Jill Bolte Taylor and her mother, GG

Jill Bolte Taylor and her mother, G.G. Photo by Kip May

In 1996, at the age of 37, Jill Bolte Taylor, a Harvard-trained neuroscientist, experienced a massive stroke. She documented her eight-year recovery in My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey, a New York Times best-seller that has been published in more than 30 languages. It was a long road back, and through it all she had the love and incredible support of her mother, G.G. —the editor


I was working on a limestone sculpture titled Role Reversal back in June when my beloved mother, Gladys “G.G.” Taylor, was given her terminal diagnosis. Of course, this shifting dynamic in caregiving occurs for many mother-daughter relationships, but because G.G. helped raise me twice, once as a child and again as a stroke survivor at the age of 37, it was especially poignant.

I wanted to co-create, with G.G. and our entire community of friends and family, a passage that would honor her life in a revolutionary way. Together we embarked on a journey that would mark the end of a life well-lived, with a death of dignity, joy, love, celebration, and true honor.

First, we decided to fill our home with joy and love, rather than sadness and fear. It was our priority to honor all of our feelings, open our hearts, expand our consciousness, accentuate the good in the world, create community, demonstrate the coexistence of joy and grief — thereby bringing death out of the shadows and into the light.

Second, we invited friends and family, through social media, to send cards of kindness and encouragement — with a focus on celebration and gratitude rather than sadness or loss. Hundreds of cards poured in, cheering G.G. on in her grand finale.

Third, we shared our journey by posting photos and stories of both our highs and lows on Facebook. We were helped deeply by our loving community.

Finally, as her health waned, we invited 35 loved ones into our home for an unforgettable night of decorating G.G.’s special Box of Love — the container she would be cremated in. G.G., dressed in bright colors and wearing leis around her neck, presided over the party like royalty. Although most of us will never hear the memories and appreciations spoken at our memorial service, we all took turns sitting at G.G.’s side, showering her with heartfelt recognition, and in return received her amazing “mama love.”

Loved ones gathered with G.G. to celebrate her life and decorate her Box of Love, in which she would be cremated. Photo by Merridee LaMantia

Loved ones gathered with G.G. to celebrate her life and decorate her Box of Love, in which she would be cremated. Photo by Merridee LaMantia

At the end of the evening, G.G. beamed with pride, gratitude, and delight as she danced around her Box of Love to Benny Goodman playing “Stomping at the Savoy.” It had been her go-to song throughout her life whenever she needed her spirits lifted. Watching G.G. dance around the box with people who loved her was one of the most touching and meaningful moments in our lives, and for many it was both life and death changing.

G.G. led a fabulous life and lived her dream of being a mathematics professor at Indiana State University. Her final wish was that we celebrate her life by dancing to “Stomping at the Savoy” upon pressing the button at the crematorium. Not only did approximately 40 locals stomp onsite, but thanks to social media, our friends all around the world — in places as diverse as New Zealand, Antarctica, Paris, Turkey, and Costa Rica — synchronized their clocks to ours, and danced their happy dance for one minute as we enthusiastically ignited her from one form into another. It was a worldwide salute to a beautiful woman’s life.

There is a universal human longing to be deeply seen for all we are, and a life well-lived is worthy of true celebration. Grief is a beautiful part of our being, and when our grief is balanced with our joy, true celebration and transformation can happen.

(Our heartfelt gratitude to Hospice.)