Death Valley: In the Shadow-light of Grief

“An awakening towards consciousness is identical with the creation of the world…”

–Marie-Louise von Franz

This has been the longest interval between posts on this journey. But sometimes we are called just to be with ourselves, to be present to current circumstances–not stepping out of them to be by ourselves, to take time out. Afterwards, we retreat, we reflect, and finally we re-enter the world at large. The last few weeks has been one of those occasions.

I last posted about Waves of Change. But waves of change cannot begin to describe the newness that I have woken up to more than once in these last few weeks. Still on this journey, I traveled from Arizona to California to Oregon, back to California only to be called back to Arizona–to my mother’s death.

But first, let me say this: In this global time of energetic shifts, consciousness growth and expansion calling each of us to be more present, to be more aware, to feel a deeper connection not only to ourselves and to each other but to the earth itself, we are undergoing profound shifts in perception and states of being to which we literally wake up in the morning and feel and experience ourselves, as completely different, completely new. Old beliefs, old perceptions, old feelings and patterns of habit literally fall away, slough off like old skin. They come into consciousness, are felt, and then released, dissolved, back into Source through our awareness of them and our compassionate feelings towards them. And the utter newness, this new open space from their release, can be startling at times.

Sometimes, we are left standing naked with a sense of literal re-birth and are invigorated by the new energy. Sometimes, we are shocked at the newness and find ourselves temporarily ‘ungrounded,’ or ‘unmoored’. During these times, we can feel heavy, tense, or in a ‘fight-or-flight’ mode, unsure even of what is agitating us, until we breathe deeply enough and slow enough to allow whatever it is to arise into consciousness awareness. Other times, the emotions revel in our bodies–leaving us a slobbering mess of gentle, compassionate tears and laughter. But all of it is energy passing through us–shaking out the old, the old emotions, the old patterns and habits of Being that no longer serve us–and then we are uplifted into the new, a new awareness of ourselves–who we are, our connection to others, and what we are truly meant to do here while on earth, and much more.

All of this is a part of these transitioning times occurring on our planet.

All of this is part of the consciousness shifts occurring to each and every one of us, whether we are aware of it or not. That is, whether we choose to participate consciously or unconsciously, and if the choice is to experience the changes unconsciously, there can be days and hours of tension, undefined anxiety, emptiness, or a vague sense there's something more one is not touching in one's life.

We’ve been hearing about these shifts in consciousness–the New Earth–for some time–from transformational leaders, spiritual teachers, mystics, healers, psychologists, social psychologists and energy and consciousness-based scientists. Scientific evidence abounds now for the growing awareness of our energetic nature and the impact that consciousness has on our world–from an awareness of electromagnetic fields and our connection to them, to the luminous body, to energy healing, and to the spiritual awakenings occurring now on a mass scale.

Most of us, though, have been on the ‘slow-boat’ of change, in the slow growth of conscious awareness, but now that the energetic shifts are occurring faster, more frequently, many more are waking up to a new awareness of themselves. We wake up more profoundly to the reality that we are energetic Beings. Energetic beings with a physical human form, and energetic Beings more connected to each other in ways we’ve never before dreamed, and more connected to the universe than we’ve allowed ourselves to perceive. And more responsible for our lives in all aspects than we've ever allowed ourselves to see. Perhaps Einstein articulated it best:

We are slowed down sound and light waves, a walking bundle of frequencies

tuned into the cosmos. We are Souls dressed up in sacred biochemical

garments and our bodies are the instruments through which our Souls play

their music.

We are not humans with a Soul–we are Souls expressing through a human body, and we can ‘tune’ into the cosmos if we are willing to feel, willing to hear and experience that connection. Our bodies are infused with the energetic field, the luminous body, of our Soul. And as we become aware of this luminous body and clear out old patterns of dense emotional energies and behaviors that no longer serves us, we allow ourselves to be healthier, happier, more connected, more aware and compassionate human beings. Is it easy? Yes. No. Not always. Sometimes. But there’s also nowhere else to go. We are in it and we would do best by supporting each other in elevating, raising, our energetic vibration, our connection to ourselves and others, to support our own and others' well-being—physically, emotionally, spiritually, energetically.

Never has all this become clearer, more real, and alive to me than in these last weeks, these last days crossing the country, crossing the vastly different landscapes and tending to both life and death.


