The Progeny of Love

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by April Tierney

Recorded by author

A magnificent killer whale named Tahlequah 
gave birth and caught the world’s attention. 
Her calf died only thirty minutes after being born,
each of those blessed minutes a sacrament 
to the progeny of love. But the real reason 

journalists and photographers and millions of viewers
followed this mother’s story, was her willingness to grieve 
unbidden, to become a thing utterly governed by kinship. 

After a year and a half of growing this enormous life
inside of her belly, and the immense feat of labor,
and a half an hour of looking into one another’s eyes, 
Tahlequah proceeded to carry her dead baby 
on the tip of her nose for seventeen days, 
traveling more than a thousand miles 
all throughout the Salish Sea. 

And some people think that grief is not
inexplicably beautiful. But perhaps it’s because 
those people (who are us people) no longer see
grieving enacted publicly as a plea for sanity,
as a way of feeding that which grants us life.  

There was no real grieving at my mother’s funeral––
sniffling and shoving tears back up into our eyes, yes,
but no keening. No collapsing into the bottomless cavern
of one another’s trembling arms, no crying out 
into the insufferable heat of that late-summer day, 
and certainly no carrying my mom’s dead body 
as a holy procession all throughout the places 
she ever knew and loved. So I continued to carry her 

mostly on my own. I wailed in the privacy of my own home 
long after the funeral was over, with only the hurting eyes 
of my husband to behold me––a kind of holding 
that was never meant to be done alone. 

I imagine that if killer whales were not endangered,
Tahlequah would have swam those seventeen days 
with a grand procession of many other glistening, 
black and white giants all across the ocean. 
Or perhaps she swam for one thousand miles
to personify the loneliness of her grief 
in a world spiraling toward oblivion. 

And our savagery for not swimming alongside her;
for taking pictures, for watching her exquisite ceremony
on our little screens as if it were pure entertainment,
as if that couldn’t be any one of us, carrying our dead
children out into the dark and emptied streets.


Recorded by Karina Lutz

April Tierney is a poet, activist, craftswoman, mother, and lover of stories. She is the author of three full-length collections of poetry, including Memory Keeper (Homebound Publications 2022). Her work has been featured in Orion, The Wayfarer, Real Ground Journal, and elsewhere. She lives outside of Lyons, Colorado, in the Territory of the Cheyenne, Ute, and Arapaho Peoples, with her husband, young daughter, mischievous dog, and wide web of kin. To learn more visit

16 thoughts on “The Progeny of Love

  1. April, what a beautiful and thought-provoking article. I too recently lost my mother. No keening in public, only in my heart, in private, remembering my wonderful Mum as she was before dementia stole her away day by day. Emotions, especially the ‘negative’ ones, are not seen as acceptable. We are disconnected, unable to share our deepest emotions. We underestimate the intelligence and emotion of animals, especially whales. They put us back in touch with our own depths…

    • Yes. I agree whole heartedly. God made mammals and others for a reason. One of those reasons was to put us all back in touch with mother nature. I too recently lost my mother due to heart failure. But I try and stay connected with my cat as he tries to help me both physically and emotionally as much as he can. I respect and love him for it. As cats can be loyal too. Though not as famous as dogs are.

  2. Thank you for sharing this. While the story of this mother’s grief and our role in her experience is powerful, what really struck me is how well you described the isolation of grief, particularly at funerals. I cannot understand why we deprive ourselves of emotional release and support during this (often) exquisitely painful time. I’d love to read more from you about on this topic.

  3. It’s been a long time since I began thinking about grieving. Anything we need to grieve, any of us living creatures. Because I’m sure the grass grieves a dead sprout too. And you just put this vast and profound feeling in such beautiful words. And you have exposed how vane we have slowly become. That instead of sharing Tahlequah’s sadness and grieving journey, we managed to film and take pictures. Thank you for sharing you personal grieving experience. Thank you for what you have done for them, the lonely orca and her dead calf. Thank you for this engaging text of love.

  4. Thank you for this incredible essay. In a culture that swallows our grief (if we even feel it fully) and weep alone this essay is a reminder that the “rules of silence and solitude” regarding grief are destructive. Animals, indeed, are far freer to express grief as when a calf is removed from its mother and both grief deeply. Or swans are separated by death. We are so locked up. When my husband died I wailed. I held him in my arms as he took his final inhalation of earth air and later in the morning I sat in a corner on the floor and wailed. This IS grief. Thank you.

  5. My friends’ son died yesterday by suicide. A profound horrific tragedy. They are like the walking dead in stunned disbelief.
    My heart hold’s theirs. They know I too know the grief of losing a son 6 years ago. I’m trusted to enter with them into the sacred space of regret, confusion, and emptiness. I bring dinner although I know they probably have no thought of food. I listen, absorb, remember, and ache with them.
    They are in a sea of pain. I hope someday they too can look back and see that it’s all about love. And always will be.
    In the two years after my son’s passing, my parents both went too. In a strange way, it comforts me to know he has them heavenside with him. They loved each other so much.
    Holiness has filled my emptyness.
    I was a midwife for 40 years and helped women birth by trusting, letting power flow, opening, releasing. It’s how I grieve too. There is power, and even beauty in grief as there is in birth. It’s the love. There is texture, color, with the beauty of an exquisite sunset.

  6. Thank you for sharing this breath-taking, heartbreakingly beautiful depiction of grief. Losing one of my close friends to suicide has given me a new understanding of grief and its differing levels. I did have that fall to the floor, wailing moment, shocked to my very core at losing him in such an incomprehensible way, and there are some days, it still feels like that. It is shocking how heavy it is and how alone a person feels carrying it. I’ve lost many people in my life and dealt with losing those pieces of my heart but I’d never felt anything like this grief. Suicide loss leaves a mark like no other scar I carry. I have never felt more alone in my life than in this grief journey.

    But reading your words makes a person feel less alone. We don’t have to carry it alone. Thank you! Sending prayers that seeing all the people you’ve touched, and changed, makes your own burden lighter. God bless you.

  7. Thank you, so beautifully shared April.
    As a mother who has lost a mother and my son and held a stillborn grandchild I understand grief of the loss. Especially that of an innocent child. The depth of feeling. The gut wrenching crying. Why should this incredibly intelligent mother whale be different. I honour her.
    Now I know how healthy it is to express one’s grief, without holding back.
    For now I am clear, clean and experience joy again. The allowing of my tears, wailing and allowing and feeling the pain of loss washed me clean.
    I share my story of “Shining Through from Grief To Gratitude” in my self-published memoir.
    with Gratitude

  8. it was full of rich, delightful, imaginable and delicate words, that make you be in that moment, crying and remembering someone else.
    how many picture like that we cannot see, because we are busy to put our eyes on nature.
    amazing and great to read.

  9. Wow! “…grieving enacted publicly as a plea for sanity….”
    I love these lines, which ring so forcefully true in my heart:
    “And some people think that grief is not
    inexplicably beautiful. But perhaps it’s because
    those people (who are us people) no longer see
    grieving enacted publicly as a plea for sanity,
    as a way of feeding that which grants us life. ”
    Thank you so much, April.

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