In the heat of the summer, I think of how honeybees sit on the front stoop of their hive in an effort to keep cool. The gathered bees fan their wings drawing air into the hive. On hot days it is easy to imagine just why this is needed.

For the first time since 2005, I am not keeping bees. My last beekeeping day was in July 2012. On that day a sting led to an anaphylactic reaction… making it no longer safe for me to go into the hives myself. Basically, this news meant it was time to send the bees packing. After all, at the peak of the summer season a hive can have upwards of 70,000 honeybees in residence. And, I had two hives in my backyard—even I understood the math behind the risk of future stings.

In early March, my sister and her husband came and moved the hives to their farm. And I began to face another ripple of loss.

In the beginning

Mom and I started beekeeping together. When we began, we didn’t imagine that it would be our last project together. Or that she would be gone before our first honey harvest. But, that’s how it turned out. Our first beekeeping summer would be her last summer season. At the end of that summer she was diagnosed with stage IV cancer.

I think of all the ways we relished learning this new skill. We attended the Indiana Beekeeping School. Put together our first hives and painted them white. We picked up our “nuc”—a queen and about 10,000 bees in frames already started for the spring. And, donning gear the next morning, we faced our own fears and put the new bees into the hive. It took all of two minutes.

Beekeeping goodbye

Giving up beekeeping was practical. It was necessary for my own safety. It was the right thing to do. And, it was a loss. Even things that are the right thing to do can hold a sense of grief.

For all these years since my mom died, I’ve felt connected to her through beekeeping. Every time I looked into the hive, smelled the scent of honey mixed with the smoke I used to send the bees deeper in and out of my way, I could imagine Mom right there with me.

Mom and I only kept bees for one season. What turned out to be the last summer of her life. I became a beekeeper by keeping them for five more summers. I realized last night that my sense of inertia this summer is in part about not keeping bees. I’ve been mourning the loss of the bees and all that I appreciated about this hobby. Yes, there was the connection to Mom – and there was the value I hold for our planet too. Bees are important pollinators in our world – and have been threatened by pesticides and colony collapse. I loved the feeling of being involved in something bigger than myself, in contributing even in the smallest way to our planet’s sustainability.

Loss of part of your identity…

What I’ve discovered is that sadness is felt no matter the size of the loss. It can be as small giving up my bees or as large as the death of someone I’ve loved. Whatever the size and proportion of the loss, a shift in my understanding of myself comes with it. Every loss contains the question – who am I now? Who am I now that I am no longer a daughter? Who am I now that I no longer keep bees? Who am I as I grow and change further from the self I was when my parents were living?

Slowly I remember that losses large and small are opportunities.

They offer a chance to recognize feelings of sorrow, reflect on what’s most important and to cultivate cherished memories. And, when I’m ready, they become the place where new growth begins.