February 13, 2024

Divine Mother of Breath

Vic in the forest with friends
Vic in the forest with friends

I groped around in the dark searching for my ringing cell phone. It had to be Vic who was resting downstairs. I turned on a low light and made my way to his side.

“What do you need, love?” I asked.

“I can’t breathe,” he said. “I need to go to the hospital.” This man who never panicked was scared.

“You have an oncology appointment in the morning,” I said in my calmest voice.

“I can’t wait,” he said. “I can’t breathe.” It was 2008. From previous experiences with Vic, I knew local emergency rooms had no idea what to do with a dying patient with an obscure cancer.

Drawing from Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus

“I’ll drive you to Strong Cancer Center in Rochester,” I said. “There are hospitals along the way if you can’t make it or we can call an ambulance.”

We slowly moved to the car with him using a cane. I belted him into the passenger seat. My weight-lifting strongman using a cane and gasping with each step? Yes. I held his hand while I drove 90 minutes to the hospital and his breath quieted, but remained labored and shallow. I pulled into the hospital parking lot to a pink June dawn and they whisked us into the emergency room.


On January 28, 2024, my heart pounded, and I couldn’t catch a breath. I felt empathy and grief for departed Vic in a whole new way.

Breathing in the meds to open the airways

My local son Anthony drove me to the ER in the morning. They did what they normally do to clear air passages. This woman who rarely takes prescription drugs inhaled Albuterol for half an hour so she could breathe. I felt a mixture of calm acceptance and physical fear. Diagnosis was viral laryngitis. Later, bacterial laryngitis was added to the diagnosis.

“Divine Mother, I need air. Divine Mother, the whole Earth needs air. Help us breathe.”

After inhaling Albuterol, I could breathe for a few hours, but they had also prescribed an antibiotic Azithromycin. I held off taking it that day, but that night I followed orders from the ER practitioner. The drug made my heart race like a terrified wild animal. Again, I felt the desperation of not being able to breathe mixed with a pounding heart.

I was too sick to resist what was happening to my body, so I crawled into my bed. Sweet Disco lay on my feet. With the help of meditation breath techniques, I made if through the night. In the morning, I called my usual practitioner.

Sugar Maple Mother support in the forest

“Stop taking that drug immediately,” she said. I stopped and my heart began to slow by mid-morning. I know the drug helps many, but it wasn’t helping me.

I feel the frailty of my life, of all lives, of people in Ukraine and Gaza who can’t breathe and have no medical care or food and no place to hide from the violence. I feel the gift of being warm and dry in my home and give thanks to the Divine Goddess of Breath.

A friend who knows tragedy all too well drove me to my usual PA’s office the next day where they did an EKG. I was exhausted, but the EKG was normal by then and a chest X-ray was nearly clear.

With gratitude to the Breath Mother who held me through the night and to Vic who felt nearby. I am still exhausted, but feel protected. Although I don’t take it for granted, I can breathe.

Breath is life. Breath is spirit. That night, I knew those truths.


It’s been a challenging week for so many close to me and for the wider world, but I’m on a slow path to recovery. I walked in the forest to visit Vic’s cairn yesterday, a grounding experience. I leaned into a few old trees for comfort and strength. Although I usually walk daily, I felt too tired today and know I need to listen carefully to my body. I’ll take a long walk again tomorrow with my trekking pole, just in case I need support. For an article about building Vic’s Cairn, including the powerful poem by Rilke “Pushing Through,” follow this link.


  1. February 19, 2024 at 9:05 pm



    Dear Elaine,
    It is terrifying not to be able to breathe. Breath is, indeed, life, and it seems”right” that our bodies panic when there is not enough to sustain it. And, as you wrote, breath is also spirit; I love that you were able to ask the Divine Mother, the Breath Mother for help, and also that Vic felt so close.

    Yes, recovery is slow, especially as we age. Thank you for sharing the ways that you are taking such tender care of yourself — snuggles with Disco, hugging Mother Maple, energy healing, meditation breathing techniques, and listening to your body and giving her the rest she needs.

    I am sending ease-of-breathing blessings your way.
    Love, Anne

    1. February 20, 2024 at 10:43 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thank you, dear Anne. My breath is open now which is a big relief. The whole experience awakened me to what Vic experienced the weeks before his death when he couldn’t breathe and it also opened me to asking for help. My local son and friends were terrific, including an energy healer. My North Carolina son will spend the weekend here. I’ll buy the groceries, but my sons will be the chefs. Disco was the sweetest and most patient of nurses since she’s a short haired southern dog brought north by the SPCA and she does not love the cold unless she’s running with other dogs. She could spend the whole day lying near my body. She’s a warm comforter. So, I just got a lesson in the body’s limitations and need to surrender and rest. I’m 78, so it shouldn’t be surprising, but it always is. Sending love your way.

