I want to pause my art series in honor of my brother, Richard Rockefeller, MD, who died tragically last Friday, the 13th while flying his plane home after my father’s 99th birthday gathering.

Richard was my next of kin, the fifth of six children, the doctor in the family, and a wonderful brother, husband, son, father, grandfather, and friend. He lived closer to his potential than anyone I know; a passionate and energetic man with a full steam ahead, all-cylinders-cranked approach to life.

Richard was a highly respected family physician in Maine where he lived, former longtime Trustee and Chair of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and valued leader at Rockefeller University, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, Doctors Without Borders, North Country School, Maine Time Dollar, and The Sargasso Sea Alliance. Most recently he advocated for controlled scientific research to test the effectiveness of medically treating PTSD in Veterans by administering MDMA under prescribed conditions.

The photograph below was taken the night he died, from my father’s back porch of our childhood home. As children, we loved watching thunderstorms together. The cloud that careened through that evening matched his energy; I knew it was him. Later, looking at the photograph more closely, I saw his face being led by the faces of both my grandfathers. Richard was very interested in his ancestors and had communicated with them in meditations over the past few years. I believe our grandfathers must have seen he was ready for his next adventure, and they came to escort him into another realm.


I will end with this poem I wrote in his honor:


–for Richard, with love.

Dew on the grass
Moon in the sky
I keep asking
Why, why, why?

People still work
Airplanes still fly
But you are gone
Why, why, why?

Just when it seemed
Things were going so well–
Your family was close
Your heart was wide open
The work you began
Had formed a ground swell—
Yet you left us abruptly,
Who can tell, tell, tell.

Dew on the grass
Moon in the sky
I keep asking
Why, why, why?

Birds are singing
grandbabies cry
But you aren’t here
Why, why, why?

–Eileen Rockefeller
June 17, 2014


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57 Responses to Why?

  1. David Rockefeller, Jr. says:

    very beautiful, Eileen. Thank you so much for sharing these words with us. Much love, Brother David

  2. Barbara Gridley says:

    Dear Eileen: Bill and I could not be more sympathetic for what you and your family are going through dealing with this senseless death of such a rare and remarkable man. Why, why, why is right. We have read the Times every day with yet another extraordinary statement of his value and the love and respect of all who knew him. Does your dear father understand what has happened? Oh, if there was only something we could do to help. Bill joins me in sending you and Paul and love and affection, Barbara and Bill Gridley

  3. Steven Locke says:

    Eileen, I didn’t realize that I loved your brother Richard until he was gone. If absence makes the heart grow fonder, death awakens and refreshes our love, even though it hurts.

  4. Peter Karoff says:

    Oh my Eileen – how very sad. Richard a most wonderful man –

    all the best,

    Peter Karoff

  5. Beryl Hay says:

    Deepest sympathy.

    I am always moved by your words. Thank you for sharing your special gift and meaningful picture during this time of grief and darkness.

    Beryl Hay

  6. joaneee says:


    You are rare, having things stirring deep within you – within your heart – that others, too, may have. But they are unexpressed. But you see: you have been given abilties, talents, that – again – we do not understand and are handed out by will. You have been blessed with a gift that has allowed you to so clearly write in words what most of us have also felt over time when someone far too young has left us.

    Those of us who are not poets truly understand your poetry — for you have spoken for our own sorrows as well. No one I know has ever been able to come up with a satisfactory answer to this: we have someone who has given his life . . but felt he had just begun and only now had knowledge amassed over time that was intended to – perhaps – be the greatest gifts he was to give that would come in the years ahead.

    Eileen, perhaps you answered your own question in the moving photo of that evening with its most unusual cloud. Somewhere he was needed even more, as you said, and he had work to do in a different realm. His caring, his giving, his talents were needed now.

    To me, Eileen, that may have been the most satisfying answer I have ever heard . . . and the most comforting. If we too believe — as I do — that he was needed now . . but he had proven himself on our earth to such a degree — that while we will feel his presence among us here – and always will – the good and greatness he has done will be continued in that other realm that he had been chosen for and needed to move forward to now.

    The representation of that cloud picture truly should be framed, given to his family and kept for yours, so that he will ever be remembered as moving forward toward that realm in a way that can be seen visually. If a picture is worth a thousand words, this photo is one rare and wonderful that tells us what words cannot.

    Another photo — the family photo of you and your brothers and sisters as children — has a portion that for most would not be caught. But there on the right were only two — you and Richard at a young age – connecting as the others did not by holding hands. You two were there for each other in that forever way — and now, in your beautiful words, you again are holding hands as you write and are there for him.

    My heart goes out to you in the deepest of ways,


  7. Dear Eileen:

    So very sorry for your great loss. Please know that my heart is with you, as I am sure so many others are.

