For My Greatest Teacher

April 12th, 2008

It’s been a big week.

My mother died on Thursday.

I don’t know how to write that sentence without dropping it on your foot like a brick. Not that you knew my mother, but no matter how you slice it, mothers are a big deal, and death is pretty huge itself. In fact, of all the clubs I’ve ever been a member of, “People-Who-Have-Mothers” is by far the biggest and of all the things we fear, I’m thinking good ole death is tippy top of the list.

I would say that I’m in shock, but I don’t believe I am. I was in shock earlier this week, when I was making trips to a hospital unknown to me, visiting the body I came out of–in a coma. I was in shock when I got the news a couple of months ago that my mother’s melanoma had returned and had traveled to her precious cerebellum. I was in shock four years ago, when she got that first mole biopsied. But between all those slaps in the face, I think my subconscious mind has been preparing for motherlessness… preparing for this moment right now when it somehow feels normal, or okay, that she’s gone. Holy crap.

So I’m thinking that we are actually wired for death, as much as we are wired for birth, or sex, or love. It’s as if my current response to death is embedded in my neurological make-up and has its own organic flow. And I’m not talking about Kubler-Ross’s Anger, Denial, Bargaining, Grief and Acceptance (although I recognize cycling through those stages, as did my mother). I’m talking about my brain tripping out on this experience in ways I couldn’t have expected–patterns shifting, walls falling, complete with wacky revelations–already! So my mother, one of my greatest teachers, continues her work:

Things I’m learning from my mother’s death:

Priorities: We are hearing from so many people who knew her about what she gave them. It wasn’t stuff, or her accomplishments that made her valuable. Again and again, it was her tenderness and lack of judgment that left their mark. People felt seen and heard by her. It doesn’t seem to matter that she never made a zillion dollars. They didn’t care that she watched ‘Deal or No Deal’, which we all thought was embarrasing and beneath her. No one’s mentioned how show dressed, or her table manners. It was her vibe that mattered. Her spirit. What an amazing gift–to eavesdrop at a deathbed…

Macrobiotics: My mother practiced MB in a wide way for the last ten years of her life, with a couple of strict years thrown in there after the first diagnosis. Before that, she pretty much ate your average sludge. I suppose we will never know what her life would have been like had she continued her previous habits. What I do know is that she got happier and happier in the last years of her life; that she opened emotionally and spiritually in a way she never had before, and that her light began to emanate outward in a powerful, palpable way. The combination of good love and good fuel made her a powerhouse, and although it would have been amazing to see it all continue, I’m so grateful that she ended on such a fine note. She taught me that it’s never too late to get better.

Yin and Yang Lessons: #1: As she waned, others have waxed. As my mother’s light faded, friends and family came shining forth with such beauty. It’s been amazing–like a brilliant dance of love I didn’t know I was a part of. Bittersweet balance.

#2: As much as this is a colossal loss, it is also a gain–I am feeling a particular strength I have never felt before–a propulsion forward which excites me. I think mum would be happy and excited for me too.

#3: In the absence of our mother, my sister and I are silently re-negotiating the terms of our sorority… energy is always shifting and finding balance. Yin and yang amaze me.

“Nature takes care of Her own”: That was one of my mother’s favorite sayings, and it’s proving itself right now. Within 72 hours of my mother’s release, I am feeling gratitude and enjoying some perspective. You see, I expected my brain to hang out in the mud a lot longer than a day, but it did not. That’s what I mean by “Nature takes care of Her own”; my brain seems wired–almost callously and without my permission–to move forward. Will I cry some more? Buckets. Will I miss her? Forever. But will life stop? Well, all I know is that, in the last two months, this family did everything we could to honor the life force: We ate good food, walked barefoot on the grass, thought positively, communicated honestly, and even took our turns on the goddamned exercise bike. So now, with one member missing, to turn our backs on the life force and get sucked into depression feels… wrong. Not morally wrong, just energetically weird and off-course. My mother has expanded. She is free. The morning she died I felt a joy so complete I could have exploded from it. And it was so… natural. Life becomes death and death becomes life. Yin and Yang.

It would have been my mother’s 70th birthday tomorrow… but she’s actually just beginning.

Love your life,


P.S. Dear Bloguees, I have just read the comments that you’ve posted in the last few weeks.  Thank you so much for your love and support and prayers.  I am overwhelmed.

16 Responses to “For My Greatest Teacher”

  1. Kevin says:

    My jaw dropped when I heard the news. Even though I thought your mother may die, I didn’t think it would be so soon. I am sorry for your loss. I am impressed by your strength, insight, and clarity which I believe was passed down by your mother. She is still living inside you whether it be memories, her life lessons, or physical genes. You are a living legacy of her. I feel that you are complete because of her and can now face the world stronger than ever. You are so lucky to have that. I love you and your mother.

  2. Dottie says:

    Oh, Jessica, I’m so sorry to hear of your mother’s passing. May you & your sister feel the love from all of us, surrounding you,& providing a shoulder to lean upon.

    Your mother’s courage, humor, and zest for life motivated & inspired me, as well as many others. What a legacy!

    Thank you for sharing so much of your life with us. Wishing you comfort & peace in the days ahead.

