The Queen of My Self

By Mama Donna Henes 

The Queen Heals Her Wounds and Draws Strength From Her Scars

I loved the mothering years of my thirties. I did not bear children, but we don’t need to have given birth to be a mother. The archetypal Mother is not only a biological parent, She is a Mother of Invention, as well. She produces and reproduces — be it children, enterprises, careers or political causes. She then labors endlessly to nourish and sustain the fruits of Her passion: Her family, Her business, Her home, Her job, Her projects, Her clients, Her students, Her community.

That was me. After my Maiden years of youthful exploration and adventure — both geographical and psychological — I felt pulled by the Mother’s instinctual need to nest, and settled into a more sedentary, domestic life. Daughter of Mother Earth Herself, I created a ceremonial center from which I lavished love and nurturing spiritual support on everyone around me.

I extended my affection and protection to a number of young people whose presence enlivened my heart and home. My dear foster son moved in with me when he was ten, and I mentored student interns and assistants at what I came to call the Mama Donna Auntie Mame School of Life. Through these nourishing connections, I claimed my Mother power.

But by the time I was forty, my golden days of Motherhood had turned tragic. Death invaded my life, and family members, friends, students and pets all fell ill around me. Mama Donna to my extended clan, I held the hands and rubbed the feet of the sick and the scared. I read, talked and chanted to the dying and sat with them in long silence. I laid out the bodies of the dead and counseled the grief stricken. I wrote obituaries and officiated at funerals. Hard circumstances forced me to become Mother Courage.

I spent a fifteen-year eternity in the hospice zone, losing nearly everyone and everything that I had loved —family, friends, animals, home, community, income, monthly blood, hormones, equilibrium, confidence, and what ever control I thought I had over my life.

My own needs relinquished, all of my energy was lavished on others. Sometime during that interminable period, somewhere between making Jell-O, changing invalid diapers and scattering ashes, I lost my center. I was off kilter and shaky, preoccupied with the process of disease, decline, death and decay. Menopause with its interminable insomnia, mood swings and hormonal surprise attacks definitely did not help. I was a walking wreck.

To top it off, I was all but celibate for long patches of time, totally disinclined to engage sexually. Surely sex could have been a salve in such hard times, but I refused the comforts that were offered and retreated like a turtle into the shell of my sad self. And the people in my most intimate life, friends and lover alike — those who were still standing — fled from me, frightened by my hands-on association with so much pain and suffering as if death were a contagious disease. All I managed to attract was trouble.

Caught in the quicksand of despair, I gradually became completely paralyzed, unable to help myself, too heartbroken even to lick my own wounds. Resentment and bitterness began to singe the edges of my anguish. In the end, I was no Mother Teresa. And it was not pretty. I made myself sick in every sense of the word.

Then, one day, I’d had enough. “Get a grip.” I scolded myself. “Enough is enough, already.” I was finally and completely disgusted with my sorry ass martyr self. “Yes, some terrible things have happened. OK, lots of terrible things happened. Life happened. Why should I be exempt? Get over it and move on already.”

Resolute, I began my struggle to repossess all of the body-mind-heart-spirit support skills that I had so recklessly tossed aside during my tortured deathwatch. I craved quiet time and serious sustenance to help me process all that I had seen, done and felt. I call this discipline Sitting in the Shadows.

Grieving is an active practice, a conscious engagement that comes from a place of tenderness, compassion and love, and not the same thing as wallowing in formless self-pity, bitterness and anger. As I mourned, I began to open to my pain and started to understand that to acknowledge grief and suffering, fears and foibles, vulnerability and weakness, is ultimately the best hope for maturation, expansion and wisdom.

Determined to process my experiences and emotions, I drew in on myself. Out came my neglected journal, which I embraced as a long-lost friend. I sought council between its covers and lost myself in its pages, seeking to find the way back to my misaligned center, my sanity and my true Self.

Yes, it is true, I realized, I had been called to an appalling task. Yes, I did rise to meet it. Yes, I had succeeded in being of some considerable help. I also acknowledged my feelings of helplessness. I had been to hell and back — alone with no one to support me, which, in retrospect, was precisely the lesson that I had been meant to learn: to be able to rely on myself alone.

In looking back with honesty, I realized that this excruciating transition was a proficiency test in the academy of life. Unless we are challenged, how could we ever expand our capabilities beyond our assumed capacities? Gradually over time, I grew to embrace the difficult circumstances that had been forced upon me, as well as the hard changes wrought from within, for the invaluable opportunities for growth and spiritual development that they offered.

By day I continued to do what I must, and at night I tried to write. Like Penelope, I spent my evenings alone in the dark, spinning yarns, weaving a comforting sense of order, pattern, and systematic interconnectivity around myself like a shawl, a silk cocoon. I sat in its embrace quietly quilting my own experience into the intricate complexity, the enduring continuity of That Which Is, looking for meaning, direction, and perception.

Like Madame Lafarge, I was knitting a running commentary on my duel with death, as a way to interpret the rules of engagement and the lessons of the fray. By handling the threads and passing the shuttle, I was attempting to re-weave what had been broken, and to repair the damage that I had both endured and inflicted as a result of my pain.

My era of selfless mothering of others was coming to an end and I began to direct my ministering attentions toward my own bruised and battered Self. Now that I was motherless, it was time to claim the responsibility for my own care and feeding, my own growth and comfort, my own self-healing. To be my own caring best friend, sister, daughter, mother and devoted advocate.

Slowly I learned — and am still learning — how to mother myself, to lavish upon myself that same unconditional loving kindness, encouragement, support and solace that I have always given so freely to others. To nurture my own well being. To hold my deepest needs in tender trust. To care for my personal concerns and inspire and encourage the development of my best potential. To honor my purpose. To celebrate my passion. And to embrace my power.

Eventually I realized that though not unscathed, I had endured the onslaught of trials by fire and survived my middle passage of the soul, and I began to feel good about what I had achieved. I felt that I could do anything, because, in fact, I already had.

Finally my circumstances were calming down and my prospects were, for the first time in a very long time, looking up. Through my own intentions and concerted efforts, by constantly questioning and reconfiguring, by struggling to mourn and then release what was irrevocably lost, I was recovering my own misplaced vitality, interest and energy — and then some.

I was beginning to feel the tiniest inkling of the exhilarating force that I had been reading about, PMZ or Post Menopausal Zest (a cheery phrase coined by the anthropologist Margaret Mead) and to believe the promise of renewed vim and vigor displayed by my women friends who are in their sixth, seventh, eighth, and even ninth decades. And suddenly, miraculously, after all that anguish, I began to find my easy stride again and was soon trotting along with new authority, enjoyment and aplomb.

By the time I reached my mid-fifties, I was finally ready and able, and for the first time in my life, actually, consciously, conscientiously willing to accept the responsibility for my own life and living and the truth and complete consequences of my own dreams, decisions and actions.

I was a maturing monarch prepared to regulate all of the inner and outer realms of my own domain. At long last, I knew myself to be the uncontested mistress of my own fate. I had succeeded against all odds in turning my midlife crisis into my crowning achievement. And now here I am, standing in my full sovereignty, Queen Mama Donna, Queen of My Self.


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Donna Henes is the author of The Queen of My Self: Stepping into Sovereignty in Midlife. She offers counseling and upbeat, practical and ceremonial guidance for individual women and groups who want to enjoy the fruits of an enriching, influential, purposeful, passionate, and powerful maturity. Consult the MIDLIFE MIDWIFE™

The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to

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