I blamed myself for my mother’s death. Doing her astrology chart helps me cope

A quick scan of my mother’s astrology chart tells me that today is going to be a great day for her. If she were here doing a reading with me, I would say: “Pursue something today that is deeply important to you.”

Some people go to the cemetery when they miss their parents. As an astrologer, I look at my mother’s birth chart, even though she died 23 years ago.

Normally, I do charts for people who are still alive. Friends often text me when they want to know why they’re having a bad day and need a planet to blame. Saturn? Mercury in retrograde again? I also provide astrological advice to strangers, usually the person on the barstool next to me if I’ve been drinking vodka martinis.

Astrology sometimes gets a bad rap for being generic. How can three sentences in a women’s magazine describe someone? That’s because most people don’t know more than their sun sign. Using a birth chart provides a more complete picture. It shows what position all the planets were in when you were born. I look at my chart every day. I feel off when I don’t, as if I’ve left the house without wearing underwear.

My astrology chart is a road map for my life. It helps me determine what I’m good at and where I fall short so that I can work on it. It gets me to take action in my life when I’m scared to take a leap. Astrology cannot predict the future with exactitude every time — the story that you think is going to happen rarely does — but it never fails to give me the lesson I need the most.

When I was in my 30s and learning how to read a chart, I found it helpful to study the astrological charts of celebrities, both dead and alive, whose birth information is usually public. Because their lives play out on a public stage, you can relate major events in their lives to what’s happening astrologically. It made me wonder — could I do that with my mother’s chart? All I knew about her was that she was a Pisces. Perhaps there was some secret wisdom there for me. I barely knew her as an adult. She died when she was 56; I was 20.

I remember her reading the newspaper cover to cover most days, horoscope included. “It’s a good one today!” she’d say, handing me the paper.

When I left home for college, she cut my horoscope out of the newspaper, taped it to a card and mailed it to me. There was no better feeling than seeing one of her letters in my mailbox, the envelope plastered with stickers. The horoscope itself wasn’t great for predicting the future. By the time I’d get her letter, the future had become the past, but that didn’t really matter. I just loved knowing she was out there thinking about me.

She died my junior year of college. She went into the hospital for a routine medical operation and was given a blood thinner that she ended up being allergic to, but nobody realized it. It complicated her healing process, and she died within the span of several months.

I blamed God. I couldn’t return to the Catholic church where I was baptized, where we had her funeral. I took photos out of the scrapbooks she made for me and reprinted them into larger sizes to display around the house, but there weren’t many to choose from. She was always the one behind the camera.

The arrival of a letter from the Pennsylvania Department of Health two decades later changed everything. I had requested a copy of my mother’s birth certificate to get her birth time so that I could do her chart with more accuracy. The day the envelope arrived in my mailbox, it felt like she had sent me a letter from the other side.

I entered her birth information into my online birth chart calculator. In seconds, it spun out her results.

An astrology chart is shaped like a wheel. All 12 astrological signs (Gemini, Cancer, Virgo…) correspond to a dozen slices of the wheel, like a pie. Planets (the sun, Mercury, Venus…) can fall anywhere on the chart, depending on the time you were born. There are many layers to a chart and just as many interpretations. I have been doing charts for years, and there are still parts of my chart I continue to explore and find new meaning in.

The first thing I noticed in my mother’s chart was her 12th house moon. In astrology, the moon corresponds to our emotions and represents the mother. Her moon was in Sagittarius, also her rising sign. My mother definitely came off like a Sagittarius — funny and passionate and bright — but that 12th house moon told me that there was far more underneath, that she was a spiritual and deeply emotional person at heart.

It reminded me of the first weekend I came home from college. I was in my bedroom getting ready to go out for the night. When I looked up in my mirror, my mother was standing behind me. I hadn’t heard her come up the stairs.

“The house is so empty when you’re not here,” she said, crying.

It’s a memory I think of often. I tried to lighten the mood, to pretend her hurt didn’t exist. I wish now that I had hugged her.

My mother’s sun was in Pisces in the third house, the home of teaching and writing. She taught business and accounting courses to high school teenagers and technical school students and was working toward a graduate degree in special education. Whether my mom was in the classroom or at home, she always had style. She loved thrift store finds and treasures from the TJ Maxx sale rack. I attribute that to Venus, the planet of beauty, in Aquarius — fly your freak flag.

I saw Saturn and Mars hanging out in my mother’s seventh house of partnership and immediately thought of my parents’ marriage. My mother and father were still together at the time of her death, but their marriage was rocky at times. As someone who got divorced, I couldn’t ever understand why they hadn’t parted ways. But Mars (conflict) and Saturn (responsibility) in her seventh house hinted that she was the type of person who didn’t shy away from commitment. Her Saturn was in Gemini, a sign that believes in the power of language. Maybe “Until death do us part” meant something different to her than it did to me.

My mother died in the hospital. By the time I arrived home from college to see her, I was too late. She was unresponsive when I tried to talk to her. I always wondered: Could I have done anything to prevent her death? I was able to enter the date of my mother’s death to see what the planets were doing the day she died. Pluto (deep transformation) was lining up with my mother’s moon in the 12th house of endings. Not everyone who has this once-in-a-lifetime transit dies, of course, but it’s not an easy transit.

I had always blamed myself for my mother’s death. If only I had been living closer to home, maybe I could have helped. If only we had transferred her to a better hospital sooner, maybe she’d still be alive.

Seeing Pluto conjunct her moon in her chart gave me a deeper understanding of the circumstances of her death. It made me think that maybe nothing I could have done would have made a difference. I often think about the impact that her death has had on my life, how it’s made me a more spiritual person. I miss my mother every day and would give anything to have her back, but it’s hard to deny that my life has been shaped as much by her death as her presence.

To this day, I still check in on my mother’s chart, the way I do when my friends ask for a reading. I’m comforted by the sun returning every year to the same spot it was when she was born, the moon waxing and waning through the zodiac, traveling around the wheel through all her different houses. After my mother died, I had always wondered how life would go on, how the planets would continue to spin, but it’s the rhythm of the cosmos that keeps me going now. It’s what makes me feel as if she’s still alive.

When I find myself missing her, I open her astrology chart on my laptop. I click on the drop-down menu and search through my list of names for those three magical letters: Mom.

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