by angeliska on August 9, 2019

This morning found me doodling figure eights, looping curves of lemniscates making fanciful arabesques in the margins of my diary. I sat at my kitchen table on this bright summer morning with a candle lit, writing. My friend Sophia Rose brought me the most extravagant double stargazer lilies in a brown glass bottle, to honor what this day is for me. They are exquisitely fragrant, filling the room with their scent, and drifting russet pollen over my page, my arms. My eye and mind comes to rest on this picture that hangs next to me as I write, something I picked up at my favorite antique store, where I used to work. It’s a postcard set into a vintage frame over an old handkerchief decorated with cabbage roses. I took the frame down from the wall, and pried the backing loose to peer and see if anything was written on the back of the postcard (nothing was), but I learned the image was from a watercolor by the the Swedish Art Nouveau painter, Carl Larssen. Modellen skriver vykort – Model Writing a Postcard. A naked woman sits at her table, writing a postcard, papers spread out all over, a vase of peonies and pussy willows fainting in the bright air from the open window – a look of total absorption and contentment on her face. Her body and her hair are like mine – and so many mornings, I echo her pose, with my writing, at my table that is just for me. There’s a delightful solitude in this picture – in her mind, she is alone, totally comfortable, not being spied on by anyone. She has no responsibility, no need to wear any clothes – and the total freedom to concentrate completely on whatever interests her, without the distractions of a family, or of children. That’s what my life is like these days, and sometimes it feels a bit alarming, but mostly it’s wonderful.

This picture also reminds me of my mother. The woman has exactly the kind of furniture she loved – elegant arts and crafts style precursors to Art Deco. She had an original Stickley dining set that somehow got lost or sold somewhere along the way. When I showed this to my Aunt Ruthie, she told me a story I’d never heard before – about how my mom used to go around the house all the time wearing absolutely nothing but a pair of red Converse hi-tops and a plastic shower cap. So part of me wants to make a version of the woman sitting at the table wearing these accessories, too. I love contemplating this side of her that I never imagined – an irreverent, playful and silly version of Maggie that I don’t remember ever meeting. Mainly because, by the time she’d had me, her time for lounging around naked at the kitchen table writing postcards was long gone. It’s ironic that this was most likely one of the big sources of resentment and tension in our relationship – how little time she had while juggling motherhood and scraping by at work to just be a person, to hang out with no clothes on, doing whatever she damn well pleased. More ironic still, is that this is my life exactly, for the most part. I’m living my mother’s wildest dreams. I’m totally free.

Thirty-three years today, my mother died. She let go of her body in a little bedroom in her parent’s home, built for her grandmother, in a tiny ghost town in Texas. Where she went from there, it’s impossible to know. Lately, I like to think that even though she didn’t choose her death, that perhaps some part of her chose to leave this earth on August the 8th, a day touted by many spiritual teachers to be the Lion’s Gate, a portal that opens up every year on this day – through which we can step into some kind of fiery and passionate infinite empowerment. This year’s astrological alignment apparently also coincides with the the beginning of a new galactic cycle. The last one began about thirteen years ago, when I was twenty-seven. It was around that time that I really began this journey of actively grieving my mother’s death, and started inquiring into the dark passages of my memory, where I’d stowed so much I hadn’t been ready to deal with yet.

Throughout my entire childhood, since the day she became ill – when I was probably about five years old, I’d been running. After her death when I was seven, I started having recurring tidal wave dreams. I had them all the time, for years. They were terrifying, disorienting, and strangely captivating. I’d be standing on the beach, and notice something rising over my shoulder, over my head – a gargantuan, shimmering, moving wall of water, rushing towards me faster than I could outrun it. I’d wake up before it hit, with the panic and terror of trying to escape that total annihilation vivid in my mind, my heart beating fast. For awhile, I thought that perhaps I’d had a past life in Atlantis, or some other ancient place lost to a giant wave. When I started studying the language of dreams, I realized that water usually symbolizes feelings, I finally understood what I had been running from all those years – an enormous wave of emotion that I had no idea how to deal with, the fear of drowning in tears. For a long time, it remained too big, too much. When I started to delve into those overwhelming feelings, the dream started to change. Sometimes, the wave would crash over me, and I would come to, floating in the water, grasping for my sodden suitcases which I’d been running with. Papers and photographs drifted around me, and I’d try to gather them up. I was alive, though I had lost some precious things. The waves would take the photos and the letters before I could collect them all.

These dreams were trying to tell me that I could stop running – that it wouldn’t kill me to turn around and face that grief, let it crash over me. That I’d be still alive after the waves receded, though soggy with saltwater, tears – and that I’d lose things. That I’d be trying to not let all the memories, the words, the stories slip away from me once I became strong enough to remember. That’s why I started writing about her death, and all the ways that it changed me, altered irrevocably the course of my life. Through that process, I’ve been able to see how much the work of healing has also changed me, and changed the way I grieve. Writing gives me a way to remember, to learn how to put back together that which has been dismembered, shattered, lost. There’s so much I don’t remember – because the trauma of loss has blocked it out, or because time erased it, or because I was too young to be able to understand it in the first place. Most of the people who experienced this loss with me choose not to remember, or not to talk about it much. They are still too lost in their pain, and set in their ways. They’re getting older, and so am I. Soon, who will still remember? In remembering together, we make ourselves whole again. This is how we heal – if we’re willing go there, to feel it all, to do the work.