When I began this journey in January, aspects of me refused to allow myself to ‘know’ that part of the reason for the journey was to be out west and to be able to visit my mother this winter and spring. To be in the west, the place where the sun sets, with her…near…or not far away. And to be here for my sisters, my family, especially since my mother’s last few years had been complicated, and sometimes, often difficult.

I had been receiving intuitive messages for some time in the fall that ‘it was time’. But when I left New York, I still couldn’t allow myself to fully acknowledge these messages. I had spoken of them to two-to-three friends who I knew would ‘hear’ me, but otherwise, this was a knowing I held to myself, drove with, across the country, and carried like a piece of invisible luggage.

A knowing–like a slip of breath breathed only in the shadow and whisper of night’s limbs…


No matter how much we know death will and does occur. No matter how much we think we’re ready, when death actually occurs it is always a shock, a shock even when it is expected.

I had just returned to California from Oregon–where my mother knew I was visiting my sister and niece–and had just landed in Santa Barbara, when I literally sat down and opened my laptop to write, “I’m coming back to Arizona…” when a message from my older sister popped up, “Call Julia, mother passed.”

It is odd, and yet it makes perfect sense that all three of us were in communication–each of us suddenly feeling compelled to speak to our mother, to speak to each other. One sister had merely left two days prior. I was on my way there, and my other sister had been calling her several times. And to all outward prior appearances, my mother looked well.

Just three weeks prior my mother had been profoundly stubborn about doing things herself, pronouncing that she’d ‘passed all her exams’–that other than her diabetes, which was managed by diet and meds, she was ‘good’.

Even a neighbor had said, “She seemed to be doing well…”

She seemed to be doing so well that while I was in Oregon, I had actually begun to feel guilty for ‘thinking’ about what I thought I knew, what I heard through my intuition. How could I be thinking about my mother’s death, that she wouldn’t be with us in June, when she was as feisty and difficult and demanding as ever?

How could I assume I knew?

But my mother knew. She knew deep inside her, and she knew I knew. She had only two days before messaged, “When are you coming back?” And I was on my way.


When we don’t listen to our intuition, we abandon our Souls.

And mostly we abandon our Souls because we are afraid the ones we love will abandon us.

And unbeknownst even to ourselves in that fear, we become ‘people-pleasers’–agreeing with the group, the culture of our jobs, our circle of friends, the culture at large; or, we become ‘people-pleasers’ from fear that our security, our well-being, will be dismantled, and so we smother the ‘still small voice’ inside us thinking this will keep us safe.

But intuition is the voice of our Souls. It is the voice of the Soul asking to be heard. It is the awareness in which the ‘still small voice’ of our guides, the voice of the Divine that lives through and as each and every one of us comes through. It is the heart’s vastness saying, “Feel this…and through this, know…”

It arrives as the gut feeling, the sudden cognition of knowing and not knowing how one knows, the image that blossoms into certain clairsentience. It is the dead-on instinct to turn right when everyone around you says, “turn left.” It’s the sequence of the same numbers showing up everywhere we turn, or the synchronicities one after the other saying, “You are on the right path.”

It is the knowing that gives one the confidence to love someone when they cannot outwardly love you. And it is the disappointment, the pain and recognition when we know and don't listen, and then we acknowledge to ourselves, we should have listened to that nudge, that sign, that feeling…

Our intuition leads us to authenticity, to our own voice, but more often than not by way of betrayal. Betrayal of the status quo, betrayal of what’s supposedly ‘appropriate’ or ‘sane’–or not in the bounds of what is ‘normal’. It is the true ‘out of the box’ movement of our hearts…

And because of all this, it can be frightening for many of us to allow it to arise when it asks us to ‘go against the grain’…to step into the knowing of our true selves.

When I first heard the call to ‘go west’, close upon its heals was the message, “Your mother will not be with you beyond June.” Except for a close friend who came to help me pack, and those few other friends, I told no one. Instead, I packed my home, I packed my car and felt hopelessly true and hopelessly knowing, even while asking myself, “What are you doing?”, and even though there have been periods of time on this trip when I have prayed daily, “Show me the way…”, for a trip seemed like the last thing I ‘ought’ to do considering I had left my prior career only 11 months earlier and was beginning to envision and begin a new business.

