59

sep 4, 2017

Today, September 6, 2017 would be my mom’s 59th birthday if she were still alive.

When I think about being a mom, my own role as Giles’ mom, I think a thousand times a day what my own mama would think about how I am doing. How would she do this or that…and especially the light on her face as she would hold Giles, play with him, talk with him.

Grief doesn’t go away. You don’t move on. Sometimes I know how to hold it and sometimes I don’t.

I put Nina Simone on for Giles’ nap today. Her voice, cool and deep and full– music seems to be Giles favorite thing, the thing that fills his heart. Well, that and food. And books. And balls. And laughing. He loves it all.

Mama was the most alive person I knew. Until Giles. He is so very alive.

She is in his eyes. She is somewhere in him.

Viola Rose Moriarty would be 59 today. She was an artist. Her life was her best art. She was my mom.

From her blog, April 4, 2010:

Today I called my family in Denver to wish them a Happy Easter. We had coffee with the NYTimes and sportsreporters and Ina…the Sunday morning slow start. Ahhhh…….

And then we finally pulled on some work clothes and got started.

We worked on our list of home chores, taking care of the live things first. Toilet scrubbing and floor washing and paying bills and writing thank yous and making donations, both in things to pass on and in the checks we could write now. We prepped for the week and cleaned the fish tank and the litter box and filled bird feeders and cleaned out the gardens, watered and fed the plants, finally making lists for things that can’t be done today and how much we’ll need to fix or do them later—all the little and big maintenance things that keep a home running.

Today we “counted” the chickadees starting their nest in the little house just outside our backdoor as they do every spring, and the forsythia’s first yellow blooms. We counted the garlics and crocuses and bits of herbs and bulbs that all made it through another winter. They survived and so did we. We tested the fish tank water and put out the bird baths.

And then we had a good salad for an early dinner and went to a movie at our arthouse theatre where we are members.

I love this feeling of participating in my life, of doing it together with Jon. Of making a home.

Foundation in lovingkindness. We do the best we can for all who reside here with us and around us.

This “making a home” stuff– this is where I feel most like my mom. More even than making art. I am making a home, participating in my own life. Foundation in lovingkindness.

Happy birthday, Mama. I love you.

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mother’s day and a one-year-old

May 6 to May 14, it’s been a full week.

First, Giles turned one whole year old. I cannot really believe that it’s been a year since that long 30 hour experience of giving birth. It felt so endless that it seems impossible that I am not still in the hospital room, pushing and pushing and pushing. I can no longer remember the exact feeling of the pain, but I remember my reactions to it. My body has changed many times. Presently: my breasts are empty which is a strange feeling, my tummy is soft with less wrinkles and a bit of strength underneath, my arms are strong from lifting a growing baby, my linea negra is still faintly there and stretch marks too. I am smaller, stronger, more able and better feeling. I do not “have my body back” because that is not a real thing. I have my new mom body, which still changes every couple weeks, but has finally become something I understand (I think).

Giles has changed too. He is standing, crawling, walking while holding onto something. He laughs, chatters in baby talk, says “mama” and “dada” and something that almost sounds like “ball.” He has personality, likes and dislikes, a sense of humor. He loves to dance. He eats almost everything we give him, though he has preferences depending on the day. He has friends. He is more than three times the size he was at birth.

And now, at one week past his birthday, it is Mother’s Day. Last year we spent the holiday in the hospital with 2 day old Giles, still so new, learning how to breastfeed. Now I am done breastfeeding. Now I am a mother on my second Mother’s Day and the fifth Mother’s Day without my own mom.

It’s a complicated day. “Complicated AF” as my friend Ashley says. So true. I am so happy, so full of joy to celebrate being Giles’ mom. And then there is this hole, this cold feeling, tears behind my eyes and knots in my stomach. I miss my mom. I want to make her a card, talk to her, dance with her, help her in the garden or do whatever other chores she wants me to do. I want to have brunch with her and Giles, make waffles in her kitchen, watch her hold him and play with him and talk to him in Spanish.

There’s a lot of things I want but can’t even say.

There’s an envelope in my jewelry box (my mom’s jewelry box which is now mine). It’s a letter from Mama, for me to read when I had a child (or didn’t). I read that letter as soon as I found out I was pregnant, and a few more times since then. I haven’t read it today yet.

Greg and Giles brought me breakfast in bed and the sweetest card. They gave me a truly great Mother’s Day. I also have to make room for the sadness. Joy and grief live together now and always will.

 

4 years

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This photo of Mama was taken in April 2012, at my cousin’s Bar Mitzvah, a year before she died.

