The Crocuses Will Still Bloom Redux
She would drop everything to be there for me, my sister, dad and our daughter, mom’s only grandchild Kimberly, whom she loved to call “my one and only”.
A most important and abiding love for my mother was her beloved brother Paul Ray Keeling who survived the invasion at Normandy at Omaha Beach, June 6, 1944, as a Navy frogman who later died of cancer when my mother was only twelve.
The enormity of this loss devastated mom and her family- her mother, Pearl Yarbrough Keeling, father- Benjamin Franklin Keeling and sister, Betty Keeling Harris as well as the extended Keeling and Yarbrough families.
The Chocolate Bunny
Mom loved to tell the story of her brother Paul Ray appearing one day in the doorway of her 3rd grade classroom at St Joe Elementary in full Navy uniform, bearing the gift of a giant, chocolate Easter rabbit.
She loved to tell how all the kids oohed and ahhhed over her handsome brother. She placed the rabbit in her desk, went to lunch, only to return with the chocolate rabbit gone, never to be found.
The Comfort Of Family
A deep and important story my mother told me many times was how Aunt Ethel and Uncle Aaron cared for and comforted her in the terrible time while Paul Ray was dying, and Granny and Papa were ministering to him.
Mom loved Ethel and Aaron so much. There’s a deep connection on both the Yarbrough and Keeling sides- with Ethel and Granny being first cousin Yarbrough’s and Aaron and Papa being Keeling brothers.
A Gift In The Darkness
After Paul Ray died in 1950, a golden bright light was born 5 months later in August, my mother’s beloved nephew Danny Paul Harris. Mom told me how Danny brought hope to Granny and Papa and to mom in the dark days and months following Paul Ray’s death.
Danny was a big part of their family at Tomahawk- and to my mother, Danny was more than a nephew- he was like a little brother and son combined.
Mom told me so many stories about Paul Ray, I felt like I knew the uncle I never got a chance to meet. My granny grieved over Paul Ray until the end, just as my mother did. It was a deep loss that haunted me and threaded through our lives across generations.
Loss, Transformation & Healing
In the intervening year, there have been two life-changing events for us. Bruce’s mother passed away on September 15, 2021 and Nancy’s mother passed away on February 27, 2022.
We just returned from Arkansas. We attended Nancy’s mother’s funeral there, held in a family graveyard at Tomahawk, Arkansas where Nancy’s relatives, reaching back to Pre-Civil War times, are buried.
The funeral was held far out in the Ozark Mountains, on a preternaturally warm sunny day, wind softly billowing through the bare oak trees, hills and pastures of brown grass to the horizon.
We returned yesterday, an epic journey requiring three flights. As they say about certain parts of Arkansas, “It’s not in the middle of nowhere, but you can see it from there.” Our last flight was so short it could have easily been driven, from SFO (the main airport for San Francisco) to Monterey, about 60 air miles.
But that flight was worth it for sightseeing value alone. We flew out to the coast and followed Highway 1, California’s famous coastal highway, south over foaming surf and redwood forests, flying right over Santa Cruz’ lighthouse and the waters that Bruce swims in, then the patchwork mosaic of farmer’s fields around Watsonville and Salinas, some brown with newly tilled soil, others fecund and green.
Too soon, it was over.
We strode across the tarmac in the open air- boisterous and chilly and sunny with the aftermath of a departed storm, transiting the tiny airport in all of two minutes.
We drove home along the arc of Monterey Bay, exhausted and grateful to be home.
A deep sadness descended- returning home forlorn without my mother. I was weeping when I looked out at the gorgeous sky.
In the billowing, voluminous clouds on a crystalline, sparkling day- something emerged in the far distance.
Zooming in with the camera, this is what Bruce and I saw.
It made me smile. I thought of the words in the beautiful book The Light Between Us by Laura Lynne Jackson:
The brilliant cords of love that connect us to someone in this life endure into the afterlife. And when we feel unbearable pain at the loss of a loved one, it is like we are tugging on that cord of love. The pain is real because the cord is real. Our love doesn’t end- it goes on.
