Mad With Joy, Wise With Grief…

“If you can be mad with joy, you can be wise with grief.”

~ Marguerite Yourcenar ~

I was reading through one of my favorite author’s — Doris Grumbach, whose books I have read and reread — books this morning, Coming Into The End Zone, when Yourcenar’s quote caught my eye, and I was immediately taken by it. So true, I thought, so true. I have been mad with joy, and now I am becoming wise, or wiser, with grief. When someone you love dearly, in this case my mother, is coming into her “Endzone,” you think about many things you never have before. You cannot imagine the planet without your loved one on it, and at the same time you cannot but help to consider your own mortality, and in doing so you realize how tender and precious every single moment is.

I will be babysitting my 4 year old grandson today, and I will relish his innocence, his joy, his exuberance. He is at the opposite end of the spectrum from my mother’s place of preparing for that Great Transformation, and I fall somewhere in the middle. My mother’s daughter, Lucas’s grandmother. I feel the connection of the generations. It is a powerful thing.

When I looked through my collected images today for the right one for this piece, I sat almost stunned to find the one of the butterfly being released into the air. You see, lately I have been thinking quite a lot about just that. My mother is in what might be, metaphorically speaking, a cocoon like state. Her cancer made her go blind a year ago, she is now bed-ridden and going through all of the hardships the human body goes through, strongly medicated for the pain, immobile, unable to care for herself at all anymore. It is a place of stasis, of cocoon time, of being in that resting place before the great flight to the stars and beyond. When she passes, I would like to hold that image, the butterfly, having emerged from the cocoon (the shell of the human body) into the air — up, up and away! And then I thought of this being a very familiar state for we as humans, for in a lifetime we will go through many small births and deaths, we will enter a cocoon time and emerge a whole new being many times over. These transformations stretch out over many years, but they happen. Often we don’t even realize it, caught up in the circumstances that cause these Phoenix times — death of the old, birth of the new, renewal, ascendance into grace, completely unaware. These are the cycles of life, repeated over and over again. We can see these times, often, only in retrospect, but one day we wake up and realize that we are different. I am different. I am very, very different.

I came out of a cocoon I had lived in for a lifetime after leaving my marriage. It had nothing to do with my dear ex-husband with whom I am still friends today, nor my beloved children, nor anyone else around me. I was like the animal who is growing and shedding it’s own skin. I have felt naked for many years — afraid, closed off, confused. Okay, I’m not that anymore, but what am I? I have been working at figuring out the answer to that question for the last decade.

It is likely simply another form of midlife questioning and growth, leaving that time when everything seemed possible and you didn’t really know yourself, to a time when you become more discerning, begin to know yourself more deeply, and celebrate that imperfect-perfect self. Your choices are perhaps more limited but you sink into them more deeply, experience them more fully. I have come to that time. I don’t have to please anyone, and I love everybody. My body is full and soft, my heart is wide and open, I live in a deep pool of thought and meditation, floated on grace, I sit like a frog on a lilypad watching the world rush downstream madly like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, always late, always late, for a very important date. Every day is the very most important day, that’s what we realize, and we also realize that despite their best efforts, their genuine concern, and most sincere desire to help, no one can walk this walk with us, and no one really know the answers. The Big Answers.

3 1/2 years ago, or so, in February of 2005, my mother was told that she only had a very short time to live, that she should go home and put her affairs in order which she did. She has out-lived everyone’s expectations, and been courageous, strong, an inspiration. Too, it has been a time of suspended animation, many times facing sure death, and coming through once more, a little worse for the wear, but still here. We, who love her, have held our collective breaths, shed tears, she made her own funeral arrangements, and still time marched on. Finally, when she and I spoke the other day, it was obvious that she had reached that very quiet, very private place, the place where the dying face their God and do their own final work on this earth. There is no time-table for that. The rest of us must step back, let go, and allow her the right to her own journey.

We are living through a time out of time experience. There is no explaining it, and no knowing anything for certain. These years of suspended animation, from diagnosis to this day, I have experienced every known emotion, and in the process more and more of my remaining skin has fallen away. As she walks through one door I will walk through another, and joy and grief are so intermingled at this juncture one cannot tell one from the other. Both are present, everything is present, and then nothing at all. light seeps into the cocoon, and the process begins, for both of us. The most amazing, awesome, bewildering, grief-stricken, joyous of times. For awhile we slip into a parallel universe while we process it all, and one day, without realizing it, we re-enter life, we go on.

Presently, I wait. I cry, I breathe deeply and slowly trying to calm myself. I write, I crochet, I sleep with a pug on my person, I make the morning rounds with a parrot on my shoulder, I laugh with my grandbaby, I have quiet talks with friends, and late at night I talk to God, to all that I hold holy and sacred. I prepare for my journey as she prepares for hers, and neither of us knows what waits for us on the other side of the doors before us, but I believe that now we are both prepared, as prepared as one can be.

I put down my pen, I bury my face in my big dog’s fur, a tear drops and slides down his silky fur, my arms around him, and he stands stalwart, allowing me simply to be. That is what I need most right now. He is soft, it is good, it’s all I need for now.


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  1. expressing an admiration from one writer to another…

  2. What a beautiful and moving blog post, Maitri. We continue to keep you and your mother in our thoughts and prayers.

  3. so touching…

  4. your words “I have come to that time. I don’t have to please anyone, and I love everybody.” well spoken! This is the same chapter that I am on in my book of life.

  5. I have enjoyed reading this very deep and emotional posting that you have bared your soul for all to enter and be happy yet sad with you, and pray a prayer for your beloved mother, I enter a prayer for you for when the time comes to let your mother fly away to be in the arms of God and his Angel’s, God Bless you.

  6. That really was a beautifully written post. I totally needed this more than you will know – suspended animation – a hard place to be. Thinking of you and your mother.

  7. Maitri,

    What a beautiful post. Your topics are sad and touching, but I found the writing so peaceful. The way you described your marriage break up was so on target with my own situation. The words couldn’t have been more perfect.

    I’ll keep you and your mother in my thoughts.

  8. A wonderful post. May you get comfort out of the precious moments that you will be spending with your Mother before she goes on her journey.

  9. I’d like to express admiration too, Maitri. Both for the way you have written about this and for the way you are dealing with it. I cried for you, but of course, also for when I lost my own mother not too long ago. I have a story about that and perhaps you have inspired me to write about it and release it. I will think about that as I send vibes of peace and comfort to you and your mother.

  10. I nearly cried reading this. I am in a mid life cocoon state and in a kind of social mess I guess. I miss both my Husband to be and my Son, both who live in different places because I haven’t got yet the means to have them both together and I too, coming out of one sad marriage haven’t come out of my shell yet. I can relate.

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