  2. February 16, 2024 at 11:44 am

    Jean Raffa


    I’m so sorry to hear about this scary experience. I love the way you’ve written about it. Thank you for sharing the practices that helped you get through it. And thanks to Deborah for sharing Rilke’s poem here. It’s extraordinary, a perfect description of the feeling of being stuck in a terrifying space where it’s difficult to breathe. I’m so glad you have the perfect place to recover with the help of nature’s healing graces, your beloved companion, Disco, beautiful memories of Vic everywhere around, and your loving son and dear friends always standing nearby.

    1. February 16, 2024 at 1:57 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thank you and thank you for the Butterfly book by Herman Hesse. That Rilke poem and others were helpful when Vic was sickest and more helpful after his death. It’s peaceful on my land, but the warm early winter turned into bitter cold. This is the price of living in northern climates, and also the price of climate change since we never know what’s coming next. My North Carolina son arrives on Feb. 22. He doesn’t stay long, but there’s lots of energy when he’s around–and usually the two brothers do most of the cooking. My community here gathered in the 1970s. We meditated and studied philosophy and Jung together and took care of each other’s kids and now we’re taking care of each other’s elder needs. I’m grateful for our long history. With love to you as the sun shines in your world.

  3. February 14, 2024 at 12:44 pm

    Lin Gregory


    Losing the ability to breath freely is a truly frightening experience that I know too well from my covid experiences, Elaine and I am so pleased that you are now on the road to recovery. An illness like that can cause all sorts of fear about breathing even when you’re getting better and of course that anxiety is part of a vicious circle that results in not being able to breath freely again! I also found Meditation such a help in these situations and it’s great to hear that you’ve returned to practicing each day to help banish those little fear demons.

    I’m even happier to see that you’re back out walking and soaking up the tree energy, that’s the best sort of medicine, especially when your woods are filled with so much love and memories of Vic. Sending you positive energy for a full recovery soon.

    1. February 14, 2024 at 3:06 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      Recovery is a slow process. That’s a lesson in itself for a woman in a hurry. Breathing is clear now, but I’m still exhausted. I’ve meditated most of my life, but haven’t been diligent in the last few years. I’m diligent again now. It’s sunny and cold here. I was used to a warm winter, but that moved on. I still have almost no snow with a few snow showers in the forecast but no major snow accumulation. What a strange, strange winter and it seems to have nourished many non-Covid viruses in my community. All will be well in time. I appreciate easy breath.

  4. February 14, 2024 at 8:07 am

    Aladin Fazel


    Oh, dear Elaine. I know how necessary the need to breathe is. I have had such a situation in my life in which I have noticed that. Thank goodness, I must add that people like us who know the Eastern breathing method can help us in such an emergency. I wholeheartedly hope you recover from this trouble and get healthy soon. Be blessed.

    1. February 14, 2024 at 9:29 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      It’s interesting how lack of breath brings automatic fear. I saw this with Vic who was not afraid of being ill, but low level fear (never panic) arrived when he couldn’t breathe. I’ve had some training with various breathing techniques and they got me through a few nights. I’m back to doing a breathing meditation when I wake up in the morning. I’m on my way to recovery, but I’m also learning how to be patient which is not my strength. Thanks for your kind message, Aladin. I’ve been surrounded by helpers.

  5. February 13, 2024 at 10:04 pm

    Marian Beaman


    Inhaling and exhaling are two involuntary exercises we often take for granted. . . until we don’t, which you discovered in your recent illness. I am SO thankful you are well on the road to recovery and your respiration is now more normal. I read here too that you are beginning again to practice morning breath meditation, a very good thing to set a hopeful tone for the day.

    Your deeply affecting post took me back to grandson Ian’s premature birth. His greatest risk factor in those early months in the NICU was with breathing: He suffered bradycardia, slow, interrupted breathing requiring a nose cannula. He was on a respiratory monitor even after he left the hospital; his parents were alerted if he stopped breathing. It was such a scary time. I know you can relate.

