finding light in the darkness of grief

This past June marked the three-year anniversary of my mother’s passing. On the days leading up to one of the more dreaded dates in my calendar year, my boyfriend and close friends inquired whether or not I had planned to visit my mother’s gravesite, to which I politely responded no.

To be honest, I’ve only visited that cemetery once since she’s died. While I understand and respect why so many people feel connected to their loved ones when visiting the place where the only tangible proof left of their existence lays to rest, I’ve personally never felt particularly close to my mother there.

Instead I feel her presence in rather unconventional places; places where only she would know to find me; places she had unintentionally left clues to in the years leading up to her death as if drawing maps for to me follow in the event that she was taken from this world and brought into the next. Maps that would lead me back home to her and ultimately leave me with some small amount of faith in a divine energy.

One of these clues has hung on my parents’ refrigerator for the last five years. It’s a very simple painting of a rainbow. To anyone other than my father, brother, and myself this picture looks like an elementary school painting – something perhaps I painted as a second grader. But it’s not. Two years before my mother died, she went away to rehab for about a month. She had been struggling with a severe alcohol addiction for decades, and she was trying once again to recover from it.

For the most part, my mother hated rehab – then again, I guess it’s a place very few people really enjoy.

The day my father and I drove her there, I remember crying with her in the car. She was sobbing, begging us to take her home. She promised she would stop drinking and be a better wife and mother. We reminded her that this was her decision and that as hard as it was on all of us to be apart, she needed professional help in order to heal from her addiction. I held her hand as we walked into the facility, gave her a copy of my favorite poem about a mother’s bond with her daughter, and hugged her tightly goodbye.

Twenty-eight days later she came home with a sobriety coin, a copy of Alcoholics Anonymous with encouraging notes written in the blank pages from her new friends and fellow addicts, and a painting of a rainbow. When I asked her about the picture, she held it up to show me her work and said with one of the most genuinely pure smiles I’ve ever seen and the innocent sounding voice of a child:

I made it in Art Class at rehab. Elizabeth, today God gave me a rainbow.

She hung the painting on the fridge and it hasn’t moved since.

I was reminded of it last weekend when I was at a wedding. The bride and groom had planned for their ceremony to be held outside on a wooden pier overlooking the water in downtown Baltimore. Moments before the bride made her way down the aisle, it began to storm and everyone quickly moved the chairs and themselves inside. The bride, being a low-maintenance type of person, wasn’t too concerned with the sudden change of location, and she and her groom shared their loving vows and ceremonious I do’s, and for the first time kissed as wife and husband.

Applause and celebratory cheers followed. Then, within a few minutes, we noticed that the rain had stopped, and the skies had cleared. The photographer rushed everyone outside to take photos and one by one, people noticed a rare and magical painting in the sky.

I looked up and saw one of the most beautiful double rainbows I had ever seen. While everyone grabbed their phones to snap and Instagram, I snuck around to the side of the building where I was alone. Alone with my Mom once again. 

I marveled at all the colors above me and actually thanked them for helping to drown out the darkness that has come with my grief. I realized then how the rainbow my mother had painted all those years ago had given her hope for her sobriety. It had helped her believe in herself and the gifts of the divine. It reminded her that all she ever truly had power over was the present moment, and it was in living in that place of awareness and gratitude that made her healing possible. 

I thanked my Mom for secretly, unintentionally leaving me maps in this world to help find her in the next. I thanked her for showing up to me then and there, as if just to say Hello, I’m still here and I love you.

And then lastly, using every ounce of faith I possess in my soul to silence every ounce of doubt I have in my head, I closed my eyes and thanked the divine for giving me a rainbow – for giving me a glimpse of my mother’s transcendent and never-ending love.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Always Learning,


Elizabeth Piper