I recently came across an image of a lightning struck tree – with a description expelling the concept of traumatropism, or “a modification of the orientation of an organ (as a plant root) as a result of wounding.” It’s also described as the “regrowth of a plant or tree, often in a bizarre shape or direction, as a result of earlier damage or trauma, like a lightning strike.” I looked at that image of the broken tree, and recognized myself. I was forced to grow in a different direction, all my tender green sprigs coming in at odd angles – due to the trauma of my mother’s death, and to the trauma I experienced in our relationship before she died. That loss, that castastrophe – it shaped me in ways I had no control over. It determined the course of my path in many ways – but not how I choose to walk it. I could have let the new growth sprouting from my broken branches emerge twisted from lack of light, from thirst. It’s taken real effort to not let this wounding twist me, make me into a victim who chooses to blame every bit of their bad behavior on that terrible tragedy. I’ve loved people who chose that, and early on, saw the difference between us – in what we were choosing.

My first love had lost his mother at twelve. Our shared wound brought us close, and I loved him without reason – long before I’d ever heard of a trauma bond. He was extremely magical, shockingly beautiful, and totally evil. I was fourteen or fifteen when I fell for him, and for about five years on and off, tolerated him sleeping with all my friends, becoming a terrible junkie, stealing from me constantly, and beating the shit out of me in shockingly violent ways. It hit me that he was using the pain of losing his mother to make excuses for the monster he’d let himself become – and I knew then that I never wanted to do that, never wanted to walk that path where I made everyone else around me suffer because I didn’t know how to deal with my pain. Though I probably did, in subtler ways – ways that are more accepted and expected for a female bodied person. We are taught early on to inflict our pain on our ourselves, rather than to lash out with it. I sucked it up, and kept on trucking – pretending that I wasn’t wounded, hiding the shame that seeps out of old wounds and infects them.

I saw all this clearly in a series of visions that bowled me over like the tidal waves I’d long dreamt about. For many years, I’ve sought and found deep healing in working with plant medicines. Anyone who has worked with those medicines before knows that there’s no more deep and incisive form of healing available on this earth. There’s an intelligence in those plants that knows exactly where the pain is, and exactly how to disarm you. All the armor you’ve spent years building up suddenly falls to the ground, along with all your defenses.

Which is exactly how I came to find myself sobbing helplessly in a heap, in the middle of a large room in broad daylight, filled with about thirty or forty people. I had been walking back from the bathroom to my spot in the circle, when I was overtaken by an immense wave of grief that literally floored me. I couldn’t move, couldn’t manage the long crawl back to my mat and the blanket I longed to pull up over my head so I could stifle my sobs into my pillow, and hide. I didn’t want to make my pain the focal point for all these other people’s experiences. I wanted to hide, to run away, to have the earth open up and swallow me. At the same time, I was completely consumed with anger and sadness at the utter unfairness of my mother’s death. That someone so amazing, so brilliant and talented and interesting could just be eaten up by cancer and then cremated and gone forever. That I’d had to live my whole life without her, when I needed her so much.

I saw the image of the lightning struck tree in my vision – the hacked off limb, the terrible lack of symmetry. The horrible wrongness it – like seeing someone whose arm has been hacked off. It’s a shock, right? You stare, and then you feel gross about staring, and so you look away. There’s shame inherent in being wounded like that – in what seeing your wounding does to other people. It turns their stomach, it makes them afraid, reminds them that terrible things can and do happen. And so you do your best to hide it, to pin your empty sleeve to your shirt, or wear a heavy cloak so that no one sees, so that no one notices. So that you don’t disturb or upset anyone with what’s hurting you. And they tiptoe around you, in fear of saying the wrong thing, offending you by reminding you of what you’re missing. Pointedly avoiding bringing it up, averting their gaze.

Of course, the more you have to hide it, the more infected it gets – and the more shameful. I often say that losing a parent not like having a scar on your body, an old faded wound where your mom or dad used to be. It really is like having a limb chopped off. Having an essential part of you torn away, forever. You might learn to walk or dance, or comb your hair, or brush your teeth, all without that limb – but it’s harder. You’ll never have it again, and you’ll have to learn how to do everything without it. How to live your life without that essential part of you. How to hide it from everyone so that you don’t remind them of the immediate and permanent nature of death and loss.