Who begins a cross-country trip in the beginning of January? Who packs up and leaves what they know–their community–at the behest of a still small voice that has no form.

But when we heed its call, the voice of the Soul…we are miraculously where we are suppose to be when we need to be…and we are shown beautiful things all along the way–things that we could not imagine, things we need to see and experience before we move into the next stage, phase, of our life-journey on this planet. And we are all on a journey–the journey of our our soul-lives in human form. The problem is is that we been so en-culturated to think it is primarily the journey of our physical lives, and not our hearts, our Souls.

In the last five months, I had been shown amazing things every leg, every step, every corner of the way across the country, and even when I had suddenly felt most alone, I have then too suddenly felt held by something far greater… Love itself.


When I was young, I used to frighten my mother–by the questions I asked, by the things I knew. Who was the pregnant woman who…. Who was the girl who fell in the fireplace? Who was the man who…? Why was dad…? Or it was, ‘There’s a woman in my room…’ Or, ‘I can’t wear that hand-me-down because …’ Or, in a restaurant, ‘I can’t eat that [what I had specifically pressed hard to order] because they were yelling over it in the kitchen…’ I look back now and see it was not so easy with me. I look back now and understand more readily why in various family gatherings, my mother would sometimes suddenly look up at me and burst out, “I didn’t do anything to you…” at the shock and surprise of everyone.

Later, when the questions weren’t coming from a naïve child, but a young teen who could simply ‘see’ emotions, feelings, experiences that people did not necessarily want to have be seen, I was the one who knew too much for her own good–I was the smart ass–the one in the end who was supposed to simply keep her mouth shut no matter what she saw… the one told to ‘just be quiet’ when our parents fought, when someone was lying, when someone couldn’t see into their own pain and spoke at cross purposes, or when two teachers were having an affair and it was so obvious to me I spoke of it as if it were a commonly known fact, but others around hadn’t seen it at all, especially their respective partners.

Don’t get me wrong–I wasn’t and am not special. There are, I’ve come to learn, a lot of us in the world. A lot. I just didn’t know this when I was young. And my mother didn’t know it. Instead, it more often than not made her anxious, made her unconsciously push against me, made her at times simply and quietly say, “You ask too much of me...”


The morning after I received the message, I got into the car and drove. No sooner had I arrived in Arizona and fifteen minutes later, my sister who’d just left returned with her husband, unable to yet ‘grasp’ that our mother, who seemed well, had gone.

Where does one begin with death?

There is no beginning, no ending. There is no death. It is somehow simply a moment of departure.

But regardless of this knowing, my sisters and I still had questions: What had occurred? Had she fallen? Was there an accident? Why had she not pressed her medical alert button? Had she died in bed? Her deepest wish was to die at home in her own bed. Not in a hospital, not in hospice, but in her own bed. And who had found her? My sister had just been present two days earlier. Her caregiver had just been there the day before. The cleaning woman had just been in and commented as always, “She’ll only let me do a few things…”

It turns out, my mother did exactly what she wanted: she died in her own bed, in her own home, in the night. She was determined all the way. In fact, my mother had made her own arrangements for her burial–had years earlier bought a specific burial plot next to one of her brothers, requested a casket that was simple and clean with a beige interior, and had asked for irises and roses–two flowers full of meaning for her. She did not want to burden us with guessing, and she wanted what she wanted.


It turns out it takes longer than what you’d think to get a death certificate. It turns out, you need more of them than you would actually imagine. It turns out too, if you die in one state and want to be buried in another, it takes even longer between the actual death and the burial–because you have to meet two state’s transfer regulations and requirements for burial.

My mother did not want to be cremated. She reminded us of this tirelessly in the last two years, “Whatever you do,” she’d say, “I don’t want to be cremated. I don’t want to be burned.” Her body was to be laid in the ground to rest for eternity. And as a firm cap on her request, she’d end any conversation with, “I don’t believe in cremation, I don’t believe in burning the body.” “And I want to be buried next to my brother,” she’d quip, “My grandparents, not my parents.”