-Laura Lynne Jackson
A friend who had suddenly lost her mother to a cardiac event, told me about how this book gave her and her father solace in their grief.
A story I’ll never forget was after the Winter Olympics of 1988. I was living in Cambridge, Massachusetts as a radiology resident at Brigham & Women’s Hospital and flying from San Francisco to Boston on a red eye flight, crying over the breakup of a relationship.
Around the time the plane was over Arkansas, Granny Pearl woke up mom and said: “Ernestine, something’s wrong with Nancy”. Mom wondered if granny was imagining this.
But at 7 am the next morning, mom’s phone rang, and I told her I was devastated and she said: “Granny told me last night something was wrong.” Mom was on the next flight to Boston. Her fierce love never wavering
We rented a car and travelled over four hundred miles to Washington, D.C. to see my dear friend Steven Hirschfeld.
Sometimes you count on your parents long after you consider yourself “grown up.”
Maybe nobody is ever entirely “grown up.”
Steven said eight words that transformed my experience from despair to hope:
The crocuses will still bloom in the spring.
Thirty three years later, I find myself with Bruce remembering his comforting words again.
A Winter Of Loss
In the span of five months in 2020 and 2021, we lost four beloved beings: Bruce’s father Wally, my aunt Betty, my daughter’s grandmother Herriot, as well as our beloved sixteen year old dog, Zelly.
The Life/Death/Life Cycle
We’ve been preaching change and transformation for years and now our beliefs are being put to the test.
On the third day after Bruce’s father, Wally, died, a cat appeared suddenly in my back yard as I was working in my studio. His back was facing me and he sat up like the Sphinx, contemplating the overgrown benign neglect of the backyard.
I immediately sensed Wally, as he was a magnet for cats on his walks in the neighborhood, as is Bruce. He was a deeply kind man and animals and children could sense this even without words.
I smiled remembering this about him when suddenly, another cat appeared.
This one had a somewhat unusual appearance and a blonde coat.
It struck me that it is highly unusual for two cats unknown to one another to be in the same backyard. They didn’t fight. Perhaps they struck an uneasy truce.
Perhaps they were a sign from beyond- a visitation from animal spirits.
Whether you believe in animal spirits or not, the cats showed up, the first time we’ve ever seen this in years.
The scene was reminiscent of the story of Niels Bohr and the lucky horseshoe above his office door in Copenhagen, Denmark. When Prof Bohr was confronted with evidence of superstition, he said,
You know, it works whether you believe in it or not.
This morning, Nancy found an inspiring quote from a book by David Abrams, The Spell of the Sensuous, about the vast depth of sense and emotion predating and underlying language, the animal spirits all but invisible now.
Bruce, sensing familiarity, said, “Who’s that quote from!?” It turns out the author had lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico at the same time that Bruce did, and that Bruce had attended a remarkable party to celebrate the publishing of said book.
At an outdoor dining table for ten overlooking the sunset-flamed Sangre de Cristo mountains, it turned out that everyone was left-handed, precipitating a seating kerfuffle with a happy ending.
It was already clear something unusual was going on.
The next surprise was the discovery that nobody owned a television.
Later in the evening, someone saw a towel draped over something inside the hostess’ living room and pulled it off with a magician’s “voilà!” tug to reveal something that looked very much like a television.
The hostess responded without hesitation, “That’s not a television, that’s a Star Trek Receiving Device.”
Things are not what they seem, especially when a new life is struggling to be born from the ruins of the old one.
Return To Tomahawk
This land, this land of my ancestors, this land my mother called home…the land where Isaac Newton Keeling and Emmer Osborn Keeling raised 12 amazing children- 6 brothers on adjacent farms and 6 wonderful sisters, this place of 91 first cousins…
This place called Tomahawk- where the hours of my mother’s childhood unfolded… holds stories- stories heard, stories untold, stories lost.
But one story that threads through it all- is the story my mother loved to tell. Mother’s grandmother Emmer Osborn Keeling, a healer who people traveled for miles to see- Papa and Uncle Aaron’s beloved mother, sent us a message of love that survives the vagaries of life and time.
