Uncharted territory, still | Maya's Gifts

Uncharted territory, still

There was a time that I wondered, “is my identity forever going to be defined by our tragic loss?”  Here we are, over five years since Maya left us, and I am answering my own question.  Simply put, yes.  With time, my relationship to being the mom of our precious teenage daughter, Maya, who took her life has shifted. 

My pain is still deep.  With each passing day, I continue to learn how to live with pain.  Edges of my shattered heart pieces feel a little less jagged most of the time.  Then there are moments that I get slammed.  My analogy of being hit by a tidal wave is the closest I can come to the experience.  I get pulled under and the current is so strong that I wonder if I will ever make it up for air.  I feel as if I am drowning in an ocean of grief.  Time has given me the gift of knowing that if I allow myself to go under without fighting it, I will survive.  It is a wonder.  Years ago, I could not imagine living for another day.  I have survived many moments of this form of grief; remarkably I can find joy and gratitude. 

Maya at the wedding reception of Sasha and Anders, October 2014

There is no planning for when the tidal waves come.  I have learned of patterns that I experience.  Birthdays, Mother’s Day, other holidays and October 2, are so charged.  Somehow, my mind/heart/body experiences something different.  I don’t always get hit on these particular days.  It is during the days leading up to these dates on the calendar.  Somehow, the internal flood gate opens up in anticipation of a date.  Still, there is no planning.  I had loved the book, “A Wrinkle in Time“and read it to all of our children as well as others.  There was a term, “tesseract”.  As I recall, this was when time itself could be folded or wrinkled; one could jump from one part of time to another.  My wish is that I could jump over these dates and the days leading up to them.   

Just last week, I got hit.  I wasn’t aware or prepared as I navigated new waters.  Over the years, we have attended a few small family gatherings (Thanksgivings, Seders), but this was our first major family celebration.  We flew to Oregon to witness and celebrate the wedding of our nephew, Noah.  The last wedding our extended family celebrated was that of Anders and Sasha, Maya’s sister.  Maya was there.  I see her so vividly, with such beauty and ecstasy.  The ceremony and reception of Noah’s marriage to Ashlyn was full of such joy.  Then the moment of taking a photo of “all of the cousins” came.  Wait!  They are not “all” here!  Do we hold a place for Maya?  Do we honor her by naming her?  Would we be bringing everyone’s mood down?  How do we recognize that as our family is growing, there remains a hole?  I do not want to skip over this.  I feel as if not acknowledging this emptiness is not being true to my experience, and our collective loss.  Do I hold this feeling quietly or share with others?  I continue to work on balancing my grief with gratitude.  Do others know this dance?  Do I take care of them, or are they responsible for themselves?  Are we all tip toeing as we all experience this?  Like so many other moments that have brought me to this day, I realize that there is no manual.  It is up to us to create our own manual.    

The cousins now, in Astoria, Oregon, July 2021

After the event, Sasha, Mathew and I had the opportunity to share these sentiments with one another.  I was comforted in knowing that I am not alone.  There will be other occasions like this.  We will find a way to be true to ourselves, honor the grief, feel the gratitude and joy and recognize Maya.

The, “yes” that I mentioned above, I now embrace.   After all, we are all defined by the stories of our lives.  I am stretching in all different ways.  I am learning that I am still mothering my daughter and mothering a part of me, as Maya is a part of me.  I can weep, I can climb mountains, I can fall and I can dance.  Yes, I can dance at our nephew’s wedding. 


  • I am so grateful for your dancing, hiking, goofing, loving. I am grateful that you share your aching, expanding, open heart with us.

  • So beautifully written, Elise. What you say resonates – there’s no going back. We’re all permanently changed by the death of loved ones. I remember the year after my father died wanting to bring him up when the family made a toast on Thanksgiving. To not bring him up and honor his presence all those years at the head of the table seemed unthinkable . . . his absence was so huge . . . yet I was alone in my sentiment, and my mention of it was quickly hushed. I relented, but felt estranged, saddened, and confused. I’m glad you’re continually seeking ways to both take care of yourself and be considerate of others as you navigate this uncharted territory. The seeking never ends, either. I’m aware, even as I see you laughing in dance class, that no matter how much time goes by you’re still grieving the loss of your beautiful, beautiful daughter. Even when you keep it to yourself.