Hers is a small family cemetery where her grandparents and other family members had been laid to rest. She’d bought the last burial space in the family plot there. It looks out over a small community, and in the distance, you can see the summer fields of the Willamette Valley, fields she knew well growing up at her grandparents, and fields that ran deep in our family lines. It was fields or the ocean. She chose fields. Her other family members were buried in another cemetery–not far from her childhood home–with a panoramic view of the Pacific.

While we waited for the paperwork to find its way through the bureaucracies of transitioning from life to death, my sister and I busied ourselves with planning for her memorial-graveside service. There were also many ongoing home-care services that had to be terminated, which also meant speaking to a lot of people and letting them know she’d passed on. It is shocking how our lives are entangled in so much bureaucracy. It is shocking that one needs ‘the state’ to confirm a death. It is shocking how far we’ve removed ourselves from the trust of the human, from the simple words, “My mother is dead. My mother died.”

For days, as we seemed to wait in silence, we’d wake, have coffee, then head over to her place, patiently waiting for the death certificates so we could know when we’d be able to fulfill our mother’s request–to get her body back to Oregon to be buried. By the sixth day my sister and I found ourselves saying aloud, “Oh Mom, we’re working on it…” or just, “Oh, Mom….” As if our voice could assure her, us, that the journey would indeed happen. My sister would go through papers while I started the necessary tasks of closing her home, planning her memorial, and choosing photos for a video.

At times in the day, one simply has to walk away–the 'too muchness' of it all suddenly upon one like an avalanche of un-graspable emotion–the inability of the human mind to grasp the physical non-presence of another. At moments, I found myself thinking of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, a novel about a poor southern family’s journey to get their mother, Addie Brunden, buried, and how the obstacles kept surmounting–a river flooding so as to make the crossing a travesty in itself, the body fermenting in the week’s passing, the tense friction between two elder sons, the father in the midst of all this suddenly taking on a new mate to fill in the missing gap, the missing tasks, and the youngest–Vardaman–trying to grasp the reality of his mother’s absence, struggling so much with her physical absence that he finally exclaims, “My mother is a fish.” Something that was and is and is not as it slips out of view, slips out of view as it moves into the flow of the human stream.

“My mother is a fish.” I knew these words now in a different way. My mother was here visible in the physical world, and now she is not.

As we waited in the restrained hours of the day, we did what we could. We began to prepare her home for her absence. Everything one picks up takes on a new meaning–at once it becomes both a blankness, a simple object, and a heavy sense of having been an object of attachment, an object of identity enhancement, a story about who she was, what she wanted, what she valued.

In the last two years of my mother’s life, she would often speak about ‘who got what’ to the tire of each of us girls, and she was always telling us each separately–as if in privacy, she could make whoever she was talking to feel special. But I see now, it wasn’t favoritism or being special at all: it was her desire to want to matter, her desire to want to be loved, and have her life valued enough that someone would want an object that ‘meant’ to her, an object that she thought she had endowed with her own sense of identity. That someone would see her in these objects and therefore value the object enough to fight over it, value the object enough to keep her alive through it.

In the end, though, we don’t keep someone alive through physical objects–we keep them alive through mental objects–our thoughts, our memories, our feelings–knowing that a Soul’s life, the energetic body of an individual remains in our awareness of them, our feelings of them. No matter how much physical absence, we can still feel their presence. Whatever object we get attached to, whatever object we enhance our identity with, only, in many ways, stands in for what we are not able to feel, what we cannot feel inside ourselves: our own sense of Being and connection with another. So many of us have gotten that far away from our human awareness, our human experience, of Being. We have gotten that far away from the truth of who and what we are–not object-enhanced identities, persons, but conscious Beings…persons who feel, experience, and love…

Don't get me wrong. Our desire for objects is not bad, not wrong, simply miss-valued if the objects themselves become more valued than the feeling awareness of Being, the feeling of experiencing ourselves and others as Being alive energetically, and thus connected to each other in ways we can hardly understand. We need only tune into the cosmos to know, feel, they are still here, still connected to us. A breath away. And as I picked up the objects in her house, I found myself saying over and over again, "It is you, mother, that I love and loved–not your objects..."

