All You Need Is Love

For many years, I put great store in my ability to “get things done.” I had to. I was a single mother (even when I was married) of four children, with a job. And, as the jobs got better and better and more and more demanding, I prided myself on keeping up. I set impossible goals for myself. I demanded that I become a better employee, housekeeper, cook, nutritionist, pianist – better and better at whatever was put on my plate. My value system was based on achievement. I was self-reliant, I was delivering, and my self-worth depended on it.

It didn’t help that I worked in Washington, D.C., that famous breeding ground of over-achievement and brilliant performance. I was in a place where I could  watch others doing it up close, and when I could, I emulated it. No, that’s not quite accurate. I admired it. Sort of. But climbing that particular ladder required a healthy appetite for competition and the ability to thrive on conflict. I wasn’t wired for it. I was lucky in that, except for a few years in the competition pit, I worked for people who believed in consensus building. That I loved. That I believed in. Still, in the areas where I pitted myself against myself, I was relentless and driven. The more I could get done, the better I felt about myself. As a woman in a man’s field, I prided myself on outworking the boys, and I got a lot done. But no matter how much I got done, it was never enough. Nothing in Washington stands still. And at home, the clean house got dirty again, the full refrigerator was emptied routinely, the beds were unmade every night, and the kids got hungry three times a day. I had no help, and there was no conquering the unending work. Eventually, it became depressing and exhausting. Not because I couldn’t accept the impermanence of everything, but because I thought I was what I did.

It took a traumatic event to change my mind – the death of my child. Everything I thought was important faded into the mist in the face of this shattering experience. Winning, conquering, being right, being better, doing better, doing more, seemed trivial and insanely secular. Death will realign your perspective. The death of a child will reconfigure it altogether.

I write about this not because I can’t forget it – and I can’t of course – but because of the profound change it brought about in my understanding of life. It’s a long story, and it’s in my book, but the bottom line was – I had to learn something entirely new or die from grief.

I learned that I am not what I do. I am not the body that works itself into exhaustion and ages and dies anyway. There is more to me than that. I am life itself – never ending. I am a Spirit in a body, ageless and perfect. Nothing I do causes that or changes that. Everything else is ornamental. Window dressing. Costumes and makeup. A play. And all the world’s a stage. When I can remember that, “doing things” is much more fun, because the “things” are put into perspective. I was reminded of that this afternoon when I went shopping at Target. For my international readers, Target is a massive general store with supposed competitive prices. I was seriously intent on getting what I needed and getting back on the road (It’s an hour’s drive from where I live but why I was in a hurry I don’t know) when I passed the electronics department. There, high on the wall, on a gigantic screen, were little cartoon characters singing the Beatles’ song, All You Need Is Love. I just had to stop and laugh. Then I drove home slowly through Oak Creek Canyon, one of the most spectacular places on this earth, and let my Spirit take the lead.


Read The Messenger: The Improbable Story of a Grieving Mother and a Spirit Guide by Helen Delaney. Find it at For a signed copy, go to


My Friend Will

I’ve known a few artists in my time, among them my son, my daughter, and my brother. But one particular artist entered my mind as I sat to write this. He was a friend of years ago, a professor of art and a prominent artist in my native city of Philadelphia. He would have a show once a year and sell it out on opening day. Every year. Some of his paintings are part of the permanent collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. His work appears in other museums around the country too. On a fellowship once, he met Salvadore Dali! He taught my daughter and my brother in college and, lucky us, he became a friend of the family. His name was Will Barnett.

In the summers of that time long ago, Will would share his New Jersey beach house with us – me, my husband, and my four small children. This was an unbelievable treat, since we lived packed into a small, un-airconditioned city apartment while my husband was going to law school. Will, a bachelor, opened his house and stepped aside, allowing us to make it our own. He took us out of a hot, crowded apartment and we gave him a family. Sometimes our friends came, and their children, and the house was a noisy, joyous place. Will, bless him, seemed to revel in it all.   He would get up early, while it was cool, and paint on a giant easel in his sun-drenched living room. He let me sit and watch him while the kids and my husband slept. I asked him if I could because I wanted to see how those hands and brushes and palette worked together to create the other-worldly things he put on canvas. I sat still and silent, trying to be invisible and unobtrusive, but it didn’t matter to Will. When he painted, he was somewhere else, mindless of everything but what was before him.