    Warmest, Sally

  8. BetsyTaylor says:

    I’m weeping and tingling. This is an incredible post Eileen. Thank you for sharing your beautiful reflections about a wonderful brother and extremely special man. Your poem is lovely and the photograph is stunning. Why? How can we know? I was outside in New York City at about the time his plane took off. The skies were very threatening. I know your grandfathers swept his spirit up and that his courage, love, and countless kindnesses to others live on. I had only met Richard a few times, but I was so incredibly impressed.

    I send my deepest sympathy to you and your family in this time of great loss. Thank you for all that you do and all that you give.

  9. Jean Marchildon says:

    Jerry and I were saddened to hear of Richard’s death. He made so many contributions to so many worthwhile causes from NCS to Doctors Without Borders. He will be deeply missed.
    Our thoughts are with you and your family.

  10. Donna Sullivan says:

    Thank you Eileen for sharing. Proud of you for opening your heart & soul. To speak your love, acknowledgement of him, and your profound grief. All justifiably so. So well said. To Richard!
    HUGS & Prayers for you, every family member, & those blessed to know him. Donna Sullivan

  11. Karen Cockerham says:

    Oh, Eileen…I am so very sorry. My heart is broken for you and your family. We love you.

  12. Hinda Miller says:

    Dear Eileen, our thoughts and hearts are with
    You and Paul, and the kids. Your poem of why
    Begs the question of our fragile existence. Better
    Love all that we can when we can. Xox Hinda and

  13. Diana Lindquist says:

    Dearest Eileen, My heart weeps for you, for your family, for all of us who have been blessed to know Richard – always “Dickie” in my child-mind’s ear – and for the world. He was the rare individual who left all who knew him better for it. He was truly making the world a better place. May you find peace. Much love to you, Eileeny.

  14. Lucy Waletzky says:

    Eileen,This is a very touching and beautiful remembrance of your wonderful,beyond special brother Richard.My prayers are with you and your whole family
    Much love,

  15. Elizabeth Atcheson says:

    oh Eileen I am so, so sorry to hear this. Your poem is wonderful and so is the cloud image of Richard and his two grandfathers. How very sad for you. 🙁 so much love, Elizabeth

  16. Laurie Davies Adams says:

    I am so sorry to hear about your brother’s death, Eileen. You have paid him a wonderful and loving tribute here in your essay, your poem, and the extraordinary photograph of the sky on the night he died. I am sending you sincerest condolences. May his spirit live on in all the creative, loving, and helpful work you do, and may your memories of the life you shared as siblings bring you comfort.

  17. Raymond N. Wareham says:

    Eileen and Paul,

    We are all shocked and deeply saddened by the tragedy of last week. Why, why, why? Taken too early, without warning, and at great loss to mankind – it makes no sense. Your tribute is warm, loving, and suitably inquisitive about things beyond our scope of understanding. Lee and I wish we were there, to give you both a hug, and share in this very, very difficult moment. God Bless – and one day, may we better comprehend just “why, why, why”.

    Lee and Ray Wareham

  18. chuck ross says:

    I am so sorry to learn of your brother’s death. I was touched by your account of his role in the world and family … having lost family lately I extend my sympathies and appreciate your optimism that he has other work to do in other venues….
    The poem was beautiful – as often is the case with poetry, it said so much we so few words…..


  19. Ken & Susie Mandelbaum says:

    We are sending our deepest condolences to you and your family.
    Susie and Kenny

  20. cavy4deb says:

    I feel it too… in my personal life. Thank you for writing and sharing your poem, Eileen.

  21. Donna C says:

    My condolences to you and your entire family…why..why..why…

  22. adminismith says:

    So very sorry to hear about this Eileen. This is a beautiful tribute to him — I especially love the imagery of his grandfathers escorting him to the other side. My thoughts and prayers are with you and the rest of his family.

  23. Pat G says:

    Dearest Eileen,

    Your words moved me to tears. Such a wonderful tribute to your brother.
    Your Why..why..why was answered by the beautiful photo and your interputation.
    Some day we all will understand the Why?

    Much love,

  24. Gabby Tunbridge says:

    Dear Eileen
    What a beautiful tribute to a man that I can see so clearly was changing the world one day at a time. Shockingly sad and tragic. We are all with you and feel so deeply your loss.
    Love and blessings to you and your family dearest Eileen
    Susan & Steve

  25. Susan Rockefeller says:

    Beautiful Eileen and thank you for sharing. A loss and a tragedy for all who knew Richard and what he has given to the world will he remembered by all who knew him and all he touched.

  26. Nancy Corwin says:

    Your poem is beautiful. Yes someday you will know why. We will miss him.
    Ham and Richard are catching up on things. Love to you, from all the Corwins.

