Poem for Mother

Mother Jane with my late brother, Richard


Contemplating this poem by David Whyte this morning on Mother’s Day and how I wouldn’t be the person, the woman, the healer, or the artist that I am had she lived. Her death twenty-one years ago and my grief broke me open to “a larger sea,” to quote Whyte. (Read my story by clicking here) He writes, “The most difficult griefs/ones in which we slowly open/to a larger sea, a grander/ sweep that washes/all our elements apart.” For me, this a profound grief that washes away separateness and egoic striving while opening our hearts to compassion and love in service to the greater good. Something I believe that we are all being called to do during this collective dark night of the soul. It took over a decade for me to experience the possibility of “exultation” that the poem also speaks to and I continue to give myself permission to experience joy even amidst my pain for the living Earth–the Mother of us all–that is being assaulted daily by greed and the illusion that more stuff will make us happy. Does it really? Or is the source of our happiness grounded in love, community, belonging, and purpose and for me also beauty, art, creativity. Something to think about as we celebrate, mourn, and remember our mothers. May all beings love and be loved.


The Shell

-David Whyte


An open sandy shell

on the beach

empty but beautiful

like a memory

of a protected previous self.

The most difficult griefs

ones in which

we slowly open

to a larger sea, a grander

sweep that washes

all our elements apart.


So strange the way

we are larger

in grief

than we imagined

we deserved or could claim

and when loss floods

into us

like the long darkness it is

and the old nurtured hope

is drowned again

even stranger then

at the edge of the sea

to feel the hand of the wind

laid on our shoulder

reminding us

how death grants

a fierce and fallen freedom


Away from the prison

of a constant

and continued presence,

how in the end

those who have left us

might no longer need us

with all our tears

and our much needed

measures of loss

and that their own death

is as personal

and private

as that life of theirs

which you never really knew,

and another disturbing thing,

that exultation

is possible

without them.


And they for themselves

in fact

are glad to have let go

of all the stasis

and the enclosure

and the need for them to live

like some prisoner

that you only wanted

to remain incurious

and happy in your love

never looking for the key

never wanting to

turn the lock and walk

away

like the wind

unneedful of you,

ungovernable,

unnamable,

free.

Gifts from the Mother

“Jane’s World” 2001

Jane Livingstone (1925-1990)

Although my grief has subsided over time, I can’t help but feel a few pangs of sorrow on Mother’s Days. Like many of us, I am missing mother love from the woman who gave birth to me. Hard to believe it will be twenty years next month since my mom died suddenly from heart failure. I was out of the country at the time and returned home a day too late, to find her gone—poof—vanished into thin air, or so it seemed. It had only been ten days since I left but it felt like I had just waved goodbye to her as I headed to the airport for my vacation to Bora Bora. The last thing she said to me was: “I hope you have so much fun that you don’t finish your book.” Then she was gone. She died nine months after my brother’s death from AIDS. Not being a mother myself, I can only imagine how heart wrenching it was for her to see her only beloved son suffer in such pain in those final weeks, days, moments. I felt the anguish having been present as well but not through the lens of a mother. Friends who are parents now tell me it is their worst nightmare. I couldn’t ease her pain.

During that same period of time, my brother’s partner also died as well as a very close friend of mine from a brain hemorrhage. There was so much death around me. I was broken and ill prepared at that age to deal with my grief. I also didn’t have guidance or the wisdom to find my way through this emotional landscape and I began a rapid descent into darkness.

To the world, I probably appeared to be functioning but on the inside and when alone, I was nearly suicidal. St. John of the Cross and what is now commonly referred to as the “dark night of the soul” were unknown to me then but looking back I see that descent as the initiation into my spiritual journey and it took a decade to fully emerge into the light—a dark cloud having comfortably settled in above me over the years. Aside from the possibility of a few guardian angels, I believe what “saved” me early on was finding a compassionate therapist and the act of painting. [Shown here is my painting that honors what my mother loved most. Her wedding dress (my father), gardenia (her favorite flower), our home in New Hamsphire, and her five children.] This is why I believe so passionately in holy listening and creativity to transform the wounded heart and why I feel called to bring these healing modalities to others on their journey as well. This is the gift that has emerged out of my dark night of the soul. Gifts from my mother. Compassion. Being of service to others as well as to the healing of the Earth.

There are many gifts that emerge out of our suffering and numerous examples of this happening in our world today. In our grief, we often begin to ask deeper questions about the meaning of life. Why am I here? What is my purpose? How best can I serve? Our suffering brings life more fully into focus and enlivens us to what is most essential. For most of us, that is LOVE. Love of the other, family, the beloved, God/Spirit. And for me, love of the Earth. Tomorrow we will celebrate and remember our mothers. I honor my mother and bow to all mothers around the globe for their tireless devotion to raising our children—our future generations. What a sacred task they have in our world. Blessed be! And may we also celebrate the Great Mother of us all, Mother Earth who gives and sustains all life. May we honor and protect her from harm. May we send a prayer of healing to the Gulf of Mexico and all the creatures who are and will be affected by this crisis. In gratitude and love.

Here is a poem written by my late brother for my mother:

In my mother I see this lady of grace
An uncertain mystery ‘neath filmy lace.
She is mine and she is yours, shining
Like twin suns in our own starry night.
Unconquerable and undiminished, she is our light;
And so, guiding us through rocky terrain
As if only ‘twere casual summer rain.
How my thoughts do run to thee
In any chosen season, be it shimmering
Spring or a faltering fall, you visit
Me in my peaceful sleep like the
Kiss of sweet angels sent from heaven
To be my recompense in the long nights silence.
Rejoice, my fragrant soulful woman,
womb of this all too solid flesh,
Celebrate the love of all whom you know
And I will see you when summer breezes blow.

–Richard H Livingstone, Jr. (1974)