As our mother got closer to her death in these last months, she spent more of her time being with photos–photos of everyone she loved to hear about and see–her daughters and their partners, her grandchildren, and her great grandchildren. Objects of identity in the end became the real people in her life, the people she herself had helped bring into the world. The people she loved, felt, experienced. She had photos of everyone around her–on every shelf, on the walls, in boxes, and intermingled in files and a briefcase that read: ‘important papers’. Sitting on her living will: photos of my oldest sister and her first husband and son–her first grandchild. With the papers for her burial plot: a photo of her and my middle sister sitting and laughing in a lodge in Alaska–both of their eyes lit up with the sacred joy of being…

There were photos of all three of us girls with her birth certificate–one book end of her physical life, the other, the death certificate we were waiting for. Slowly, in the latter days of her life, she was coming back more solidly to the ‘feeling’ of others, the feeling being primary in her life, part of its real meaning.

Not too long before she died, my mother had said to one of her son-in-laws, after one of her difficult spells of behavior and more, "I didn't know it could be different.” I think of that moment now, along with others, as my mother’s awakening into true consciousness: the awareness inside her that what she thinks and feels creates what she sees and experiences, and that she could have created a different reality with different thoughts that create different feelings. "It could be different." Our thoughts create what we feel and our feelings create our experiences. And now, in her last days, last months, the struggle to change those energetic thought patterns, to change her experiences, her feelings, took more energy from her than we could possibly have imagined.


On my first visit in January, my mother asked me if crying so much was OK? Crying first for the loss of her husband two years earlier, and to whom she spoke to each night, and then crying for months for her little sister, a sister she'd lost so many years ago when she herself was young. “I want to see her,” she said. “I’d like to see, tell her, ‘I’m sorry… ‘”

It was in that moment, I knew my mother knew–the way she said it, the resonance in her voice, and what she was now able to hold emotionally. She was readying to leave and she wanted to talk: she wanted to talk about death and wanted to talk about her younger sister as a toddler who had fallen in the fireplace and had become so badly burned she swelled up like a balloon and died not forty-eight hours later.

We had spent in January–just her and I–four days together sitting quietly. There were long periods of silence–just like there had been when I had visited her and my stepfather in Montana years earlier. She and I would walk around the ranch and as we walked, so often, she would lightly take my hand. Ours was a silence together mostly broken by questions–questions about my life or questions about life itself, like ‘crying’–“Is it Ok for someone to cry a lot?” Or, “Do you think your grandmother really speaks to you? She saw things too, you know.” I had named my dog Ruby after my grandmother and I had asked for a sign from her of her approval. And she had given it.

Since Ruby was with me, I told my mother about how I had only a few photos of my grandmother–the ones she herself had given me–and one in particular that had been tucked into a leather-bound book on a shelf in my living room. A few days before I was supposed to pick the puppy (Ruby) up and bring her home, the photo appeared one morning on the floor. A single book had been nudged off the shelf. I had not touched the book, and the surrounding books were in perfect alignment. I had in truth forgotten the photo was even in the book. But there was her answer, and as I bent over to pick the photo up, I heard, “Yes. I would love for you to say my name several times a day…”

Sometime, before I had arrived, my mother had gotten out the one photo she had of her little sister. She had been looking at it, ‘holding it,’ and as she sat once more with me holding it, she turned her head, her eyes welling into feeling, as she allowed herself to feel the pain, the grief. The death of her sister was perhaps the core wound in my mother’s life, a wound that had been buried, a wound that had become the shadow-life, the unconscious shadow-force in so much of her later anger and pain. Pain, hurt, always lies beneath anger. Always. And her pain was deep, and it had been trying to surface for sometime, but she pushed it down with defensiveness, anger, fear. I often felt, she thought it would overcome her, undo her, if she allowed herself to really feel it, see it, face it.

As a young girl, my mother had become the go-to mom for her siblings–cooking and cleaning and caring for her younger siblings, and more–barely beyond childhood and adolescence herself. My grandmother who was a petite woman and mostly quiet had experienced with nearly every birth severe post-partum depression, to the point that after her second son’s birth, she went away to live with an aunt for three months because her depression was so great. It was as if her depression was a mirror of the Great Depression occurring in the country itself–with all its lacks, and hungers, and fears and uncertainties… It forced children into adulthood and forced loss on unspeakable numbers of people and families. In a photo in which my mother is standing next to her younger brother, she is dark-haired, leggy and tall for her age, and it is so clear she is holding onto her brother’s hand in a way that indicates she’d been holding that hand, caring for it, for some time.