  27. Clare Pierson says:

    Dearest Eileen,
    Thank you for sharing with such an open heart. You have voiced what we all feel. Peter and I send our deep love and condolences to you.

  28. Leslie Saul-Gershenz says:

    Dear Eileen,

    We are so sorry to hear of your loss, and the lose of such a wonderful person such as Richard is who was so giving to the world is both a personal loss and a loss to all. Time is always too short for the ones we love.

    Sincere condolences and wishes for health to the family,

    Leslie and Norm

  29. Dear Eileen
    Condolences to you and your family…This is the moment when you realize life is truly a moment and we need to appreciate and live meaningfully as Richard did. (I read about him and I was amazed how did he care about people using his profession

  30. haojile23 says:

    Dear Eileen,
    Our hearts go out to you and the family…And a special hug for your Dad. As if it weren’t enough, the added dimension of losing one of your youngsters is just so very challenging. He is very lucky to have you as a daughter at a time like this.

    You are so brave and a strong leader again, in sharing with grace the great loss and sadness, along with the hope of renewal as a companion in the process of grieving such a highly valued and remarkable person as your brother Richard. You help to inspire us all in honor of your and your brother’s great works.
    With Love and Hugs, Anita and Douglas

  31. Felicity Blundon says:

    Oh, Eileen, I cannot imagine the staggering weight of loss you are forced to bear – the swift and heartbreaking transition from birthday merriment to tragedy is nothing short of unbearable. I hope you can take strength from and are sustained by the wealth of rich memories of times, precious as jewels, you shared with your dear brother — the boat you built together, the door in the woods you installed will sustain you in the end. For now, I open up my arms to you for a bigvirtual hug. Much love, Felicity

  32. Louise Gilbert says:

    Dearest Eileen, I am deeply saddened by your loss. Your tribute to Richard expresses the deepest of love from his cherished sister—I feel honored that you shared your thoughts and feelings with us. My heart goes out to you and your family and to his friends. With much Love, Louise

  33. Phyll says:

    Dear Eileen and Paul, My condolences to you and your family at this very sad time. You are in my thoughts and prayers. Thank you for your tender poem. “Why?” Indeed. With love, Phyll

  34. lm210 says:

    Dear Eileen,

    I was deeply saddened to hear of your brother’s loss.I hope you find solace in time and in the loving memories left behind, and although no words can really help to ease the loss you bear, just know that you are very close in every thought and prayer I do as I go by with you traversing our lives. Sincerely,

    Luis Manuel O

  35. Andy Lipkis says:

    Full hearts and broken hearts. So moved. Sending love, healing, blessings for you and the family and friends. What a gift he was and what a gift you are, holding this pain and transmitting it for so many with your understanding and poetry.Andy

  36. Alice says:

    Oh Eileen, I’m so sorry. My thoughts are with you and your family.

  37. stephanie warburg says:

    Dear Eileen,
    Your beautiful poem so resonates with me. I am so sorry. Stephanie

  38. Charlie Biddle says:

    Eileen, What terrible news to have heard last Friday. What a contributor Richard was. He will be sorely missed.

  39. Hench Ellis says:

    Dear Eillen and members of the Rockefeller Family: The last time I saw Dicky was probably in Seal Harbor in the summer of 1967 when I was all of 14 and Dicky maybe 16 or 17? I remember he was always kind to me and always thought nothing of including younger kids in whatever adventures the gang at the Harbor Club were up to, whether sailing, climbing a mountain, or driving an old woody station wagon on the back carriage roads through the Park. I thought even then at a young age he was a man of grace and good will. His life since those days shows how right I was.

  40. Diane F says:

    Dear Eileen, I can only offer this visualization to answer your question “Why?” As a demonstration for my adult painters, I created 2 sections on a page of watercolor paper. I then did two demonstrations of how to paint thunderhead clouds, which I painted slightly differently side by side. When I pulled off the strip of masking tape between the two studies, I realized that the 2 cloud groups needed to be painted together– that they were, indeed, cohesive. The final image appears as one, but there is a difference, and a place between. Somehow this painting now speaks to me of you, Richard, and the great cloud that was a presence before his passing. Worlds similar but separate, created together, with a divide, and yet seen as one. With love and all blessings– Diane. ( I will send you the image.)

  41. cynthia mackay says:

    Dearest Eileen losing a sibling must be close to unbearable. And your poor father-the worst nightmare for every parent.
    I remember Richard at Peggy’s funeral, singing a song in tribute to her with his daughter. He brought us all to tears. Perhaps expressing his sorrow through art helped him then. I hope your ability to capture your feelings in crystal clear poetry.helps you now.
    Richard has gone back to where he was before he was born.
    All my love and sympathy. Cynthia

  42. Iain says:

    What an impeccable use of actions and words. Your words go straight to the heart!