She thought of the women at Chicken Little’s funeral. The women who shrieked over the bier and at the lip of the open grave. What she had regarded since as unbecoming behavior seemed fitting to her now; they were screaming at the neck of God, his giant nape, the vast back-of-the-head that he had turned on them in death. But it seemed to her now that it was not a fist-shaking grief they were keening but rather a simple obligation to say something, do something, feel something about the dead. They could not let that heart-smashing event pass unrecorded, unidentified. It was poisonous, unnatural to let the dead go with a mere whimpering, a slight murmur, a rose bouquet of good taste. Good taste was out of place in the company of death, death itself was the essence of bad taste. And there must be much rage and saliva in its presence. The body must move and throw itself about, the eyes must roll, the hands should have no peace, and the throat should release all the yearning, despair and outrage that accompany the stupidity of loss.” – from Sula, by Toni Morrison, who died yesterday.

I remember hitting my fists on the cold concrete floor and screaming in rage and agony – at how fucked up it was that I had been so small, so young – just a little kid whose mother had been torn away. This felt like one of the tantrums I used to throw – my only way of dealing with the helpless grief and anger that constantly threatened to consume me, and yet had no outlet. When it’s happening to you, you don’t know how to stop it – and the awfulness of doing it in front of everyone feels like shitting yourself, like doing something totally unforgivable. Like kicking in someone’s favorite stained glass window. I remember wailing and kicking on the ground, with horrified adults all around me, murmuring about what an out of control child I was. It’s bizarre to me that no one realized that this was the only way I knew how to grieve, back then.

Those memories gave me even more reason to not be where I was, doing what I was doing – I mean, how mortifying! But as I slowly began to come back to myself, I peeked though my tangled hair and hands covered my face, and saw a circle full of people sitting up, beaming love and support at me. I couldn’t believe it. I looked around the room, and saw so many people offering smiles of encouragement and kindness – and I realized that I was exactly where I needed to be. That I had needed to allow my grief to be witnessed, supported and allowed, for so, so long.

Eventually, I picked myself up, and was able to slowly make my way back to my pillow and blanket – but I no longer felt like I needed to hide. Something deep in me had changed forever – and it’s still changing. I remember later that evening, after the circle had closed, a friend of mine coming up and hugging me, saying, “You’re so, so strong!” and I thought – what is he talking about? I just spent what felt like forever paralyzed in a crumpled pile on the ground, crying my eyes out in front of everyone! What’s so strong about that? I’ve since realized that it takes enormous strength to be that vulnerable – to be willing to surrender completely, to turn around and face the tidal wave that has been chasing you your whole life, and let it crash over you. To let yourself feel it all – and to survive it. To come out the other side, disheveled and tear-streaked, with missing limbs, with your branches growing in strange new directions – but alive!

I’m contemplating finality, and eternity. I’m wrapping my head around the idea that death is not an ending – not really. I’m learning to embrace change, in a way that I was terrified to try before. The changes in my body, in my face, in my heart, in my spirit. It’s harder to hold with the acceptance the changes that involve losing people, or losing the way I approach my life. I try to remember that the waves on this planet will still keep flowing in and out – even if they’re rolling in over places that once were coastal cities I loved. It’s hard to imagine Venice, New York, New Orleans – all submerged underwater, modern Atlantises. But that day is coming. Recently I had a moment, out in the country, on a quiet summer night – staring up at the night sky looming limitless and bright above me, spangled with stars more visible away from the city lights. I was crouching on the asphalt driveway of this little getaway ranchette I’d rented with friends, feeling the night breeze on my skin, listening to the laughter coming from the house, and the lowing of the farm animals tucked away for the evening.

It hit me how fleeting this all is – and not just in the regular way, in the acknowledgment that time is passing, as Andre Aciman writes in Call Me By Your Name, “I suddenly realized that we were on borrowed time, that time is always borrowed, and that the lending agency exacts its premium precisely when we are least prepared to pay and need to borrow more…” But that I wanted to remember this moment as leading up to what might be the last of the good times, the last days of it being easy, and simple. The last of not knowing quite how soon everything was going to change. At what point will our unthinking ease evaporate? Will it begin when the grocery stores we frequent start carrying fewer and fewer items? Or when the air conditioning we rely on is suddenly longer available? Or when all our neighbors are rounded up and taken away? At what point will we long for the little day to day problems we complain about now, like sitting in traffic, or hot weather when few of us lack climate control in our homes and cars. It makes me want to go back and read accounts of people living through similar changes and horrors, to understand how they survived it. But truly – there’s never been a time quite like this. Our obliviousness, despite being overly informed, feels like another luxury we’ll soon lose. It shifts they way I’m thinking about my own mortality – as we move out of our natural cycles, and into something else completely. I keep imagining the Skull and Bones gangs that go around in the wee hours of Mardi Gras morning, rattling chains, waking people from their drunken slumbers, carrying signs that say in dripping letters: TIME’S UP!

This is an anatomical skull given to me by a friend more than twenty years ago, now. During a recent harrowing journey to the underworld, and subsequent ego death (story for another time), I was given a message that it was time to pass this skull on. That it wasn’t right for me to keep it any longer, gathering dust in an unfinished room I rarely venture into. It needed to be given to someone who would honor it properly. I immediately knew who that was – my jewelry teacher, Bob. I also gave him a human hand (also from an anatomical model) that had been gifted to me by another friend.

