Yes, for people like my wife, grieving for bees may seem a little overdramatic and when I’m forced to watch another episode of ‘One Born Every Minute’ by the missus, I can appreciate that it is. Still logic doesn’t account for emotions, and my marital comeback is that ‘it’s my hive and I can cry if I want to.’
The death of a hive is not even a subject I can expect much matey compassion for down the pub (well not before five pints when even the chip shop being closed can seem slightly heartbreaking). Nobody seems to understand that I have been going through a grieving process but let me explain…
Please refer to the dotted (b) line on the graph above as the (a) line is for positive events which this most certainly wasn’t.
My Grief Cycle
Day 1. 6pm. Distress – Gut wrenching moment when I realised there was no bee activity. Compounded when I opened the hive and found dead bees. Thousands and thousands of dead bees burrowing into their comb looking for food that wasn’t there and starving to death. It turns out a mass insect grave is pretty horrific to look at. (See: Starving Bees)
I went back home, barely mentioned my heartbreaking discovery and went on as usual. Perhaps opening that bottle of Sloe Gin barely five minutes after taking off my bee suit might have been a hint something was up.
Day 1. 6.30pm. Disbelief – I couldn’t believe it. I thought the bees were tougher than this. I proceeded to do a good Victor Meldrew impression – i.e. “I don’t believe it”.
Day 1. 6.45pm. Denial – I needed to feel that the colony could live on. I made up some sugar syrup and went back out to feed their dying bodies. It was like armageddon in there but I didn’t feel at all like Ben Affleck.
Day 1. 7.00pm. Guilt – I was responsible for these bees and I obviously couldn’t be trusted. This was the worst feeling to handle especially as I couldn’t share it with anyone – least of all my wife who was wanting me to look after our daughter the next morning. I still had to maintain that illusion of competent carer…
Day 1. 7.05pm. Loss of confidence – My improving self-image / esteem as a beekeeper was at an all time low. Just as I had started to think that yes, one day, I too will be mingling confidently with those bearded old pros at the associations, it was now clear that would never happen. I would have to give back my ‘Brilliant Bee Keeper’ badge which I say my wife made me (but I so obviously helped with).
Day 1. 7.10pm. Anger – I was angry with myself. I had no one else to blame but myself. This was worse than when I rolled my parents car two weeks after passing my test and was consequently car-less for the rest of my teenage years. (Though I do have to admit, the loss of a hive probably doesn’t stunt my middle-aged sex appeal quite as much as the loss of wheels did).
Day 2. Bargaining – Just as I was about to take the hive apart, I found the Queen alive. I felt I could do something. I fed them again. Maybe I could be Ben Affleck after all…
Days 1-5. Chaos – Yes I had about as much success as Tony Blair being the Middle East Peace Envoy. After I fed them they were robbed, fights broke out, wasps had a go, there was carnage. I then decided to block the hive up. I then unblocked it a few days later. I did everything I could think of.
Days 3-5. Resignation – I began to accept the probability of this colony not surviving.
Day 6. Depression – There was nothing else to be done, this colony was not going to survive.
Day 9. Acceptance – I took the hive apart. I was now a beekeeper with just one hive. It is unlikely I will be making 50 jars of honey next year. My local monopoly on all things honey-related will have to wait.
Day 10+ Partical recovery so far, rather than a new confidence. I am now able to write about it at least.
I am starting to think about lessons learnt. Ironically, one may be that despite my aim to be as natural a beekeeper as possible, in this case more human intervention was needed. Those bees needed to be fed earlier.
I feel like there is a need for a beekeepers support group which can help us deal with our grief and help us on the beekeeping journey. I have created a page called Beekeepers Anonymous for this purpose. I’m happy to be the first to stand and say ‘Hello, I am Roger and I miss my bees’. Let me know how you guys have handled any loss of your own (and make me feel a bit more sure that I’m not alone!).