    • Thank you, Yael,
      I appreciate hearing of your experience that first Thanksgiving. How hard that must have been. Yes, to the laughter on the dance floor. That is such a happy place for me. I believe that it is allowing myself moments of being taken by the waves of grief, that I can dance and even laugh.

      Sending you love.

  • Maya is never forgotten. You are always her mother. That you go forward is a tremendous accomplishment. The grief never leaves, as you’ve discovered and expressed so eloquently and poignantly. It just morphs, waxes and wanes. You’re sharing enriches the lives of others—others who have lost, others who have children alive or not, others who knew Maya. I admire your courage and feel your love.

    • Thank you, Claudia! I whole heartedly am with you regarding my role as mother. Always.

      The big awakening for me at the wedding (and before, as I was getting ready to attend) was, “how do I mother her? How do I hold her in this moment?”

      I appreciate your voicing the tremendous accomplishment of me moving forward.


  • Thank you for sharing your beautifully written account. I can attest to both the cyclical and sudden moments of grieving. Just when I think I’ve moved into some sort of resolution to grieving my mother’s death something, or someone, plucks a memory and I’m right in the thick of it. But, I do move through it. It isn’t that it gets easier….Maybe we get a little bit stronger in some unameable way? Sending you love and strong hugs.

    • Yes, it is these plucked memories that will throw us into the thick of it. One friend shared with me that for her, it is not that it gets easier with time, it is that we have learned more and more how to live with it. I am continuing to learning how to live with it.
      Sending and receiving love.

  • Dear Elise,
    All has been already eloquently said from the people who love you, and and wrote here.
    I honor, admire and greatly respect your honesty, your justified and holy sadness, and your increasing strength going, growing further.

    With Love,
    Barbara Lubell

    • Dear Barbara,

      You and I only recently met. I am grateful to be crossing paths with you on our journey. Thank you for your kind words.


  • Your sharings have always moved me and I am grateful to be connected to you. Sending you loving thoughts and care.

    • Thank you, dear Michelle,
      I appreciate your loving thoughts and care. Our connection is through Rowe, Maya’s home away from home. On your next visit, please meander over to the old “Chicken Butt” area!
      Sending hugs

  • Dear Elise, it is precious and moving for me to read your reflections, so honest and real, as you are. I love you, and cherish my memories of radiant Maya.

    Love always,
    Rabbi Jonathan

    • Dear Rabbi Jonathan,

      When the waters were most turbulent, you were my buoy and anchor. You held and continue to hold our famiy and the community. I deeply appreciate your cherished memories of and connection with Maya.

      With gratitude and love,

  • Elise, I am always so deeply inspired by your ability to express and experience joy. I know for certain this is because you allow your grief as well. If you didn’t allow yourself to go under with the waves when they come, coming back up for air once they’re done tumbling you, you’d be suppressing the wave, and therefore equally tamping down your joy.

    The fact that you allow your feelings is no small feat. People spend a lifetime learning how to access and allow their feelings. And you? You’re right there. Present. Aware. Engaged. Joy. Grief. And all the nuances in-between. Thank you for being a shining example of loving and living with heart, and openness. Your story is touching, moving, inspiring. Keep climbing those mountains and dancing at the top.

    • Sara,

      Thank you for all of this. I am touched by your sentiments.

      Your reflections are inspiring me to write about something I’ve been feeling since the moments after finding Maya. I’ll save that for another time and I will let you know when it has been written.

  • As always, I love you for your vulnerability, your honesty, your eloquence in expression, your strength to bear and ride the waves of the unfathomable pain of grieving.. and then your ability to find your way to gratitude and grace. Mimo and I feel blessed to witness and share in the company of the boundless joy, sparking eyes, deep laughter of dancing with you!
    Love always, always love.

    • I trust that you know that it is you, Mimo and the loving dance community who have provided a true sanctuary. It holds it all for so many. Sharing in the vulnerability, honesty, laughter and joy with others is part of my oxygen, our oxygen.

  • Thank you, Elise, for your words and courage. You and your daughter teach us all. My heart is with you.