It was an interesting moment for me, to give away things that had once been among my most treasured possessions, part of my collection of oddities. Being someone who works with death and grief in my own journey, and in the work that I do, it’s always felt natural to collect bones, taxidermy, and other morbid bits. But something shifted for me, during those long hours in the underworld. I don’t know if I’m able to put it into words, but it has to do with honoring life and death in a more immediate way now. It’s not just conceptual for me any longer. So I let them go. I forgot even to photograph them, so I can tell their stories better. Maybe it’s the stories that interest me now, most of all.

Bob sent me this image so I could share it as part of telling this story for myself, and I’m grateful for that. I do want to come back to all the many stories of that skull, at some point, and I hope that I’ll have to time and luxury to do so – but for now, I just want to honor whoever this person was. I want to honor the fact that I have no way of knowing anything about them, about what they thought about, or what their life was like – though I cradled the container for those thoughts and experiences in my hand. I want to honor the simple fact that every single one of us looks something like this underneath our skin. And that every single one of us will look like this one day. The message of the memento mori: fui quod es, eris quod sum – As you are, I once was – as I am, you one day shall be. I often feel like I’m grasping at threads of a fraying medieval tapestry, when I try to tell these stories. I’m feeling the urgency more and more, realizing that the tapestry of memory and my own personal history may give way to dry rot at some point, or that I may run out of the time and space to sit and give an entire day to writing, as I’ve allowed myself today.

This is me, a month or so ago, with feral locks about to be dyed into brighter rainbows by my alchemist-artist hairdresser, Iana.

It’s odd to arrive here at 40, as a woman – partnerless, childless, aging into an uncertain future. To a place that many women deeply dread arriving at. Not all that long ago, the idea would have stuck me as the most terrible tragedy imaginable – to never have children, to never find partnership. There are rare times when I still feel a twinge of that sadness, but for the most part, I am trusting that this is exactly how things need to be, for me. Sometimes I feel totally untethered – floating out in space. Yes, but very free – and grateful for all the luscious freedom I have, where I can choose how I spend my hours.

I have arrived at a place where I am more content and happy with who I am and the life I have created for myself than I ever was in my thirties, or twenties, or really ever. It’s pretty magical! I can honestly say that I am more excited about life and what lays ahead than ever. I feel more vibrant, present, full and healthy – emotionally, physically, and spiritually than I ever have before. I love and accept myself more than ever, and I love every single goddamn thing about my amazing, incredible, unbelievably beautiful life! I have the very best friends, and the best community I have ever had. I love my work beyond anything I ever dreamed of, and just feel so excited to keep growing and learning how to better be of service to people. I love my home, and my amazing family, and – I could keep going but my point is, I just feel so much gratitude for where I’m at in my life, and every step of the way it took to arrive here.

I keep trying to get my head around planning for the future, for some sort of retirement, for my longterm health – because I know these things matter – but what is it to try to build any kind of stability in these strange times? I went to India for my 40th birthday, and told myself that if I hadn’t made it to Japan in the next ten years, that I’d go for my 50th. But will Japan still be there by then? And what of the toll that traveling by airplane takes on the earth? The ten years from 30 to 40 went by fast, and my life changed so much in that decade. Where will we be in another ten, and what state will our planet be in, if we don’t start making major changes now?

This is where my mind is at most of the time, these days. I’m thinking about eternity, and about the idea of a half-life. Specifically, the half-life of plastics, (which is believed to be 400-800 years, or even 1000 years, though “no definite number has ever been proclaimed”). I can’t stop thinking about the idea that every cheap plastic trinket I’ve ever bought and thrown away still exists out there somewhere, right now – in the earth, and a landfill, or on a boat to China – or in the ocean, choking some hapless sea-creature. It’s painful to sit with that – the idea the recycling is a lie. That I can’t just blithely toss my single use plastics into my single stream blue recycling bin anymore and tell myself that I’m doing my part. I’m seeing that part of real maturity means seeing things as they truly are – and taking responsibility, doing something about it. Changing my behavior.

One of my friends and teachers, Ishmiel, said something that really stuck with me – I’ve been mulling it over constantly, ever since I heard it. He said, “The work we do on ourselves in our middle age, really affects the kind of elders that we want to become.” This deep cycle I’ve been moving through over the past few years has really initiated me into doing some deep shadow work, and major processing and healing of old wounds that I know would turn me into the kind of bitter, entitled old person I’m terrified of becoming. I look to the wise, serene elders, who know that they still don’t have it all figured out, and likely never will, for inspiration. And I think on all the old folks I know who’ve calcified into their victimhood, ossified into their fears and prejudices.