It cuts me how impossible it is that she is dead now, that she died a year after this photo was taken. Despite the bald head, or even because of it (she looks so strikingly beautiful with her bald head), she is so alive here. She was a bit weak, yes, couldn’t stay up too late at the party. But we danced. We swam in the hotel pool. We put on red lipstick.

But it also cuts me how we knew, a little bit, and maybe unconsciously, that our time was limited. I had this constant pain just above my stomach from her fist cancer diagnosis in 2007 until she died in 2013. A tiny pain, subtle and not always noticeable, a tight knot. For three months in 2010 everything I ate made me sick. I went to a doctor about it and she told me nothing was physically wrong.

It’s still a shock  most mornings, that she is not here. Sometimes she is alive in my dreams and everything is normal. In these dreams she has been sick but recovered and I feel such great relief that she is okay. Then I wake up.

Giles doesn’t get to know her except in stories. This is a huge gap, a thing he is missing and will be missing his whole life. She would have been a wonderful grandmother (Meme, as she wanted to be called), a great friend, a huge presence for him.

I’ve always said I have no regrets. Mostly this is true. But there are some living in my shadow, in the back corners of my brain.

I’m angry. I’m also sad, scared, some other feelings I don’t know how to name.

It doesn’t get better. It will never be better. It will just be life. Good and bad at the same time. Heartbreak and joy.

I don’t know what else to say. I have a lot of things to say.

 

 

 

my mom, my mom, my mom

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Seeing my tulips come up– the floppy green leaves and thick stems which have survived several frosts since that warm week in February when they started poking up through the ground– I think of Mama in her garden. My dad has always been a gardener too, they worked together to create the combination of flowers and herbs that surround their house. There are early spring flowers which flow into summer ones, then late summer, then fall. Except for winter, there are always flowers. The mint overtakes one area, a mix of spearmint and chocolate mint which Phoebe chomps on every time she passes it. Garlic. Basil. Soft oregano which the sweet cat Dulcinea sleeps in on a sunny day.

These tulips are really the first thing I have grown myself. I’ve had herb gardens, but never started any plants from scratch before now. My dad and I planted the bulbs last fall, digging up a couple small flower beds by my front walk.

I’ve never really been much of a green thumb, the only one in my family who wasn’t really interested. I didn’t like to cook either. But those loves have grown in me over time. In the cookbook she and my dad made for my sister and me, Mama wrote, “One of you is already a cook and the other promises (without knowing it) to be one someday.”

Every time I walk out my front door or come back inside I say hi to the tulips, checking in on how they are. I say to Giles, “Look at our tulips!”

In six days it will be four years since Mama died.

In 24 days Giles will be one year old.

Things are growing, I am getting stronger, my broken heart breaks and breaks and heals in new ways. Nothing is the same.

The words, “my mom, my mom, my mom” repeat in my head. “I want my mom.”

until the last minute

From my mom’s blog:

…Right now I’m starting to see myself in some new ways:  forgetful and distractable beyond the fog I’d come to know through chemo, radiation, whole brain radiation, radiosurgery and more radiosurgery.  I’ve started to hear my husband and children say things like “Mama, you really did know about that, you just forgot”  more often than ever before. I’ve gotten lost and damaged trying to find a path I use every day….I need help in ways I didn’t think I’d ever accept. I run into things.  I have numb pain from toe to waist on one side.  My head hurts.  I’m so cold.  Then I’m hot.  I’m not allowed to roast the chiles alone anymore.  I use a coffee pot that turns itself off so I don’t burn down the house.  I make brutal decisions about time and energy.  I ask my friends to walk with me, or to sit for me in exchange for my poor company. To give me healing or massage. Mostly I ask them to either paint with me,  or leave me to paint. Often I refuse most food I don’t make. I’m spending my grant money on a sink for the studio and a bed easel so the days I can’t walk down the stairs or just can’t get out of bed, I can still work.  A woman to drive me to drawing groups.  Paint and tubes,,,adding up how much I think I can actually use over the next few months.?  Now they don’t call me a survivor, or cancer clean, or any of those things.  THey tell me I’ll always be STage 4:   Stage 4 metastatic cancer with metastesis to the brain, CNS, around most organs….The only place I don’t seem to have breast cancer is in my breasts–but that may have changed, too. Tenacity is my other name. I ask for help, and I ask for understanding.  I am compassionate to old and infirm people in an even more profound way as I bumble through the woods…

