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On a Healing Journey in Sedona, Motherhood Lost and Found

Mii Amo

It happened the day before I left for my trip. And, quite predictably, because I was rushing.

I had a mere 24 hours to decorate the whole house for Christmas, prep meals for two picky toddlers, answer dozens of belated work emails (not to mention the packing). All so that I could soak in the upcoming four days with my sister, unencumbered by the responsibilities of motherhood and the deadlines of freelance travel writing.

As I watched the glass pieces scatter across the living room floor, the tears came hard and fast. I sank to my knees, cradling the jagged shards in my palms, willing them back together as I sobbed uncontrollably. It felt as if the pieces inside me—the one’s I’d spent years gluing back together—had shattered anew.

The desert-hued lobby lounge area at the recently renovated destination spa Mii Amo

Mii Amo, Sedona

The desert-hued lobby lounge area at the recently renovated destination spa Mii Amo
Ken Hayden, Courtesy of Mii Amo

The decorative Steuben bowl had belonged to my mother, Sheila. For decades, her family had collected tabletop accents and animal figurines from the historic, NY-based glass manufacturer Corning, gifting them to one another on special occasions. I inherited a small collection upon my mother’s passing, which occurred, tragically, a week after she dropped me off for my freshman year of college. Her car accident—and subsequent death from the injuries she sustained—still feel like a terrible nightmare some 15 years later.

By the time I began gingerly stacking the broken pieces into a box, my tears had subsided, replaced by the all-too-familiar emptiness of grief. The feelings I had neatly compartmentalized as a means of coping with her death lay bare before me: expectation (that I would have my mom to lean on during college, and even more so now, as a mother myself); guilt (over my impatience in our harried final goodbye, reiterated by my careless mishandling of an item she cherished); despair (from the hollow uncertainty of whether I would ever fully heal from a loss so great).

On the plane to Sedona the next morning, I couldn’t help but feel like my mom had willed this trip into existence. I had heard amazing things about Mii Amo, the Relais & Châteaux destination spa tucked into the towering red rocks of Boynton Canyon. Their wellness “Journeys” (which range from three to 10 nights and include all meals and beverages, fitness and wellbeing classes, plus a generous daily spa credit) have a reputation for helping those at difficult crossroads—death, divorce, health diagnoses. I had booked a three-night Journey with my older sister, Michelle, who was similarly struggling with the demands of motherhood and career, plus the imminent loss of a dear friend’s mother (which naturally resurfaced her own grief over Sheila). It was the first time that we were able to travel alone since having kids. An opportunity to navigate our pain, together as sisters, just as we’d done after the accident.

Great hiking, including the Kachina Woman trail, is easily accessible from the hotel.
Great hiking, including the Kachina Woman trail, is easily accessible from the hotel.
Mii Amo
Mii Amo's architecture blends into Sedona's iconic red rock landscape and near-constant blue skies.
Mii Amo's architecture blends into Sedona's iconic red rock landscape and near-constant blue skies.
Douglas Friedman/Mii Amo

As our chauffeured car pulled up into the long drive, rust-hued adobe-style buildings appeared amid Ponderosa pines. The team greeted us with warm hugs and handmade Juniper-bead necklaces, which, in Native American tradition, are said to ward off negative energy and usher in good fortune. I clung fiercely to the coarse wooden beads on the walk to the reception area. But as my gaze reflexively rose to the grandiose plateaus that surrounded us, anxious anticipation dissolved into nurturing calm. It was as if the canyon itself were wrapping us in protective embrace. I loosened my grip.

Shortly after settling into our ground-floor suite, a whitewashed oasis of tranquility complete with a gas fireplace, soaking tub, and private terrace, Michelle and I parted ways for the inaugural treatment in our respective Journeys. Determined to lean into Mii Amo’s spiritual offerings (despite type-A skepticism), I met my practitioner, Adrian, for a 60-minute reiki session. We spent the first few minutes chatting in the soothing treatment room. I shared my intentions for the trip—healing from the loss of my mother, reconnecting with my sister, finding greater balance as a working mom. As Adrian moved his hands over my limbs to channel energy, blockages and tension were exposed. Fighting back tears, I revealed what weighed on my heart: overwhelming guilt in leaving my children for a work trip; selfishness for transferring their care to my busy husband; doubt over how I could even be a successful mother while I still yearned so deeply for my own.

“The question I’m hearing is,” Adrian responded, “Am I enough?” I nodded in agreement. “The fact that you’re here, doing the work and taking the time to recenter, proves that you are,” he said. “Try telling yourself, in your mind’s eye, I am enough.

As I closed my eyes, I sensed only hollowness in my core. I feel like a farce, I admitted.