It’s never too late to change, but the older we get, the less flexible we are. My friend’s mom who’s pushing 70 always says about aging, “Move it or lose it!” and I think that applies to our attitudes as well as our joints. It takes work to stay agile in our spirits as well as our bodies. I want to grow wiser, kinder, gentler – less attached to my pain, to my ego, to the part of me that (internally, at least now) still stamps my foot and howls when I don’t get my way, or feels slighted by something that probably has nothing to do with me. I think about the elderly coots I’ve seen throwing a fit at Golden Corral, being absolutely hideous to their poor server – not about their iced tea or their dinner rolls or whatever, but because they are scared and angry and sad.

I think about all the people who voted for Trump, who are ruled by those shadow of fear and entitlement. I know I’m not immune to that shit – and that if I don’t work hard at helping myself feel less afraid, that I could turn into that kind of person. Not a racist Nazi per se, but a sour-hearted, lonely, greedy old thing, eaten up by past resentments and scarcity mentality. Maybe that sound kind of extreme, but the truth is – every one of us is in potential danger of ending up like that if we don’t find some way to be kinder and gentler with our own shadows. It is our responsibility to tend to our woundedness, so that we don’t create more suffering.

I read this piece on Midlife Unraveling from Brené Brown that gut-punched me, hard. Here’s an excerpt that I actually printed out to read over and over, because I fucking need to, and maybe you do too:

“Midlife is when the universe gently places her hands upon your shoulders, pulls you close, and whispers in your ear:

I’m not screwing around. All of this pretending and performing – these coping mechanisms that you’ve developed to protect yourself from feeling inadequate and getting hurt – has to go. Your armor is preventing you from growing into your gifts. I understand that you needed these protections when you were small. I understand that you believed your armor could help you secure all of the things you needed to feel worthy and lovable, but you’re still searching and you’re more lost than ever. Time is growing short. There are unexplored adventures ahead of you. You can’t live the rest of your life worried about what other people think. You were born worthy of love and belonging. Courage and daring are coursing through your veins. You were made to live and love with your whole heart. It’s time to show up and be seen.

And, just in case you think you can blow off the universe the way you did when you were in your twenties and she whispered, ‘Pay attention, or when you were in your early thirties and she whispered, ‘Slow down,’ I assure you that she’s much more dogged in midlife. When I tried to ignore her, she made herself very clear: ‘There are consequences for squandering your gifts. There are penalties for leaving big pieces of your life unlived. You’re halfway to dead. Get a move on.’”

I looked nothing like this as a child.

Like so many others, I downloaded the app that can show you what you’ll look like as an old person, or as a fantastically perfect child, or as a different gender – before I realized with horror that I was giving some Russian entity access to tons of my private information. I deleted it as soon as I read about that, but honestly, whatever the Russians or whoever want to get from us, they probably can already, if we are on the internet and use social media. Something interesting happened though, in the interim before everybody got freaked out and stopped transforming themselves into old people. I saw people reckoning with aging, with the fluidity of gender, and via quite a few exuberantly snarky memes about climate collapse, with the reality that many of us may not live to see the visages of old age that FaceApp showed us. Will I look like the old woman the app’s algorithm showed me? It’s hard to say. The Russians don’t know that I slather my face in sunscreen and Korean beauty products made from snail slime and bee venom, so – we’ll see. I definitely didn’t look like an idealized Asian child when I was a kid, and neither did my mom – though it’s fun to see us all dewy and perfect in a way we never really were. What really struck me, was that I could see a version of my mother as an old woman – something no one ever got to see, because she never had a chance to become one. Most people who have moms get to see them as they age – and thus, get a glimpse of what might happen to their own faces as gravity and time have their way with sagging jowls, with the loose skin of necks, with eye bags, and heavy nasolabial folds.

So I wonder if perhaps I’ll look something like this when I’ve gone whole hag?

On a whim, I let FaceApp do its thing with an image of my mother, on her wedding day. It was a backyard hippie wedding, and she and my father were crowned with flower garlands. She holds her fiddle in one hand, and with the golden hour haze shining around her, she looks just like a painting of the kind of Pre-Raphaelite maidens she adored. The doctored image doesn’t look much like my Aunt Ruth, her sister, or my Nonnie, her mother. It’s impossible to say what kind of old woman she’d have become – but I am weirdly grateful to have this image, to imagine – my mother the crone. I remember my Nonnie’s crepe-like cheek and her wiry witch-whiskers brushing mine when she asked for a kiss. My Grampy Grover had wrinkles so deep he looked carved from a hunk of cedar like the ones here turned into tables and stool. Like the cedar table I sit at every morning, that he built with his hands. I trace its whorls and knots with my finger, though I was too shy to ever ask to trace his. And now that face is gone, that craggy visage that I loved, that fascinated me. Will I look like them? What kind of marvelous hag shall I become, I wonder. I’m planning to go full Vail Myers/Michelle Lamy, to celebrate living that long, if I get to – with thick kohl around my eyes, a hennaed tangle of curls, facial tattoos and gold teeth, like Baba Yaga (though I heard hers were made of steel.)

