Before we get into this beautiful story by my friend Morgan Pansing, I wanted to introduce you to her. Morgan is an incredible photographer. She is the mother of two adorable children and quite honestly one of the kindest souls you will ever encounter. I’d describe her as a ray of sunshine. When you’re around her you not only feel warmth, but you feel radiant. She lights you up. She’s a cheerleader for you and makes you feel special. The minute I met her I felt an overwhelming sense of ease and comfort; it’s like we had known each other in a past life. She’s so generous and supportive. I’m so happy she opened up on here today to share that even someone as light and happy as she is, struggles with darkness and grief. Thank you Morgan for sharing this story. We adore you. – Taylor Sterling
I am surrounded by the deep blue ocean, with no land in sight. I’m treading water, exhausted. I look over at my beautiful mother peacefully floating away from me. Her eyes are closed, and I suddenly realize that she is no longer here with me. She is just a shell of what she once was. It is only her body; her spirit has taken flight. I reach out my arms to try and grab her, but she drifts further away, and I scream “Mama” at the top of my lungs but she doesn’t hear me. Where is she? Where did she go? How could she leave me here in the desolate sea all alone? I begin to panic. I can’t breathe; I’m choking on the saltwater that rushes into my mouth as I gasp for air. She drifts further and further from me, and I realize I have to save myself from drowning. I let the waves carry me as I sob and cry and scream and choke on the water. I land on a sandy beach. I am here alone in the darkness for some time. Eventually, I’m awakened by the brightest light radiating from the hearts of those that love me, from my own heart, from my children, my husband, my father. I am surrounded by my fellow fire-walkers (my word for those who have walked the path of grief and loss and heartache with integrity and truth), and my family. They all lift me from the sandy beach and beckon me to follow the light of their hearts and mine.
Where is she? Where did she go? How could she leave me here in the desolate sea all alone? I begin to panic. I can’t breathe; I’m choking on the saltwater that rushes into my mouth as I gasp for air.
I slowly come out of my visualization and back into the room with my therapist who greets me with kind eyes and a soothing voice.
On December 31, 2018, my magnificent mother Jessica Davis-Stein lost her fierce battle with ovarian cancer. She was a brave warrior for all that is good and true in this world and I miss her every second of every day.
The weeks leading up to her death were some of the most beautifully profound and heartbreaking days of my life. It was a true gift to be able to support my amazing mother as she transitioned from this world, just as she had supported me in everything I ever did, every single day of my entire life. During those final days, my dad would bring his guitar to her bedside and the two of us would sing her all the great and mournful folk songs of their youth as she drifted in and out. I read her letters sent from her dear friends about the great impact that she has had on their lives. I held her hand and told her that it was all going to be OK. I bathed her, and brushed her hair, and whispered I love you, I love you, I love you over and over again as her spirit began to dance on the other side. She sat in her bed watching the birds out her window as she slowly faded from this world.
Deep grief and loss is unlike anything I have experienced before. Sometimes it feels like I am screaming at the top of my lungs all alone on a desolate snow-filled mountaintop, and sometimes it feels like I am drowning at sea. There are moments of the darkest sadness imaginable and the deepest longing for the one person I can’t have. But there is also a remarkable clarity in grief that is to be honored. Priorities have never been clearer to me. Work on projects that fill my soul with good people. Invest my time and energy with people that I love. Let go of any relationships that don’t serve my highest self. Give my husband and my kids everything I have to give. It is in loss that we realize our time here on Earth is limited, and we need to spend it wisely. We realize that everything is ephemeral, transitory, impermanent. The Mary Oliver quote, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” has never held more meaning. I want to drink all of the beauty in and bask in the glory of the impermanence. I hold my loved ones so tightly. I notice the perfection of the poppy blooming at the foot of a great oak tree that burned in the California fires, and that fragile poppy suddenly holds more meaning than any flower has ever held. I see the world with heartbreaking clarity, and in some ways, I treasure this perspective and understanding of the ebb and flow and the poetry of it all.
Deep grief and loss is unlike anything I have experienced before. Sometimes it feels like I am screaming at the top of my lungs all alone on a desolate snow-filled mountaintop, and sometimes it feels like I am drowning at sea.
As Brene Brown says, “Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness, will we discover the infinite power of our light.” For those of you who are walking the path of grief along with me, let your heart lead your way through it. Let those who love you lift you up with their light. Surround yourself with good people. Allow yourself to be loved, to give love, to let your light shine. My fellow fire-walkers, you are not walking the dark path alone. We are here lifting you up and lighting your way with love.
Morgan Pansing is a lifestyle and editorial photographer living in Los Angeles with her husband Scot, two children, Orion and Kira and their beloved 12-year-old dog, Dexter. Her work as a photographer explores a female-driven narrative, motherhood and political activism. She recently co-created the photography campaign, @voteyourchange.