Solstice and My Mother
Welcome to my new blog! I have been writing in it for over a month now, and it’s time to share it with others. Each post will focus on the ways that dreams and waking life are woven together. Our dreams offer us deep and helpful guidance that we often misunderstand or ignore. By sharing some of my own and others’ dream experiences (with their permission of course), I hope to support those who read this blog in receiving, understanding and benefiting from this guidance. Please feel free to make comments or ask questions – I welcome your participation!
The blog is dedicated to all the ancestors and spirits who have so persistently, lovingly and creatively helped me with dreaming – especially my mother. I wrote this piece on Summer Solstice of this year for her.
Today is the longest day of the year – in Seattle, more than 16 hours of light. It’s also the 30th anniversary of my mother’s death, two days before her 67th birthday. June 20, 1982.
Her name was Betty Roxby, born June Elizabeth Taylor. I was named after her. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in mid-1979 and had a modified radical mastectomy late that summer. Within a year, she had a spinal metastasis and underwent at least two rounds of chemotherapy. By early 1982, the cancer had spread in her chest. In April doctors found a tumor on her superior vena cava and prescribed radiation.
For two weeks before she died, I spent time back in Pennsylvania with my parents, sister and brother, caring for her, sitting with and talking to her, reading Stephen Levine’s Who Dies? and meditating in her hospital room.
On June 17, I returned to Seattle. Mom had responded positively to yet another round of treatment, and I needed to help care for our 2½ year old son. Three days later, I woke at 2 AM after a powerful dream:
I am in my mother’s hospital room with her, experiencing her discomfort – pain, difficulty breathing. There are others around who are talking about what she’s experiencing, feeling sad, wishing they could do something, saying “Isn’t it a shame?” She becomes an envoy, and the man to whom she is relating in this way is trying to understand what she needs, what her culture requires at such a moment. There’s a sudden flash that the pain is unbearable, especially in her spine, and her breathing so difficult that the body experience is extremely unpleasant. What is needed is a kind of “ducking under and coming through quickly” to end it, something that the people standing around don’t understand. I see a crystal-clear image of a winter squash plant trying to grow on the north side of our house in a place where there’s not enough sun or space. I feel the confinement, then a realization that it’s not the surface condition that matters, but “where the roots are.” I see the plant at dusk, a clearly defined set of white roots growing down into the soil, strong and life-giving. There’s a flash of insight about what is needed to escape the confinement, difficulty breathing, and pain – then a strong image and sudden experience of release.
I sat up in bed, said, “That’s it!” and pounded my partner Martha on the back. Three hours later, my mother died.
Even amidst overwhelming grief, it was clear that something remarkable had happened. As I look back, I see this as a moment of profound initiation: as a daughter, a mother, a healer, a dreamer, someone who can be with people as they die and are born. “What matters is where the roots are.” A shaman who works with trees. My mother passed the gift of life on to me, and she gave me much more, even as she passed on. I am deeply grateful to her, today and every day.
I woke this morning at dawn and felt called to the old growth forest at Seward Park. I watched the baby eagles in their nest, then entered the woods. In a clearing, I gave in to strong waves of grief. Mom died so young, and I was so young when I lost her. She never met her three biological grandchildren. She would have been a wonderful grandmother.
As the sunlight filtered through the woods, I also felt the beauty and joy that I experienced 30 years ago. She was with me then and is with me now. Her beautiful smile lit the woods, and its echo lights my face.