My mother never even got to be 40. Never made it “over the hill”, as they used to say. It’s fascinating to me that in just a few decades, that whole concept kind of just…disappeared. I remember that on my father’s 40th birthday, he showed up at the stereo and VCR repair shop (another bygone relic of a different era) where he worked to find a giant banner plastered on the front window that read “LORDY LORDY – DAVE’S TURNED 40!”. I didn’t understand the joke, or what was funny or embarrassing about turning 40. His friends and coworkers threw a birthday party for him that evening at our house, with black balloons and paper napkins that had gravestones on them and all read “OVER THE HILL”. Someone made him a big white sheet cake, with a beautiful tree limned out in black icing – but it read, “40’s NOT OLD… IF YOU’RE A TREE!” When he tried to cut it, it wouldn’t budge. He struggled with the knife, and everyone laughed, because it was made of styrofoam. All of this upset me a lot as a child, in a way I could never express to anyone. All the implications that my father was now closer to death freaked me out, as he was the only parent I had left. And all the joshing and jibing just seemed really mean. I didn’t get it, and I still don’t really. At what point did that whole turning 40 equals basically being dead stop being a thing? Maybe when people in their 50s and 60s and 70s started staying healthier and active for so much longer. Maybe we’ll see that trend shift backwards again as our quality of life changes. We might all end up looking like Dorothea Lange’s haggard and weathered Dustbowl women during the Great Depression – without a syringe of botox or a fancy snail slime sheet mask in sight.

My mother looked nothing like this as a child.

One of my dear friend’s Grandpa died today, at the age of 74 (not much older than my dad is now) – and I found myself thinking, but that’s so young! And maybe now, it is. He went through the 8/8 Lion’s Gate today too – maybe to another dimension, like my mom. She and I stand face to face, on either side of that 8/8 Lion’s Gate, like the sphinxes at the Southern Oracle, uttering impossible riddles with no answers. Frozen in time, mother and daughter, eternal. Our souls looping into infinity, joined by an umbilicus – the double helix of our shared DNA, of her death and journey beyond, and my path without her – where I am becoming more and more of who I was always meant to be. Double eternity: both of us as mother, maiden, crone – forever, and never, ever and ever. Looking at these images of us, I can let my eyes fast forward and rewind on our faces – here you are as you were, as you never were, as you one day may be, or never will be. Time is more flexible than we realize. Here’s a magic mirror, that will show you how to fold the river of time like silk, like parchment – transcend it, and it all falls away.

Is this what she would look like now, if she were still alive?

Jack Kornfield, the Buddhist practitioner, said that for the Lakota people, “grief was something to be valued. It brought a person closer to God. For when a person has suffered great loss and was grieving, they were considered ‘the most holy.’  Their prayers were believed to be especially powerful and others would ask the grievers to pray on their behalf.” I am starting to imagine my endless, ageless grief flowing through me and transforming into a multitude of blessings. The storm cloud of sadness and loss hovers over me, crashing lighting over my head, and pounding me with thunder. After the deluge, I am soaked with tears, that run down my face and radiate out of my eyes as rainbows. My Grampa Charlie used to say, “Tears are diamonds!” Which always made think of the folktales I read as a child about girls who cried jewels, who wept torrents of wildflowers. I’m starting to see the awful, heavy, black and smoking grief I’ve carried for so long, more like that thunderstorm that turns into rainbows, into a cascade of butterflies – because I’m learning to alchemize it. I’m learning to transform the pain I feel, the pain of those I work with, the pain of my loved ones, and the world pain felt by this planet – into something unexpectedly beautiful. Because it is all love. If grief is love with no place to go, what happens when you can send it through the glass crucible, the alembic of your heart and spirit, and like lead into gold, let it just be love again – knowing that death is an illusion, that time is an illusion, and that we are all part of each other, and everything. So, I’m not as ashamed by my grief any more as I once was. I can feel its grace now, feel it doing the necessary work. This journey of learning how to grieve, learning how to become whole, has been a long one already. May it continue long into my old age, and may I learn to do it more and more gracefully. I know I’m changing, and the way the I honor this day may change, in the years to come. I honor this journey of grieving, of remembering – this wounded tree that I am – who keeps growing in strange new directions, despite strong storms and rising tides.

If you’d like to read more about this journey of grieving, honoring, and remembering, here you go:
Foxes in the Rain
Triumvirate Lemniscate
Gustav + Mama – August 8th


You are so magical and your words have so much weight. Thank you, as always, for sharing them.

by Alice on August 9, 2019 at 5:03 am. Reply #

you are a gift, your writing is exquisite, and your insights into grief and motherlove are invaluable. thank you for sharing your heartwounds with us so we can all learn how to heal ourselves and each other. <3

by jlm on August 9, 2019 at 5:06 am. Reply #

Wonderfully written. Many deep thoughts, incredible reflections. So much here. You have given so many of us great joy. Your mother smiles upon you, I am sure.

by Banzai on August 9, 2019 at 6:11 am. Reply #


First, thank you so much for sharing yourself in writing here, specifically about the death of your mother. As a writer myself, I appreciate this form of processing and committing emotion and thought to tangibility. It heals the self and the other (the writer and the reader) in a way that no other therapeutic modality can.

