Milkweed, butterflies and my Mama, a story of letting go

Milkweed in Autumn


Milkweed, butterflies and my Mama,  a story of letting go.


Milkweed grows in my untamed garden.

I discovered a single plant in my garden several years ago and made a silent promise to nurture it, to help it spread amongst the wild black raspberry bushes.

In the shortening days of Autumn I blow their seeds to the wind in hopes they will find safe harbor to grow when the warmth returns to the land.

Milkweed Seeds in my garden


There is magick in milkweed plants.

Their unassuming  green stalks steadfastly advancing through the green undergrowth of spring into summer.  You could easily overlook them or pull them in a weeding session, missing out on the richness they offer.  One of those precious gifts is monarch butterflies which cannot survive without milkweed.

Milkweed in Summer

Early one morning, July

Monarch butterfly in summer 2015Summer heat rolls in and milkweed brings forth magnificent, purple explosions of flowers right at the time that black raspberries ripen.

I imagined how the milkweed and the black raspberries plant spirits exchange whispered conversations, hidden in leaves and blossoms, as they drunk up sunshine.

Standing in my garden, picking raspberries, with summer sun on my skin, I saw the first monarch I have seen in years.  

In some secret miracle of synchronicity, at the very moment I saw the monarch, a hummingbird circled my head, so close I could hear its wings.

In an instant, my senses collided in a living symphony of the scent of summer, purple stains of raspberries on my fingers, sunlight, butterflies and hummingbirds.

I thought of my Mama and how I would tell her of this moment if she were still alive.

Summer exhaled into Autumn.

Afternoon, October

I stood in my garden with the full moon on the rise and the milkweed plant an explosion of seedpods before me.  And it struck me, how the milkweed tells the story of motherhood, reflected in the delicate seed pods.

I was the wild, untamed plant that grew in my mother’s well tended garden.

My Mama and I were incredibly different yet incredibly similar.  She craved a tidy home, order and cleanliness.  I craved adventure and dirt beneath my feet.  At times our different natures railed against each other and the friction was palpable, but always my mother loved me fiercely.  She transferred her indomitable will and nurtured my sense of self.  I imagine her inner struggle to raise me to be an independent woman yet wanting to shelter me as her little girl.  There were times she tried desperately to corral me, anxious that the winds of life would blow me to inhospitable soil, worried I would flounder to find solid ground.   I fought against the confines of expectations and properness.

But then we reached a hard won point of grace.

Somewhere along the way, she understood the hidden gifts that would emerge if she released her grip and let me fly.  She understood that the better course was to encourage me to soar on favorable winds and to trust that she taught me to land upright. Eventually, I did.

As a mother myself these many years, I understand the duality of my mother’s position.


milkweedpodsLike the milkweed, I provided safe haven for my children  to grow and transform.

Like a partially closed pod, I held onto my little seedlings,  a secret dream in the dark, allowing just a peak at the greater world.

Yet, I knew that a baby must push itself forth from the womb at the right moment, and so must my children emerge to live their own lives.  I wanted to both hang on and let go. It is a theme whose thread is woven through the journey of motherhood.

I prayed that when it came time to finally let go, that a favorable wind takes them gently on their journey.  I realized I was not so different from my own mother.


My Mama merely wanted to hold on to her precious cargo til the last possible moment, just like I did.


Two years ago my beloved Mama passed away.

Like the milkweed pod releasing its seeds, the dreaded moment came when it was finally time to let her go.   I watched as she struggled to hang on and I, too, wanted to hang on.

But I knew it was time to let go.

I was there with her when she crossed that silvery threshold between worlds.  And I grasped a deeper level of the mysterious tides of life.  Motherhood taught me to respect the gateway between life and death,  and to walk in the liminal places between the worlds.  This tide ebbs and flows connecting me to all the mothers and grandmothers, stretching backwards and forwards through time.  I was born and thus I was the child of my mother.  I brought forth life and I  became the mother.  Death deepened the teaching when I sat and midwifed my sweet Mama back across the threshold. Inhalation, exhalation. The tides of life.

Loving means holding on and letting go. 

My Mama let me go, to evolve and grow into the woman I have become.  Now it was my turn to let her go and trust.  To allow the ancient winds of destiny gently lift her to the sky.  Trust that the seed knows how to take flight on a favorable wind.  Trust that the seed will arrive safely on the other side of the crossing.

To trust even though I can no longer touch the seed.

Milkweed seeds on the wind

The milkweed plants are readying for winter.  The last of the seeds drift across the yard.  I think back on the monarch butterfly I saw.  It still remains the only one I have seen in years.  Much like the seeds, I may never know its fate.  Did it succeed in creating a fourth generation?  Did any of its descendants make the flight to Mexico?  If so, will they arrive safely to find their winter habitat still intact?  And what of our mutual fate on the planet in these times of change?

I envision the threads that connect us into one great tapestry of life on Earth; the milkweed, the butterflies, the mothers, the grandmothers and our collective seven generations.

I release a prayer for all the beings of earth with the last milkweed seed:

May we know the wisdom of love, when to hold on and when to let go.

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{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Joshua Langberg November 13, 2015, 5:23 pm

    Thank you so much for posting this beautiful story and realization. I lost my mother over a year ago, we were very close. I still feel like she is with me, especially when I tend to her plants and her garden. I made the promise to her that I would keep the garden healthy, and take care of my dad. I have spent the last year and a half obsessively doing these things, yet I allowed myself to become lost in the tasks. Almost escaping into the promises, as my only connection. Reading this definitely helped my perspective, I still have a lot to learn from the experience, but I do know that she is at peace, and that she would be happy for what my wife and I have done for the home and our family. I will look to the garden just as it is, a place to grow, and not a place to bury.
    Thank you again for your post, and your amazing outreach.
    Hopefully, my wife and I will be able to make it out to western MA sometime soon for one of your events. We are in central MA, so its definitely possible!
    Sending the positive vibrations in all directions!
    With love,
    Joshua Langberg

    • Winifred November 13, 2015, 7:31 pm

      Hi Joshua,
      Your beautiful message touches my heart and soul deeply. I am sorry to hear of the loss of your beloved mother. You honor her every day with your love and actions. She lives on in your hearts and in your shared garden. Many blessings and return of positive vibrations to you and your wife, Winifred

  • Madeleine January 6, 2016, 1:41 pm

    Beautiful. So deep.

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