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Review of "Your Wild and Precious Life" by Liz Jensen: Finding Spiritual Clarity After Grief

Review of “Your Wild and Precious Life” by Liz Jensen: Finding Spiritual Clarity After Grief


One day, Liz Jensen’s son, Raphaël, encounters death in the garden. It’s in the form of a bird, a great tit that he discovers and brings inside. “I found a sleeping bird,” he informs his mother, who then explains to him that this bird will not wake up again. They bury the bird in a hole and hold a funeral to honor it. “It’s not a bird anymore,” they tell him, “underground, it will decay and transform into something else through magic.” However, this concept is difficult for young Raphaël to understand. He places snail shells on the grave and cries out in grief.

At 25 years old, Raphaël once again encounters death. While on a run in South Africa, he is preparing to film a documentary about anti-poaching efforts when his heart unexpectedly stops. This is a significant moment for Jensen, who sees it as a “kairos” – a Greek concept of time that interrupts the normal course of events and brings about radical change.

Jensen in her book, Your Wild and Precious Life, questions the possibility of change amidst extreme despair. As a novelist who believes in the power of words, she composes a prayer or incantation while on a plane to see her son’s body. She sees her son as an unstoppable force of nature and imagines him becoming one with that force, transformed into water, chlorophyll, moss, a bird’s feather, and more.

How can anyone cope with the death of a child? Is there any other way to describe it other than insanity? Jensen compares it to the opposite of pregnancy, where she feels like her son is disappearing from within her, one tiny piece at a time. She breaks glasses, stares off into space, and drops things in the grocery store. She likens the mental state of grief to that of a pregnant woman, but without the happiness. Like an expectant mother, she looks for solace in others and finds a united group of grieving parents who are on the same path as her. A friend, whose son died by suicide in his early twenties, shares with her the story of going into “phantom labor” while meeting with the priest for coffee before the funeral.

Similar to the process of pregnancy, grief also has a series of stages. These five well-known phases – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – were first conceptualized by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in the 1960s. However, a sixth stage has been proposed more recently by psychologist David Kessler following the loss of his own son: meaning. Grief is not solely about loss, as it also holds the potential for growth and transformation. While post-traumatic stress is frequently discussed, there is less focus on post-traumatic growth, regeneration, and spiritual awakening, as noted by writer and researcher, Jensen.

Jensen’s journey toward awakening is sparked by the presence of birds. There is a particular feathered creature that appears near the location where Raphaël tragically passed away. When Jensen cries out his name, she notices “a small bird with an impressively elongated tail…reminiscent of Raph’s signature russet braid.” In another instance, a blue-breasted seabird dives for her while she is swimming. Additionally, there are multiple appearances of great tits in various forms. Jensen begins to see these birds as a symbol that her son is still close by, and that even in death, transformation and magic are possible.

Following his death, Jensen starts to hear her son’s voice and he provides her with solace and motivation. She also experiences visual sightings of him, appearing in various sizes and performing different physical stunts during a support group for those who have lost loved ones. The state of overwhelming despair and sadness that accompanies grief is a common experience, particularly in the case of an unexpected loss. However, could it be considered madness? Or could it be, as Jensen begins to think, evidence that there is more to life than can be quantified?

The concept that our loved ones do not simply disappear when they pass away, but instead transform and disperse – as physical matter, energy, or even spiritual presence – throughout our world, is a thought with profound implications. In addition to being a climate activist, Raphaël’s death is just one of many that leaves its mark on the pages of this honest and pressing memoir. Jensen’s focus shifts between her own personal grief and a mourning for the loss of nature. Towards the end of the book, she envisions her son once again, shape-shifting into various forms like a gingko leaf, bat, tiger, spider, sea-turtle, viper, jellyfish, water droplet in a cloud, bed of moss, bacteria, elephant, and dragonfly. “Everything is more vibrant. Everything is more mysterious. Everything holds significance.”

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Source: theguardian.com