It’s powerful medicine: writing is a form of meditation and prayer. I’m looking forward to reading more of your writing. You have a gift for it and no gift should be squandered. Writing is a practice that can be only yours, and sacred in that. But also hear me when I say that your written words have the power to benefit and heal so many others in a way that is subtle and intangible and hard to see the physical results of. But they’re there.

You’ve inspired me to begin my own practice of honoring my own mother’s death by such a ritual of writing. My mother would appreciate the attention and the medium of mourning as she was quite a literary person too and had high hopes of me becoming a published author one day. Beyond that, the details of my own mother’s death are a bit grisly and hard to put into words on multiple levels. Perhaps I’ll have an opportunity to share the story with you one day.

We haven’t gotten a chance to speak in person about our commonality in our mothers passing beyond the veil. I find it funny that I became cognizant of this instead on her death date this year via sharing meals with mutual friends and acquaintances of ours and those folks bringing your mother’s death up in conversation and reflecting that you and I shared that in common. Probably at the same time that you were penning this. Synchronicities continue to abound.

The pain of losing that original lifeline is a very specific experience that carries a reverberation throughout one’s entire life, no matter the age that it occurs (for either being). It’s a very specific pain that does put one at a crossroads, I agree. An opportunity to rebirth.

This is long enough. Thank you again for stepping bravely into the tide of vulnerability and sharing yourself with us. It’s important, and healing for everyone. Not just for these practices of mourning, but in the rituals of every day.

by Kelly Marshall on August 9, 2019 at 11:13 am. Reply #

Thank you so much. This is such a nourishing piece. x

by Lucy on August 9, 2019 at 12:16 pm. Reply #

Wow wow…This…You have shown me what REAL bravery is and you’ve taught me to feel my own grief, down to the core. You may not be an elder quite yet, but I look up to you, Angel…You write, and live, from the heart and I’m grateful to be witness to you.

by Marlena on August 9, 2019 at 2:12 pm. Reply #

I am such a fan of yours Angel babe. I am always so damn humbled by your courage & strength & the balm of your vulnerability. You have such an incredibly noble heart…& I know life is hard with its pangs of pain & unanswered questions & losses & I grief with you & celebrate with you in all the weathers & wonders & whys. Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing your gifts with us & shining so brightly as you do. You are indeed to damn strong. Love you so much.

by Charlie Umhau on August 9, 2019 at 2:28 pm. Reply #

thank you for these words, and the sweet mention of my grandpa. i love you.

by lau on August 9, 2019 at 3:10 pm. Reply #

yesterday i went to the market to pick out some flowers for my neighbor, it was her 40th birthday and she lies in her bed on hospice in a house that’s an exact duplicate of our house with the direction of the rooms switched. i stood in front of the greeting card section and tried to find a birthday card that expressed the right sentiment; there wasn’t really anything that fit so i ended up with only the flowers in a red porcelain pitcher. like me, she is a mother of a 7 year old child, my child’s best friend. she is a sociology professor at a research university who has suffered major cognitive impairments from the radiation and chemotherapy treatments and no longer walks or speaks or eats. i stand outside in the afternoons and watch her children and my children run around the cul de sac and play obstacle course. “my mother is dying,” her son told my son and then they went to climb a tree. i see this grief coming, it arrives so slowly, i worry it will engulf them. so i read your message, and i’m glad that you’ve found a way to revise your experience; i hope that i can find the right thing to say to her family when i need to, some comfort, a way through, something besides the flowers. thank you for these words.

by roxi on August 9, 2019 at 3:39 pm. Reply #

Beautiful, and thank you.

by Christine Schiele Gutierrez on August 9, 2019 at 4:40 pm. Reply #

Thank you. Certainly goes deep on a day with news of hundreds of families torn apart, after a year and more of the same. I remember my resistance when I was introduced to the enneagram, that my chief fault as a four, was shame. Very helpful the way you connected it to grief. Especially as it registers to a child as something that sets you apart. “Why do you have a chip on your shoulder?” “What chip?” not even knowing it was grief and separation anxiety. Always running or in my case searching for my birth mother and being confronted with “What do you want to do that for?” when I told people I was looking for her. Truly it was rare that someone got it immediately. I had no idea that the received wisdom was that you should grow up and put all that behind you. Difficult times seeing that attitude, that cut-off, that amputation of feeling toward children, punishing them, using them as ‘things’ in political theater. Everyone went into shock for a year, it’s only recently that the children’s plight has come into focus again. It’s good to have a demonstration that it takes strength to be vulnerable. That and the directive to be gentle with your shadow….thanks again, warm regards

by David Houston on August 9, 2019 at 8:03 pm. Reply #

Read this while your Poppa is teaching three new students how to read. Perfect quiet time to be able take in all your writings and thoughts. Once again you have moved my heart so much and I cannot even express in words what I am feeling. So profound, wise, honest and moving. Love you so much and am inspired by you.

by Karimomma on August 9, 2019 at 8:37 pm. Reply #

I feel your loss, and I felt so sad reading this. It’s hard not to think of my own losses. My dad is dead, and my mother is long absent (absence is its own death). Interestingly my favourite uncle was born on August 8th. I love your writing. So much to think about.