Emmer Osborn Keeling said:
I pray for all my family, for the future generations, for all the ones I will never meet. I send you my blessing.
In Gratitude To My Mother
Now, we return to where it all began, to my mother’s childhood home- to her beloved Tomahawk, surrounded by the love and stories of our ancestors.
The land calls us- speaking the names of the ones we love: Ernestine, Pearl, Ben, Paul Ray, Betty, Doy, Ethel, Aaron, Scott, Sean, Imy, Carol…Emmer Osborn, Isaac Newton…and many more.
My mother was born of the soil and water, the lilacs and the apple tree, the love of Ben and Pearl, the life and spirit of this place and she returns to it now.
When granny Pearl was dying, mother told me she felt a breeze in the room and Papa and Paul Ray appeared. Papa said: “Don’t worry honey, we’re here. We’ve come to take Pearl home”
I believe Papa and Granny and Paul Ray and all our ancestors were there to take mom home.
To my one and only beloved mother- Thank you for your steadfast and fierce love, for your wisdom and independent spirit, for your deep intuition, for the mischievous sparkle in your eyes, and for always being there for me and our family. The waterfall of your ebullient laughter lifts my spirit and lives in my heart.
Thank you for being the most wonderful mother a person could wish for. I love you with all my heart.
With gratitude from our studio to yours,
Nancy & Bruce
In the midst of loss is hope. Art leads the way.
“Goodbyes are only for those who love with their eyes. Because for those who love with heart and soul there is no such thing as separation.”
By one of my favourite poets who sums it up perfectly.
Kind thoughts and warmest regards to you and all your family.
Beautiful. Thank you for sending these lovely words of Rumi’s and thank you for your kind thoughts.
Dear Nancy and Bruce your story was a Hymn of Praise and Gratitude for the love and all embracing care that family bestows on us. Indeed grief is the emotion of earthly loss and constant remembrance the compensation which restores the loved one to the true place they hold in our hearts. “Love is bondage willingly accepted by the free” This indeed is the unmeasurable journey of love in every aspect. The movement of sheer beauty which flows through the creative impulses!!
Warm hugs and much love to you both.
You touch my heart so deeply. Yes, I was always in my mother’s safekeeping- as my daughter is in mine. The love and all embracing care you describe is so beautifully articulated. I love that exquisite quote: “Love is bondage willingly accepted by the free”. It is indeed unmeasurable. Your words give me solace. Thank you dearest one, for your tender words.
Much, much love to you too, from both of us,
Nancy & Bruce
Hello Nancy. Hello Bruce. Hello to the two new “cats” who “showed up.” God is working all the time. I am the woman who lost my daughter, Jenna Rose, after 19years of beating brain tumors to then get multiple metastatic Stage 4 adenocarcinoma. When my Mother was dying, we did not realize it but Jenna had cancer then. I came home from that to have to move our 180lb dog around like we did my 99lb Mother. Life & death show up every second and I am so incredibly moved by your recounting of your severe losses. Yes, I agree, you both now have even more opportunity to find what you teach & believe. The amount of love described is heartwarming. The unusual skies, clouds,book,plane trip&visiting sacred ground in Arkansas has moved me into a contemplative state. Cry, sleep, exercise,paint&hold on-hold on to each other, pet the new kitties, do whatever you need, everyone does it differently. My friend just lost her husband who was also a wonderful friend and she asked if I wanted to be sent the daily Griefshares from the class at the church she is doing. They use a notebook/Covid was still too close for me. I never got to have a service for our daughter because her Father had that brokenhearted syndrome and I had to bring him back to life alone in our house the day after Jenna dies. Her body was I the morgue in Charleston, SC while I was staying in the hospital here in my hometown. He is better but the service has never happened. Out grief has been deferred. Thank goodness you could have that! As hard as it is, it seems harder to not have something! My heart grows stronger when I can, hopefully, do or say something that might help another in their time of deepest sadness, dreadful need and long nights, lost time. Please know that you both are added to my daily prayer list-to the God of my understanding, for whatever you both may need. You’ve both been so kind to me. Your staff has been extraordinarily kind, too. I can’t help but know they can be of some help. And thank you for sharing the pictures-and the entire group of experiences. It is VERY important that you have done all you have so far. If you would like to get the Griefshares in your e-mail everyday I can get it. They do NOT give out or sell your e-mail and it is private-that’s the only way I would take it. I also recommend a daily read called Native Wisdom For White Minds by Anne Wilson Schaef. She lived all over the world with all tribes and concentrated on the elders. It is wonderful. Please accept my deep condolences for your losses. Blessings, Terri
Hello dear Terri,
I’m soaking in your beautiful and heartfelt words. Yes, I believe God is working all the time as well! I love that.