Mii Amo's smallest repeat guest inspired the name of its restaurant, Hummingbird.
Mii Amo's smallest repeat guest inspired the name of its restaurant, Hummingbird.
Mark Olsen/Unsplash
The property is tucked into Boynton Canyon, one of Sedona's vortex sites.
The property is tucked into Boynton Canyon, one of Sedona's vortex sites.
Mii Amo

Adrian encouraged again, “How about: In this moment, I am enough.” And so I leaned into the discomfort, permitting myself the space for self-exploration and healing. With my head weightlessly cradled in his palms, Adrian guided me through a series of meditations. Internally repeating my mantra, I felt an occult lifting sensation in my chest, a manifested release of the guilt and the self-doubt. When the treatment concluded, I reunited with Michelle in the floor-to-ceiling-glass Relaxation Lounge. As we settled into the soft upholstered loungers and stared out at the towering red rock formations, perfectly placed succulents, and standalone bird feeder, visited briefly by a hummingbird, I felt a deep sense of relaxation.

Adrian had given me back the first piece of myself.

Over the next two days, Michelle and I engaged in an array of individual treatments and group sessions: tension-relieving neuromuscular massages, invigorating sunrise yoga, mind-bending tarot card and palm reading. Downtime was at once leisurely (soaks in the outdoor hot tub), informative (a chef’s garden tour), and adventurous (trail hikes to scenic lookouts). Catching up on kids and work over lattes and lemon-ricotta pancakes gave way to reminiscing about our mom over prickly pear margaritas at the onsite Hummingbird restaurant. For me, physical healing and spiritual growth compounded with every treatment. More pieces, recovered.

On the final afternoon, Michelle and I ended the trip with a Connection Ceremony, which the spa described as a chance to “meet times of transition by letting go, saying goodbye, or welcoming in.” Our practitioner, Kimbeth, led us to the Crystal Grotto, a sacred space at the epicenter of Mii Amo. The circular room—with its earthen floor, domed ceiling, petrified-wood water feature, and illuminated quartz crystal—felt womb-like. Seated together, Michelle and I tearfully recounted the traumatic events of our mother’s passing. The difficulties our family has faced in her absence. The pain we feel in raising our own children without her support and guidance. Kimbeth listened patiently, pausing to ask thoughtful questions and highlight potential meanings. She then instructed us to each choose a tarot card that might guide our transition through grief. Mine, the Giraffe Spirit, was a sign to “observe from a higher view, so as not to overlook details and connections that will help you better understand your circumstances.” Michelle’s, the Porcupine Spirit, instructed to let go of “the old, confining stories that no longer have a hold on you and approach situations with childlike curiosity.”

Golden hour in Sedona
Golden hour in Sedona
Joshua Wordel/Unsplash
The writer in one of the spa's relaxation spaces
The writer in one of the spa's relaxation spaces
Katie James Watkinson

It was time, Kimbeth explained, to release ourselves from that which didn’t serve us—the expectation, the guilt, the despair—and to appreciate the bigger picture. That our mother’s death continues to deepen our bond as sisters and teaches us to cherish the gift of motherhood. Kimbeth then led us on a guided meditation. A field of wildflowers. A wide oak tree. A white light floating toward you. As we departed the Crystal Grotto, Kimbeth urged us not to think of our mother as departed and to communicate with her more. Maybe even ask her to reveal herself during our final hours in this mystical vortex; to offer us “not just a sign, but a billboard.”

Later that evening, as we sat beside the roaring fireplace of the lobby lounge, nursing glasses of Sancerre, I lamented to Michelle, “I wish we had one more day. There’s not enough time for us to see a sign.” With the knowing laugh of an older sibling, she responded, “Katie, we already got our billboard.” What? When? “It was the hummingbird.” I had all but forgotten the fleeting encounter with our mom’s favorite bird. The one Michelle pointed out as we sat quietly in the Relaxation Lounge on the first afternoon. The one I had struggled to spy until it appeared, right before us, at the bird feeder. As if to say, “Hi girls, I’m here. And I’m so glad that you’re together.”

When I arrived home the following evening, I dropped my luggage and wrapped both kids in a giant embrace. Looking over my shoulder, my son spied a small white box in my carry-on. “Go ahead, open it,” I told him. Gingerly unfolding tissue paper, he pulled out a glass hummingbird figurine, a parting token from the resort. Unwitting of its personal significance, Mii Amo had given me back the final piece. I strung a ribbon through a small hole on the hummingbird’s back. With my son in one arm, my daughter in the other, we hung it together on the Christmas tree. And I told them, no matter what happens, that I’d be with them always—just as my mom was with me.

Originally Appeared on Condé Nast Traveler