    Don’t push yourself with your writing, Elaine, although I believe this post shows a return of your impulse to create new material. Indulge yourself in forest bathing when the weather permits and your strength enables. Let Mother Maple support you as you breathe in pure oxygen from the trees. Hugs, my friend!
    ((( )))

    1. February 14, 2024 at 9:22 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      I’m going to be fine but had a scary few nights. It took some adjusting to being sick and allowing deep rest since I think of myself as strong and well so had to develop patience with the slow pace of recovery. Friends and my son brought me soup and I’ve eaten lots of oatmeal which feels just right

      What a story about little Ian. So much worry and late night hours for his parents. Yes, scary, but it’s amazing how he pulled through and I imagine he’s well now. I’m not pushing myself about writing, but if something comes to me, I take pleasure in creating a piece in writing. I go to a writing class I’ve been part of since 2011 and love that circle of writers. I wrote about giving birth recently–another aspect of the experience of breath. Sending hugs back to you and thank you for the cute card–much admired by my buddy Disco.

      1. February 14, 2024 at 10:08 am

        Marian Beaman


        I had oatmeal this morning, which felt just right! 😀

  6. February 13, 2024 at 10:16 am

    Deborah Gregory


    Dear Elaine,

    Taking those deeper breaths when feeling sad, anxious or even excited helps all as we soon begin to calm down and feel less panicky. It’s the first thing we say to others isn’t it, or visa versa, when reassurance is needed. In fact, the deeper I breathe, especially if I can’t sleep at night, the more relaxed, calm and sleepy I begin to feel. The breath is so powerful isn’t it? Because in essence we’re speaking about life and death. No wonder you felt close to Vic as breath, air, wind and spirit all feel like they belong together.

    It’s so wonderful to read that you’ve been able to return to your beloved forest and visit Vic’s cairn in the last few days after being unwell for so long. I bet Disco enjoyed a longer walk too. The photo of you’ve shared of you leaning into that tree elder, old friend, for strength and comfort, made my heart smile. It must’ve felt sooo good!

    Rilke’s incredible poem, “Pushing Through” is too good not to be share, so I hope you don’t mind, I followed the link and brought the poem back here to your page to share.

    It’s possible I am pushing through solid rock
    in flintlike layers, as the ore lies, alone;
    I am such a long way in I see no way through,
    and no space: everything is close to my face,
    and everything close to my face is stone.

    I don’t have much knowledge yet in grief
    so this massive darkness makes me small.
    You be the master: make yourself fierce, break in:
    then your great transforming will happen to me,
    and my great grief cry will happen to you.

    (Translated by Robert Bly)

    Sending love and light, healing and hope, across the oceans and oaks between us, Deborah.

    1. February 13, 2024 at 8:42 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      Yes to deeper breath. I know how to do this, but fear tightens everything. I did a morning breath/meditation practice for many years, but let it slip away recently. I’ll begin again tomorrow. Just ten minutes sets a tone for the day. I find myself holding my breath with fear too often after getting sick, so I’m trying to be more aware and stay open. Not being able to breathe scares the body. Yesterday, an old friend and “body worker” came to my house for a session of “energy work.” I began breathing again. She worked with Vic a few times a week in his last year.

      I love the article you sent about Isis, Deborah. One wall of my office is covered with paintings I did of the Book of the Dead. My women’s class went to New York City to visit the Egypian exhibits at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Museum. The paintings and sculpture are so moving and my painting-playing with the images was moving for me. Breath!

      I wonder if much of this art will be returned to Egypt now, its spiritual home. I’m glad I got to see it in NY, but it doesn’t belong here. (That Rilke poem is another one that held me in the hardest times.) That great grief cry returned this week. Sending you love and gratitude–and Jill helped me calm down about sharing my writing. She’s a wonderful friend.

    2. February 14, 2024 at 9:44 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      In 2018, I wrote an article about this poem for the online magazine “Gratefulness: A Network for Grateful Living.” It was then published in the Daily Good. It was called “Pushing Through: A Poem for Grieving Hearts.” (https://www.dailygood.org/story/2029/pushing-through-a-poem-for-grieving-hearts-elaine-mansfield/)
      Thanks for bringing it to these comments in a timely way, Deborah. It’s been hidden in my “archives” all along.

      1. February 14, 2024 at 12:24 pm

        Deborah Gregory


        Aww, you’re most welcome, Elaine! Thank you so much for including this link. The image of you and Vic ‘leaning into love’ with your arms wrapped around this blessed tree elder has written itself upon my heart. Re Rilke’s amazing poem, how reassuring it must’ve all those years ago to know that another person had lived through such deep grief and survived. Love and light, Deborah.

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