Ah…dear Terri, I’m so very, very sorry for the loss of your beloved and precious daughter. It’s an unimaginable loss. I pray that one day you will be able to have a service. It gave comfort to share precious stories and to say the names of the ones we love.
Your kindness touches me deeply- and I pray for solace for you as well.
I feel so much love and tenderness from you and I want you to know that it means the world to me.
Thank you. You’ve brightened my evening and lightened my heart.
Much love to you and blessings to you, too. I pray for solace for you too.
Nancy (and Bruce)
My deepest heartfelt sympathy to you Nancy and your family. Losing a parent is most difficult no matter how old we are.
Thank you dear Lise. It is so difficult, no matter our age.
Oh Dear Nancy,
My heart goes out to you. My own beautiful mum lives in me every day and guides me. She died 21 years ago.
May I quote John Chrysostom:
She whom we love and lose,
Is no longer where she was before,
She is now wherever we are.
With my love and hugs, dear Nancy and to you, too, Bruce. Such loss and yet such love that you share your deepest feelings with us all over the world. Thank you both,
Robyn Gunther (in Australia)
Thank you dear Robyn,
Your words brings me comfort. I will remember them. I love how you are guided by your mum every day.
I love that quote. My love and hugs to you, too, dear Robyn (and from Bruce, too).
Thank you dear,
Dear Nancy and Bruce,
Having read these heartfelt posts, I find I have more to say. My mother died at age 55, I was 36, too young for both of us. During the last year of her illness, I spent many days attending to her, not knowing that she was not going to get over her cancer – I didn’t want to know. A nurse, Michelle, was brought in when she couldn’t manage living alone anymore, one with flaming red hair who mixed cocktails of medicines with creme de menthe every night. Perfect for my rambunctious mother. The morning mother died, Michelle came into my room to tell me, and asked if I had a radio on – she was hearing music. So was I. It sounded like the gates of heaven were opening and the choir of angels was pouring out their welcome to mother. I like to think this happens for us all. Blessings, Lianne Escher
Ah…you were both so young. What an astonishing, gorgeous story of hearing this music! I love that image of the gates of heaven opening and the angels singing!Yes!
Thank you and blessings to you too,
My sincere condolences on the death of your beloved mother. How wonderful to have experienced such love and beauty. You are truly blessed and I feel your love of everything in your wonderful videos. Mothers are very special and they are always there when we need them, even from another dimension.
You have such wondeful memories, may they be a comfort in this time of loss.
Thank you for your comforting words. It was a great gift and blessing to have such a wonderful, loving mother. I love what you wrote about mothers always being there, even from another dimension.
Thank you for your beautiful share, and my condolences to you and your family. I too dealt with a significant loss recently, the unexpected death of our daughter who was only in her early 30s. I have been using art and creating as a therapeutic grieving- from making cards (thank you for support/holiday cards) and then creating window charms of beads made from her funeral flowers. My daughter was an artist, and in the creating, I felt her presence. You are your mother’s and your ancestor’s living legacy, may you find some peace knowing that they do live on in you.
Oh Beth, thank you so much. My deepest condolences to you for the loss of your precious daughter. The enormity of losing a child is beyond words and comprehension. It’s so beautiful that you are using art to help you with grieving and that you feel your daughter’s presence as you create. It gives me goosebumps to think about that. Thank you for reminding me of being a living legacy for my mother and my ancestors. It is a wonderful thing to think about that and it does give me peace. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this- it gives me comfort. Warmly, Nancy
I loved reading your post about your family and the pictures you shared of them and some of your experiences. It is wonderful the connection that we have with those we love and the influence they create in our lives. I too have many wonderful family members and friends whose gifts of love are precious beyond words. Your comments inspire me to write more about them. Thank you for sharing your love and loss and hope too. Oh, and your art inspiration!! Hugs to you and your family.