  • Elise, While composing this detailed response, I clicked on the photo, to further reflect on the issue and ultimately lost the draft. I hope to talk about it when we get together.

    Your sharing here opens up the dialogue for connection; with your community of processing the acknowledgment that Maya is not concretely/physically with us but spiritually and emotionally she is. You have got your finger on your pulse and you have the gift of articulating that.

    We, along with you are processing the going through time without Maya’s physical presence and navigating the honoring of that space.

    The act here of describing, reflecting, sharing, is part of that, in and of itself, the honoring and holding.
    Love You,

    • Rrr, it is so frustrating when a draft gets lost! I’m sorry about that! I appreciate your new version.

      I appreciate the perspective that bringing Maya here, is a way of honoring and holding her. Thank you for being part of the web that honors and holds. I look forward to talking more soon.


  • Thank you, Elise. I can imagine the challenge of such moments as you write about. I am touched and grateful for your wisdom.

  • My Dear Elise, Your words, written in pain and remembrance of your beautiful daughter, are so beautiful they brought tears to my eyes as I read them. Unfortunately I did not get to meet Maya but you have kept her alive and so we all grieve her loss with you and Mathew. You are a role model for everyone who loses a loved one as you continue to live your life in a most meaningful way. You give us all the courage to face adversity with strength. I am blessed by having you in my life. Thank you.

    • Dear Adele,
      Your words mean so much to me. Really. There is so much there. I know that you didn’t meet Maya. My hope is that you are getting a sense of her, not only from what I share here. But I imagine some of the people you know, carry a bit of Maya with them.
      Thank you for sharing that I am a role model. I am figuring this all out as I go along. I am grateful for the community that keeps me afloat. You are part of that community.
      Sending you love.

  • I saw and felt the sentiment you express about the cousins’ photo when I first saw it Elise. Know that when you shared your feelings with Sasha and Mathew, I was there with you. Always.


    • LG,

      Your comment is a reminder of how connected we all are. As I hit, “submit” to this post, I was second guessing myself. “Why share?” Part of the reason that I share is to connect. This connection is dynamic and flows both ways.
      I am with you as you are with me.


  • This is so beautiful and sad, Elise. I so appreciate your sharing of these moments. As someone who only knew Maya from sight, I feel I have a true sense of her and her essence from your writings. I think that is truly honoring her, introducing her to your community in this way.


    • Your comment is a reminder that it is time that I dust off some of my Maya journals, and continue to share a bit more of her here.

      Loving thanks for sharing your sentiments.

  • Thank you so much, as always, for sharing deep from your heart. I felt blesses and my heart burst open (from it’s often armored state) from your words and feelings

  • Elise,
    Thank you for sharing of yourself with such open and true feelings. In my mourning I have always found it so important to be able to express my feelings however I could, most especially with those who love me. May we be a warming and comforting family to you always and whenever you need it.
    With love

    • Oh Cynthia,
      You always find the right things to say. I do feel such comfort from your words and loving heart.

  • Be-U-Tee-Full. You write so deep, so real, so raw. I can feel your pain, your depth, your aliveness. I love you.

  • Dear Elise,

    My first time here……….. tho I remember that time so vividly.

    thank you for all the very alive photos. Such a beautiful planet. And with all the pain, the wholeness of also allowing beauty. I have you/Maya on my calendar and mark the date monthly.

    A Big Thing to go to and stay for the wedding.

    Wishing you and your loved ones many moments of Peace, Joy and delight.
    And vibrant good health.
    May it ripple out.

    • Dear Ruth,
      Thank you for being here. To get a sense of this blog, check out the “About” page, as many posts are from my “Maya Journals”. Glad to know that you are with me on my journey.
      With love,

  • Dearest Elise, At no moment in time do we not carry with us in our Being the absolute totality of our walk through this world. A blessing as well as a curse is that what we carry at times is visible, and at other times, invisible. But at no time are they any less a piece of our reality. A grand game of hide and seek. Sometimes we need to see, feel and touch the pain, and at other times, it needs to be hidden and tucked away. You seem to have gained the knowingness of BALANCE, and this is quite an achievement my friend


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