My mother did not see her sister fall into the fire.

My mother did not remember that she herself at a young age could not have imagined how a walking toddler could get around a heavy screen.

She does not remember where her father was…only that her mother was in bed, asleep in a dark room, in a house on the side of the hill, in the late afternoon.

What she remembers is that she was supposed to be watching after her, caring for her.

What she remembers is sitting with her mother and watching her die in the hospital.

What she remembers is going to live with her grandmother for some time and never speaking of it again.

My mother never got to grieve, never even really understood until very recently that she needed to grieve. She did not know how carrying that grief and sorrow all those years had simmered in her so long, it eventually came out as guilt and shame and anger. Hurt, pain, disappointment, is always beneath anger. And she never told our father about her sister’s death. She never spoke of it except when I pressed so hard as a young naïve child myself, insisting on knowing “Who was the girl who fell in the fire?”. The first time she did speak of her on her own volition was to our step-father many years later after we girls had lives of our own and she had grandchildren and great grandchildren. But she never said her sister’s name. And she never felt the chasm close that had opened up between herself and her own mother, though my mother was good in bringing us girls, to our delight, to stay at our grandmother’s home, a home we loved to be in. But the home too my mother had not been able to leave early enough.

A few days after my mother’s service and burial, we went to look for her grave…

We wanted to speak her name for our mother, for our grandmother, for her siblings, and for ourselves, for we had lived in the shadow-energies of that death, unaware, for so many years… We wanted to bring her into conscious light, so she could finally live, so she could finally too pass on un-shrouded from hidden shame and grief, and guilt.


In those many years, since her sister’s death, what my mother did know is what fire does to the human body, what fire does to the face, and what death by fire smells like. She had told me about sitting with her mother. She had seen it, and she did not want to “be burned”, as she put it, she did not want her body to be burned up. She wanted it buried in the ground in a simple casket with a beige interior. She wanted roses and irises. She wanted to lie next to her brother whose hand she’d held both as a child and as he later died too young by cancer. She wanted to be next to her grandparents who took her in for a year after her sister’s death.

The body remembers what the mind will not, cannot…until the heart says, “Remember me, feel me…” and we allow ourselves to remember, to feel. The body wants to release its burdens before it dies. The body knows there are no shames, no griefs, no horrors that are not human, not unknown to our humanity. The body works hard to release these, to keep illness at bay and flush these out of the physical through the gift of tears–the waters that cherish our Souls. And the heart wants to speak those names, those memories, joys, and un-grieved sorrows and pains. The heart wants to say, “It’s Ok.” The heart wants to say, “This is part of the human story, the human journey, the human flow. And you are always, always loved.” This is what my mother was waking to in the midst of all her tears, in the midst of allowing herself to remember.


It was ten days before the death certificate finally came with its many official copies, but we felt as if we’d been waiting for weeks. It felt like to all of us a great wind had finally shifted as my sister was able to go and pick them up. Suddenly, there was take off: we could feel confident that “Yes, Mom,” as my sister spoke to the air, “We’re getting you to Oregon. We’re doing what you asked, what you wanted.”

My mother’s body was flown from Arizona to Oregon, then driven for two hours to a small town in western Oregon to be laid to rest on a hill overlooking the summer fields and the fir trees she loved so much. While my mother flew, my sister and her husband drove, and I too drove. I wanted Ruby with me. And I wanted those long hours alone it would take to drive up through Death Valley, then up through northern California and into Oregon. I wanted to be in the shadow-life of death, to know and to experience the "Countenance of the Divine" even there.

When we are ready, the cosmos shows us things, we would otherwise not see. When we are ready, more seeing, knowing, blossoms into Being through our physical form. It becomes part of the expression of who and what we are–we need only be willing. And as I drove the long straight road that ran through Death Valley, so much came into view. How death when we allow it can heal the unconscious wounds passed down from generation-to-generation. Those wounds, we now know scientifically, are energetically patterned into our cells, our DNA–the trauma, the guilt, the terror, the shame. It’s all there–we inherit it energetically and we are given the opportunity to allow it to release, to be cleansed from our ancestral lines through us. And it is up to each of us to refuse to act on those old inherited energetic patterns of behavior, to bring them into consciousness and then allow them to be released, dissolved through our compassionate awareness of them.

