, is 11. He’s been sick most of his life. He’s been in and out of hospitals and had multiple surgeries and procedures. We’ve traveled around the country for a second opinion (and third and fourth) on his disease to make sure we were giving him the best possible life and treatments. Mason [...]
woman on top of a mountain

Why I Don't Always Want Doctors to Tell Me What It 'Might' Be

I am learning more and more that I process things of great matter in latency. I don’t become hysterical in the moment; I don’t break down at the first sign of decay. It is a defense mechanism that has served me well over the years. It allows me to stay sharp, on-task, and quick when [...]