Thank you Lori. I’m so moved that you are inspired to write about the love you have for your precious family and friends. Hugs to you too, Nancy
What a beautiful sharing of your love for each of your family members (human and four-legged) that you have lost. My deepest sympathies to you and your family.
Thank you for your kind words Sarah.
I remember when the grief from loss was heavy when my father died, and my heart tossed bouquets of imaginary multi-colored flowers into the air, I thought, heaven’s gotten the better part of the deal. In their season, the crocuses still bloomed.
Mother’s are different, I think. I don’t know only having had one. A mourning dove came to visit me, a sign. Although, I’ve accepted it will take a lifetime getting over her loss, I was surprised by the re-naming I experienced – perhaps to take in what she had taught me and held onto for me, as my own. With the greatest of respect and love, Kathy
Oh, I love what you wrote, dear Kathy, of taking in what your mother taught you and held onto for you (yes! mothers do that, don’t they?) as your own. This afternoon, Bruce and I swam outside at the UC Santa Cruz pool and, near the end of the swim, a red tail hawk swooped overhead, gliding over my lane for about a minute. Bruce saw it too and we just paused and thanked her. So thank you, Kathy, for your lovely note. Love, Nancy
Your story was very touching and I feel for your loss.
I lost my mother some 30 years ago but I feel her near as I go about my life. She meat more to me than words can say.
I grew up in Arkansas and have may love ones buried there, and may fond memories growing up there.
My heart and feelings go out to you and may you always know you mother is only a thought away.
Thank you Ann. I resonate with your words about mother being only a thought away and that no words can express how much our mothers mean to us. Blessing to you, too,
My sincere condolences to both of you, Nancy and Bruce, and to Kimberly. This is a tough time.
Our parents show us the way and keep the light on towards our destination so that we stay on course. No matter how old we are, they stand by us in all circumstances. They believe in us.
Your mother, Nancy, must have been so proud of you with what you accomplished. I’m grateful we encountered.
With love, Lucie from Quebec.
Thank you dear Lucie, for your kind words of condolences to Bruce, Kimberly, and me. There is no one like our parents to stand by and believe in us at all times. Yes, no matter how old we are- they are so important. My mother loved me fiercely all my life- it was the greatest gift to be loved like that as a child. She was amazing. I’m so grateful, too- for you, Lucie.
Love you too, Nancy
This is beautiful writing that made me feel as if I know your families…with tears I send you hugs and comfort.
Thank you dear Kathy. Your kind words give me comfort and I feel your hugs. Thank you. Warmly, Nancy
Dear Nancy and Bruce,
My heart goes out to you both for your losses. As you know, I lost my beloved, husband, Peter, three years ago, and your course the Artist Journey saved my life as I struggled with the last year of his life and the subsequent death. There is a quote that helped me by Camus:
“In the midst of winter, I found within myself an invincible summer.”
Ah…thank you from both of us. I know you had a long process of losing your precious, beloved Peter. I remember that dark time and how you grappled with this with such love and grace. I remember, too, your trip to Israel and your astonishing paintings from that time in Jerusalem I believe. I love the Camus quote! Thank you!
I sit here reading your beautiful words with tears streaming down my cheeks. I lost the love of my life January 27, 2021. The pain of that loss remains but I would never give up that love to avoid this pain. The two are entwined in my body, mind and soul. Thank you for sharing your thoughts of love and loss with us.
Oh dear Sally, I’m so sorry for your loss. It’s so raw. I feel the same- I would never give up the love to avoid this pain either. Thank you for your heartfelt note.
Nancy and Bruce….I’m very sorry for all your pain……there are no words…my heart cries…susan from Arizona
Thank you dear Susan, for your loving thoughts and note. Warmly, Nancy