Good Grief

February is a tricky time of year for me, because it comes just before March, and my mother’s birthday was on the 21st, the first day of spring. She also died in April, on a stunning spring day. So  in February every year I notice myself feeling a bit strange. Occasionally remnants of old fears and obsessions, now mostly gone, resurface, and ringing loudly at me like a bell of mindfulness, eventually the message they bring get’s through: I’m approaching mum-time-of-year, and even though she died in 2007, this is still a grieving time.

This year I decided to embrace it. I dug out my box of family photos, and took out two wonderful pictures of her, and put them on a corner table in our living room. Here is the first, taken in Cornwall:

Good grief

When I think of death I think of a return to an infinite source of beauty, creation and light, something my mother constantly pointed out to us while she was alive by highlighting the beauty of the world around us.

There, on the cliff-tops in cornwall, you can feel the most direct connection with that infinite source, out of which perhaps everything emmerges, and into which perhaps we’ll return. Like the wonderful analogy of the waves and the water – we are to the Universe as waves are to water – we rise like a wave out of everything into this human form (and if we look deeply we can keep a feeling of connection with the Universe/water from which our waves rise, while we are alive) and later we return back into the water of everything again, perhaps to rise later on another wave – “surfing the waves of birth and death”.

The other photo I found was of my mother and her bother-in-law – my uncle Colin, who died the year before her – in his vegetable patch. To the extent that I do have an image of a more conventional heaven, it would look just like this, and this is what they would be doing in it:

Heaven Here On Earth

A glorious summer vegetable patch, and my mother and her brother-in-law would almost certainly be up there gardening in it, peering out at us from behind a giant sunflower. Thanks to the benefit of wisdom far greater than mine, the wonderful thing is that I can take this heavenly garden idea with me into the here and now. When I walk in the park and see the early spring buds bursting with life on the rose bushes and tree branches, and the white blossom on the almond trees, if I look carefully I can see my mother.

My mother returning-as-spring. She isn’t in that heavenly garden in some far off place, she is part of the heavenly garden that is available to me right here and now when I walk in the park and quiet my mind enough to be open to these very healing realities. My appreciation of the beauty of the park is my mother’s appreciation of beauty passed on to me, so she lives on with me like that. The deep warm reds of the new shoots on the stalks of the roses, are the colours of the scarves she wore as winter turned to spring, so she lives on in their new life, and greets me in the rose garden.

Seeing things this way makes me smile, and even though the strong emotions of grief can still surface when I’m not expecting it – like when I saw some happy grandparents dropping their granddaughter off at my son’s class today and I realised his grandmother would never do the same – by embracing this time of year like this, everything has changed for the better.

My mother is in the park and the way I look at the surfacing spring flowers, she is in this heaven we have all around us on earth right now. She is with me whenever I look deeply for her, she can even be with us when I drop my son off at school if I take her along, and in all these ways, she has never really died.

Recommended Further Reading: The Book No Death, No Fear by Thich Nhat Hanh

10 thoughts on “Good Grief”

  1. Thank you, you gave me joy. My dear god-mother Hanna walks the heavenly gardens around us with your mother. They are probably talking about the right time to trim black current bushes or lilac or how to brew a good cup of coffee to enjoy in the shade of the yew. All around us.

    1. I too lost my mother a while back (and the year before that, my sister) so that she never knew my beautiful daughter, now 8. I share that sharp stab of pain (and envy) when I see happy grandparents and children. Like you, I’ve found the Buddhist idea of the sea of life with each individual life as a wave, discrete for a time, then merging once more with the whole, is a comfort to me…most of the time anyway. I also allow myself to grieve for the loss of the individual waves who won’t come again in the same form. I like your posts and often read them. I’m a yoga teacher (newly qualified) and so very much a baby Buddhist…but learning. Thanks.

      1. Thanks to you too Anne for your comment. It’s nice to know I’m not alone in having these moments when seeing other grandparents.

  2. Thank you for writing this moving tribute to your mother, Ben. It was beautiful and poignant. Celebrating a person’s life seems like the best way to temper the grief of their passing. It takes courage, but it’s the only way forward. I’m sure that by writing this you’ve helped other people to realize this too, and that is a difficult but valuable lesson.

  3. My mother too was born on March 21…it will be 5 years now since she’s gone. She shared your mother’s love of gardening, it’s marvelous and healing wonders, as do I. Cornwall sounds magical! Thank you for the bittersweet memory of your mother…she must have been as lovely as mine and likewise would have relished seeing her grandchildren become extraordinary people. I will think of you as March 21 grows closer.

    1. Thank you Susan, I shall remember you too. Cornwall is amazing, a very magical place, I know the north coast well, around Morwenstow. The cliffs there are very special.

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