  3. Jessica-

    I just heard, from Christina, the news. Please accept my deepest sympathies. i immediately came to your website and reading your blog, and was so very deeply moved.

    Clearly you are strong and wise and completely in touch with the lifeforce that guides us all. I can only say that, please, at some point, allow yourself to grieve. It takes time. And its not weakness. Its a necessity. In death. my Mom gave me something she never could in life. I wish you the same.

    I feel so very lucky to have meet you and will never for the the work we did on the ship.

    warmest regards

  4. Suzanne says:


    So sorry for your mother, I feel for you right now. My mother passed away April 10, 2006 at the age of 76. Her leaving this life is still raw around me, each time I slow down to think of her. Today, I went to the bookstore and got your book : The Hip Chick’s guide to Macrobiotics. Why? Because my health is too precious to waste it.



  5. Becky says:

    Wow, your post made me tear up. You summed up in simple words everything a mother can be. Thanks and I hope the best for you and your family.

  6. Jessica, I’m so sorry for your loss. I know how awesomely this is affecting you. I lost my mom to breast cancer ten years ago. If you need a shoulder to cry on please don’t hesitate to write me. Ironically, your cookbook came back into life again. I lent it to a friend who had pancreatic cancer. She passed away last year. There wasn’t enough time to save her although one of our best memories was a brunch I had for her and I made your wonderful fish wrap.

    My avurvedic counselor recommended a kidney clease for me and it happens to be a week of macrobiotic food. I wasn’t sure where the cook book ended up. It was actually with a co-worker who happened to have it in his office and give it to me immediately. Maybe I’ll be macro-ayurvedic. We’ll see and much love to you.

  7. Katie says:

    I’m sorry, Jessica. I guess now is not the time
    to talk about how much my own mother drives me up
    the proverbial tree? Didn’t think so…
    So, perhaps I should keep my mouth shut.
    Love to you and you lucky woman to have had a
    mother like that!

  8. Betty says:

    Jessica, my heart goes out to you. I’m so glad you got to have the time with your mom before the cruise, and that she was still there (sort of) after the cruise.

    You have such a way with words. I want you to know that your sharing was helpful to me, and, I’m sure, to others. When Bob died (and when my mother died), I was able to feel at peace and get that this is a part of life. Your mother was so fortunate to be celebrated and so very much loved. There are many gifts when a loved one dies. Know that those who love you are holding you in our thoughts and prayers.

  9. Judy says:

    Dear Jessica, I am so sorry to hear of your loss. I ran into Lisa at Ben Kay a few days ago and she told me your Mom had passed away. I have no doubt that she was an incredible being. May her memory be a blessing. Love, Judy
    P.S. Your words are very wise. Without death, there would be no life. It’s a crazy, unilateral bargain struck by God.

  10. aimee says:

    Hi Jessica,

    I just finished reading your book, well almost, still in the last chapter. I have played around with macrobiotic foods, eating strict macro on tai chi retreats, etc. Five years and Three children later, extra fourty pounds and a new found love of ben and jerry’s (not to mention a husband who loves “sludge” foods) I have become desperate to find a more balanced way to live and eat, turning to macrobiotics. Then I found your book, whitty, funny, easy to digest :) Your vunerability really touched my being, feeling a profound sense of humaness in your words. I came to your website to see if you had forms to download, (grocery lists really) and I saw your most recent blog post about your mother passing. I read your words about you on your cruise, worrying about your mother and enduring your own heartache. I have not had someone close to me in my life pass into the next world yet, so I do not have consoling words that I wish I could share with you, but I recently remember how much you talked reverently about your mother in your book and the love you shared together was so apparent in black and white ink, it must be an unforgetable amazing love you still share beyond time and space. Again, I want to thank you for hand in helping me become whole again and hope this blog post finds you happy and content in the arms of loved ones this blessed Mother’s Day.

    peace and love to you,

    Aimee Miracle

  11. Jake says:

    I hope you are doing well during this challenging time. I was very sad to hear about your mother.
    My financee and I are maintaining a blog about macrobiotics that was inspired by your book. Please check it out at Again, I hope you find peace.

    Jake Kulju

  12. Emily says:

    Hi Jessica – I just rediscovered your blog via Toni Sattin’s and am so very sorry to hear of your loss.

    Through the rippling effects of your birthwork, in which you helped shape so many attitudes towards mothering, your mother’s spirit lives on as well…

    Love and peace,

  13. Tori says:

    I hope you are continuing to do well right now. I just wanted to let you know that I love reading your blogs and am absolutely inspired by them every time I do.
    It amazes me how you are able to work through this time so gracefully (even if it doesn’t feel graceful, which happens to me a lot).
    Again, I hope you are holding up well. :D

    Tori Self

  14. Meg Wolff says:

    You are amazing to learn so much from all of your experiences and articulate them. You are so freakin present. I learn so much from YOU. I love everything you write.


  15. Claire Parker says:

    Hi Jessica,
    I am so sorry to hear of your loss, the time we have with our mothers is never long enough. I try to live my life for today and worry about tommorrow when it arrives, which drives my hubby crazy.
    Love and light to you at this tough time.

  16. I am lighting a candle for you and your mother Susan.
    Many Blessings.

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