One day on the beach, I asked him if there were times when he felt as if he were not in control of the painting, if it felt like something other than himself would take over, mix the colors, make those strokes, and create. He looked at me and said something like, “Oh, sure.” His answer was so matter of fact. And then he looked at me as if to say, “Doesn’t that happen to everyone?”  I suspected that happened with artists and musicians, but I didn’t expect his answer to be so ready, so…matter of fact. I had never discussed spiritual matters with Will. I never thought of spiritual matters in those days. I was busy, overwhelmed with raising a family, working at a job, and trying to make a go of a failing marriage. I lived in survival mode. Only later would life make room in my life for spiritual thought.

Will had no religious affiliations as far as I knew. His father was a Russian Jew who had come to this country and changed his name from Baronet to Barnett. Will was just a good, kind man with amazing gifts. Besides being a visual artist, he was also an accomplished pianist and violinist, talents he wore like a loose garment. He did not take them, or himself, seriously.

Those days at the beach were years before my son Eddie died, and my own life became a nightmare and then a long spiritual search for meaning. Now, I think Will’s secret was that he knew how to get out of his own way and let the painting and music flow through him. I don’t know if he believed in God or not, but he sensed a Force that painted and played through him, and he let it. He let it. It has taken me years to learn that this is the sign of a true spiritual master.

It has taken me most of my life to understand that God is content, not form. It can come through us, whether we are religious, spiritual, enlightened, unenlightened, atheistic or agnostic. The Force is something we sense, something we feel, not something  intellectually captured. It cannot be forced or controlled. It is something we surrender to. It doesn’t matter if we name it or not. It has been given to us. It is ours. We only have to let it work through our minds, our hands, our deeds.

I saw this Force again in Will when, years later, he was dying of leukemia. He and his wife (he had found love later in life) were living on top of a mountain in California. He was near death when I got a beautiful letter from him. It was all about the joys of living on a mountain. Leukemia was an afterthought. When he passed, I got a letter from his wife, who had also become my friend. Will died peacefully and gently, she said. I was not surprised. Like the spiritual master he was, he got out of the way one more beautiful time and let the Force flow through him.


Read The Messenger: The Improbable Story of a Grieving Mother and a Spirit Guide by Helen Delaney.  Find it at For a signed copy, go to

Joy, Not Grief

I talked to a friend a few days ago, and she told me that in the last few months, she has lost several friends. Two she cared for in their last days.  And yet, this woman is one of the happiest people I know. It bummed her out for a time, but she didn’t stay there. I have another friend in Belgium who volunteers at a hospice. She, like me, has lost a child. Her only child. And yet, she is the epitome of cheer to souls who are ready to depart this world.  She had her dark time, too, believe me. But both of these friends can cheer the dying and come away with their own joy in life intact.

It took me many years to find joy after my child died, and I am still not known for my cheer. But joy? That I have. Could joy be the companion of grief?  One state of being that somehow, however inconguently, is joined to the other? If so, then that must be the definition of hope.

Some of us don’t want to let go of grief. It binds them to the one who is gone. For a long time, I felt that if I lost my grief, I would lose Eddie. Again. Eventually, though, visions of Eddie started to come to me that let me remember him in another way. I started to remember how funny he was. Sometimes, when I was seriously deep into practicing a Bach Invention, Eddie would slide into the room and dance to the music, pirouetting around the piano like a disjointed ballet dancer, abolishing my seriousness, doubling me over with laughter. I remembered more about the cool things he did – his painting and his martial art. I remembered all the friends who adored him, how they cheered when he crossed the stage to receive his high school diploma. Those are the things that live with me now. The precious, joyous things. Now, after all these years, I know that that is what stays. Not the grief. Not even when you want it to.