  43. Elaine Naddaff says:

    Dear Eileen, Like so many I am, deeply, sorry for your loss. As you described in your book, RIchard was special to you. Your moving poem and beautiful photograph tell tell tell a story, helping all to grapple with the “why”. Your brother shared his gifts with many, loved his family and all are better off because of him. May all of you find comfort in remembering him. My prayers are with you. With sympathy, Elaine

  44. Diana Rowan Rock says:

    Eileen, this tribute is exquisite, and your poem a pure crie de Coeur of anguish and fathomless love.

    The photo of Richard on the happy night of your father’s 99th is a poignant, treasured keepsake; thank you for sharing it (in his face, especially around the eyes, how much I see you, your other brother and sister’s resemblance—and his daughter and son!) And oh–the powerful turbulent cloud—his Spirit is there.

    Thank you for your well-crafted words, which give voice to how much Richard is loved by so many. Keep writing..& “Be well, Be Music. Dream deep.”

    With much love to you & Paul, and all the family,

  45. Toni Hoar says:

    Dear Eileen – You will receive my snail mail but your beautiful words and poetry here speak to an acceptance and peace with this tragic event that has clearly descended upon you. How grateful we are that where many would find anger and despair you have found hope and a keen awareness that Dick/Richard’s talents, energy, humor, ethic…were indeed called for elsewhere. Thank you for sharing that peacefulness of spirit. God Bless and hugs, Toni

  46. Ducky Donath says:

    We were touched by your sensitive and touching telling of your feelings about your brother. We are so sorry to hear of your loss. He was truly an unforgettable man. Must tell you how I enjoyed your book. I couldn’t put it down. Thanks for including us. Ducky and Frank

  47. clare stone says:

    Dear Eileen,
    I love your description of the photograph taken the night before Richard died, it was a beautiful way to envision his next adventure. I was lucky enough to spend time with him at a picnic last summer,and begin to get to know him. It was a special treat. We all will miss him, and thank you for sharing your lovely poem and thoughts.

  48. Jean Burks says:

    Eileen and Paul:

    Our thoughts and prayers are with you.You are blessed to have such a strong support system of loving friends. Please rejoice in this.

    Jean, Dan and Charlie

  49. Eileen, this is such a beautifully written piece and wonderful tribute to your brother Richard. I want you to know that my thoughts and prayers continue to be with you and your family.

  50. Stillman Rockefeller says:

    So sorry about your brother, I met him once at your grandmother’s garden with Electra. I read your book when I was in Boca Grande, just after you had spoken at that beautiful library. I really enjoyed it and your writing style.

  51. Steven Swig says:

    I am truly sad and filled with empathy at the loss of your brother. I have lost a sister and a brother. Your words and poem as well as the beautiful photo stirred in me beautiful memories, and joined me more deeply in the grand camaraderie of those who share a connection in the search for meaning.

  52. Judith A. Meyncke says:

    Dear Eileen and family,

    My heart and prayers go out to you. Your brother sounded like a remarkable man. I am so sorry for this sudden loss..

    Blessings and Love, Judy,,

  53. Jeanna Lui says:

    Dear Eileen- Thank you for sharing such wonderful tribute to Richard. You so accurately and beautifully described Richard’s spirit and the kind human being he was. You and your family continue to be in my prayers. Jeanna

  54. Joyce Ingalls says:

    Dear Eileen and family —

    Such sad news follows the glorious celebration of your father’s 99th birthday. Your brother, Richard, was a phenomenal man, as is your beloved father. The death of someone so loves leaves such a cavernous rent in the fabric of a family. My prayers and heart-felt healing wishes go out to you and your family.

    With kindest regards,
    Joyce Ingalls

  55. Christine Sherry says:

    Hi Eileen, Lawson and I were so sorry to hear about the sad news of your brother, Richard. I read the lovely obituary in todays New York Times. Our whole family sends their love to you and yours.
    Christine Sherry and Lawson Fisher

  56. Judy Mills says:

    Hello Eileen. You may remember me, I visited your home in San Francisco in 1995 to facilitate a Woman Within graduation celebration . Deepest sympathy on the loss of your brother. I just came across this page and was very moved by your tribute to him and by the photograph of the cloud. I was especially touched by your poem. My husband of 44 years, Tom, died in Nov 2014 and the poem was very meaningful to me. Thank you for sharing it. I wish you peace and blessings. Judy Mills

  57. Dear Judy, Thank you for writing. I do indeed remember you facilitating the Woman Within graduation celebration at our home. I’m so sorry to hear of the loss of your husband. You are coming up on two years now. Has it gotten any easier? Do you feel his spirit present with you? There are so many ways to grieve; the challenge is how to move forward. I hope you are healing and finding ways to still find joy. With love and blessings, Eileen

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