I, too, used to mourn being childless. Now in my early-40s, I am actually grateful to be. I’ve been able to focus on healing my own mental health, something that my parent friends who struggle find it difficult to make time for. The growing intolerance in our world makes me afraid for the children in my life.

Thank you for allowing me to write about me, too…<3 <3

by Kitty cat on August 9, 2019 at 10:08 pm. Reply #

I love you. Thank you for sharing all this

by sarah on August 9, 2019 at 10:39 pm. Reply #

Thank you so much for writing this. You’re an admirable, beautiful human being, and I appreciate and learn so much from your experience and wisdom. This that you’ve written mirrors my thoughts and feelings and life situation to the dot, and it makes me feel calmer, stronger, and less alone in this existence we share. Much love, Angel.

by Teresa on August 10, 2019 at 1:24 am. Reply #

This is POWERFUL stuff and I sincerely appreciate you laying it down.

There’s so much to unpack here but, then again, if we’re paying attention and alert, there’s ALWAYS a lot to take in, digest, think about…

I hope you know how much of a positive force you are for the greater community. This isn’t your job. It’s not expected of you. It’s a gift. Thank you.

As a person who has lost a parent (my father committed suicide), I cope on a daily basis with the awareness of the empty hole left in time and space that he “should” exist in, or that, rather, I wish he existed in. I create endless thought loops about what he’d be like, what we’d talk about, how he’d mentor and guide my children. But, there’s no real saying how that’d go down since it’s entirely possible that I’m always cherry-picking the “good” things and neglecting to take into account all of the aspects of him that drove me away. His homophobia. The fact that he scared me. His always just below the surface RAGE.

And yet, I miss him. As I near 50, I become sentimental. I also suffer ZERO bullshit while remaining empathetic and kind.

It’s a delicate dance we constantly shuffle through. I’m so glad you’re on the dancefloor with us. You remind me again and again that I’ve got a ton of steps to learn and that’s exciting and to not grow complacent with what I’m comfortable with.

Thank you.

by Rain on August 10, 2019 at 4:27 am. Reply #

Such insightful and beautiful writing on the largest aperture of the Lion’s Gate.

“Daring and courage” are indeed “coursing through our veins.”

You inspire me – thank you Angie.


by Austin on August 10, 2019 at 4:59 pm. Reply #

Thank you for these words… your recurring dream of outrunning the salty tsunami of your own tears, so great you would surely drown and yet washing you away and, in their way, bearing you up, remind me so much of the Pool of Tears in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. She tells herself not to cry, but to no avail. Indeed, if she hadn’t, she would have been stuck in that hallway forever.
I hear and see you. Summer is the time of the Underworld for me as well, as you know.
“These moments given are a gift from time.” -KB
Thank you for putting this moment here. ❤️

by Suki on August 11, 2019 at 2:11 am. Reply #

Thank you for you words, Angel. Nearing the first year anniversary of my mother’s death, it has been very hard recently, harder than it was at first even. She permeates my thoughts at night and keeps me from sound sleep. Grief is such an intense mystery. It has altered me forever: sometimes it feels like it will rip me apart, and choke me with bitterness, and other times it hems me in closer to something wondrous and beautiful. I think ultimately it will be a door that opens on to some greater wisdom. Maybe. I hope so at least. It is so good to read a fellow traveller’s reflections on this troublesome road. Reading your words has brought such light to my heart tonight.

by Aubrey LeGette on August 13, 2019 at 3:01 am. Reply #

I love you so much. This is such a deeply important and moving piece of writing. Thank you for sharing your heart with the world so deeply, both online and off. There are so many things you give voice to that I’d like to speak with you about in person soon.

by Sophia Rose on August 18, 2019 at 10:10 am. Reply #

Dearest Angeliska, thank you so much for sharing this. I woke up with a heavy heart yesterday, grieving my own thing, and you inspired me to be so gentle and present with myself–I took the day off work and just cared for my heart. You showing up in your mourning process and sharing it with us is such a gift. Sending lots and lots of love, as always.

(PS there are a million threads here that I would love to hear more about–looking forward to reading more and continuing to learn from your wisdom!)

by Maggie Rae on August 21, 2019 at 3:37 pm. Reply #

I’ve just learned about Michele Lamy from you. What a gift to hear her voice that is just like my late grandmother’s voice! I watched the Art Basel video with her, and when she said her breakfast is “black tea and cigarette”, it was like going back in time! So, thank you.

by Margaret on November 27, 2021 at 3:41 pm. Reply #

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