It is almost eight years since my husband Bill died, and I am beginning to think of him the same way. Bill, like Eddie, was a funny guy. He was loving, and kind, and irreverent.  He was also cool. New York cool. Although he never quit his daytime job, he was an actor. Many is the time I sat in the dark, watching him onstage, or cheered when he appeared in a snippet in a movie. I was a fan.

I remember one day in particular.  Bill had gotten a job as an extra in the movie, “Minority Report” with Tom Cruise. One evening during the filming, he burst through the door exclaiming – “Guess what? Today I was directed by Steven Spielberg!” That stopped me. And then he said, “You know what he said to me?” “No,” I said excitedly. “He said, ‘Could you please move over there, out of the way, sir?'” Those are the kinds of things I remember about Bill. Somehow his joy in life and Eddie’s joy in life have found their way into my spirit. They have infused me with it. Their joy has traveled from their spirits into mine.

I don’t try to understand how the Universe works. I don’t question the imponderable – things like the connection between loss and life, grief and joy. I just accept them. And I am grateful for the joy those beautiful spirits brought into my life. That is what they left me. That is what lasts. Not grief.


Read The Messenger: The Improbable Story of a Grieving Mother and a Spirit Guide by Helen Delaney. Find it at For a signed copy, go to

Not Yet

I have an aunt who is ninety-six years old. She lives in Maryland, where I used to live. I wanted her to come out to Arizona with me, but she refused.

Every few days, she drives to Walmart to do her grocery shopping. I wish she wouldn’t. A friend of mine, who works at Walmart, texted me a few days ago. He said he saw her and she was “struggling.” I know it’s true.  She’s generally in good health, but she has a bad knee and walking is difficult. She is ninety-six, after all. She gets around Walmart leaning on the pushcart. My friend helped her get the groceries into her cart, stood with her in the checkout line, and loaded her car. He offered to help her again, and gave her his phone number. I’m lucky and she’s lucky that a kind soul was, and is, so near. Thank you, dear Rick.

I wish she lived in a place with other people (she lives alone ) where her meals could be prepared for her. My brother and I talked yesterday (he lives in New York), and we’re going to try – again – to get her to consider another living arrangement and to give up her car. But it’s hard, because she’s smart, opinionated, and up to date on everything from politics to well…politics. That’s her favorite, because its something she can rant and rave about and come away from it energized. The thing is, she’s mentally sharp, and she’s not sick. But her reflexes are ninety-six years old. She’s an accident waiting to happen, not only to herself, but maybe to somebody else, too.  But this isn’t about being reasonable. She’s afraid. She has said that she knows that some day, she’s going to have to give up the car, but not yet.  She believes she’ll die when she gives up the keys and life on her own terms. She’s probably right. And she’s not ready. Not yet. Maybe she’s not ready because it’s not her time. But when it is her time, I hope that she will be able to hear the Voice that says, “I love you. Come home. ” And no longer be afraid. I hope that for myself, too.

Some years ago, I had a near-death experience. I was on an operating table. The lights of the operating theater were in my eyes, and the last thing I saw was the silhouette of the doctor standing over me. I told him I was ready. He said, “Well, we’re ready for you.” But that wasn’t what I meant. I meant I was ready. I had a ruptured fallopian tube, I was bleeding out, and gently sinking into another place. It was the loveliest feeling I’ve ever had in this lifetime. I wish I had a better word to describe it. I couldn’t tell him what I meant, because then everything  went dark. When I woke up, all I wanted to do was to go back. I never thought of saying, not yet. I still don’t. But then, I’m not ninety-six. Not yet.


Read The Messenger: The Improbable Story of a Grieving Mother and a Spirit Guide by Helen Delaney. Find it at For a signed copy, go to