It is up to us to choose to act differently. We are that powerful, we are that creative. We are that gifted with the opportunity in our lives to transform them and ourselves–we are not victims of them, ever. We are lucky.

As the person who would be facilitating the graveside service, I wanted to help create more of that space, that possibility for healing and forgiveness as we gathered to bury my mother. I wanted to help create that space–for my siblings, family and relatives, and for all of us together. Death Valley gave me the vision for that, gave me the knowing for it. Out there, in what appeared to be the driest of dry land, the emptiest of empty, was a world teaming with life, teaming with the “Countenance of the Divine”–the light divine. The light was sublime–even as it was furled by clouds and absorbed into the land wringing out every last drop of water, every last drop of succor and sustenance. In that barrenness, was fullness. And as Ruby and I entered scene-by-scene the panoramic landscapes, we would stop by the side of the road and put our feet onto the ground, put our feet onto the ground and breathe deep and listen. What I finally heard, and knew, is that “All of it was good and all of it is good. All of it.”

I had written, “I’ve Been to the Desert” earlier in which I spoke of the pain and sorrow my siblings especially had experienced in caring for my mother in these last years. They had been the ones near on the home front, receiving the anger when the 'too muchness' of life, of feeling, washed up in our mother. I was the one who came and went–heard, listened, then was pushed unconsciously and verbally away. I knew why, and my mother knew why–my presence often brought too much forward in her–to the point where she would slam her fists down and say, “I didn’t do anything to you.” What she was really saying in those moments, I see now, was “Please. Stop seeing me. Stop seeing me–my pain, my life, my Being…” It was the “You ask too much of me” of my childhood. The 'too muchness' of life. And so she would often simply say, “No. I don’t want you to take care of me. Go do what you’re supposed to do.”

No role in life is better than another. Each of us are gifted in different ways. My sisters were able to care for her more closely, help her with her daily life in ways she did not want from me and in ways I was not able to offer being far away. What my mother needed from me was the ability to say once in a while what she otherwise could not say. She needed to be witnessed, but then she needed to be free from that witnessing to feel again her own sovereignty. In this way, in being her witness, my mother stopped being the mother for me years and years ago.

Once, in a monastery in Myanmar, I was sitting and praying in front of an alter when a monk tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Here. Come. I am supposed to speak with you.” Something in me said, “Yes. Listen to him.” And so I did. I followed him in my bare feet to a small alcove off the main alter hall. What he told me, what he was able to see of my life seemed at that time miraculous. But one of the things he’d said was that I’d lost my family in certain ways at 13 years of age. “It is then,” he said, “that you became not the child, but the adult.” And as he described what had occurred at that age for me, it was as if he’d been there himself, and I could feel deep inside the truth of what he was saying and the larger truth of Being that was being conveyed through him to me. “Each of us,” he said, “is gifted with something unique. Yours is not the ‘care-taker’ role, and you must not feel guilty for that. You must not think who you are is any less.”

As I stood next to my mother’s casket with my family around and spoke of her, her life, and the challenges she and we had faced in our relations with her, my sisters and our extended family remembered. We remembered the whole of her life–not just the hardships and difficulties of her last few years–but the joy, the love, the adventure, and the life she loved and led and encouraged in each of us. We did not hide the difficulties, nor lament them, but the difficulties became instead the gifts of our being human together in that moment as we laid her to rest–the too muchness of our love that she had had a hard time receiving in those last months of her life became the balm of our being together with her there. Each reflection and each rose, each iris laid on her casket was the recognition we knew her love and that we too loved her well.

As we gathered later at my sister’s home and watched the slideshow/video I had put together from the many, many photos she had kept near her in the last years–of her, her daughters and their partners, of her own two husbands, of her grandchildren and great grandchildren–what we saw over and over again in her face was the joy, the love… The sacred joy of Being that shone through her eyes, her smile, and the love she was able to express many, many times. And that joy and love was healing–she was giving us, in our togetherness, the joy she was unable to express in her last years as she struggled with her deepest wounds and confusion.

And as we stayed together into the evening, in the shadow-light of our grief, eating the foods that she herself had taught us to make, we knew we were nourishing ourselves once more with the love she held deep inside her…

In loving gratitude,


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