But the main thing that scares me is that my energy level is dropping.  I’m tired.  I’m tired inside and if I think about it more than a second it brings tears to my eyes.   I’m desperate inside and I cry out in my head to all the dead women painters I love so much: Lee, Alice, Joan, Georgia, Frida, and to some men painters, too, Eduard, Pierre, David, Wayne, Elmer…..oh, please, everybody help me have the strength to make great work until the last minute.  Help me work, study, think, hold my brush…set up my easel—which way do the knobs go? Righty tighty, lefty lucy. I still have this fiery desire to make my work.  Even drawing boxes to learn linear perspective feels like achieving a goal, gessoing and sanding boards feels like living the dream.  And when I put brush in paint to board I know myself again, still, more deeply…that lets me know I am still here…

And to Life, I add, please help me to choose deep time with my husband and daughters, with my family and my soul friends.  Help me make the most of what is left of my energy.  Give me my husband’s love and help me not think of what it will be to go somewhere without him driving me, without him loving me.

 I’m tired inside and if I think about it more than a second it brings tears to my eyes.   I’m desperate inside and I cry out in my head to all the dead women painters I love so much: Lee, Alice, Joan, Georgia, Frida, and to some men painters, too, Eduard, Pierre, David, Wayne, Elmer…..oh, please, everybody help me have the strength to make great work until the last minute.

Love is all there is:  loving the work and loving the ones who share my life.

I now give away things each week, wrap up projects….organize the chaos so my family won’t have to.  I write the letters my daughter asks me for her wedding and when she has a baby.  I remind my daughters and my loving husband that I am on their side—always.  I arrange to make a trip home to Denver to connect with my family and friends.  How many kisses do you want I always ask my youngest nephews and they almost always say 100.  I ask for a million.  A trillion.  I always want more.

I see myself now as a weeping woman who is walking toward the door now, not with arrogance or tenacity or attitude but stooped with humility and deep tiredness, begging for a little more love, a little more work done, a little more time……

Viola Moriarty, 14 October 2012

This was written 6 months and 4 days before she died. I didn’t know then how close we were to the end. But it’s there, in her words:

I’m tired inside and if I think about it more than a second it brings tears to my eyes. I’m desperate inside and I cry out in my head to all the dead women painters I love so much: Lee, Alice, Joan, Georgia, Frida, and to some men painters, too, Eduard, Pierre, David, Wayne, Elmer…..oh, please, everybody help me have the strength to make great work until the last minute.

Today is March 24. In 25 days it will be April 18, the four year anniversary of my mom’s death. It is four years, a marriage, and a new human life since she has been gone. I don’t understand it. And yet it’s my whole life. I live inside this fact.

Love is all there is:  loving the work and loving the ones who share my life.

I repeat this in my head. Watch my baby on the monitor as he breathes in and out, steady in his sleep. Paint, draw, write. Dance with my husband in the kitchen.

I don’t know why I’m sharing this today in particular. But here it is. Trying to make my own great work until the last minute.

march 10, 2017

dana farber 1

dana farber 2

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My appointment went really well, and I feel really good about the medical team I will be working with. We stayed with some of Greg’s family who live walking distance from the hospital. They watched Giles while Greg and I went to the appointment. The snow was falling so beautifully, and the day felt auspicious since it was the anniversary of Lee’s death.

I don’t have many photos of him. This is one of my favorites:

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It feels important to share photos of Lee. For the people who love him, so we can look at as many of his alive moments as possible. He was really here, he was a person, he wore khakis and a tie for the homecoming dance in 2003. He had a certain way of standing.

 

self-portrait in towel

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I’m changing every day. My body, my mind. I have muscles in my arms from holding Giles as he gets bigger and bigger. I weigh almost the same amount as I did six weeks postpartum, but I feel strong and good most of the time. My periods are heavy and painful (no one told me before that postpartum menstruation is its own monster), but I’m used to them now. My milk production is slowing down. I cry at the slightest provocation by commercials or songs or how every night at dinner Giles seems just a little more grown up.

We’ve started formula. Giles drank it up without hesitation. I cried during the first feeding, but also felt a little bit free. I can see the finish line of having my body back, of my breasts getting smaller, of no more nursing bras, of no more pumping…of letting go of breastfeeding. It’s a freedom, and it’s sad too. It’s our special connection, our thing that no one else is part of. But we’ll find other things.

My hair is longer. I am less tired than I was a few months ago (still tired, just not as overwhelmingly so). It’s amazing how it really does get “easier,” although “easier” is the wrong word. It gets “different,” just like with anything. It changes. I know Giles better, and he knows me better. He starts to become a functional person– sitting up, crawling, kneeling next to the box of toys and picking out what he wants, pulling up to standing. He says “Mama” and “Dada” and other increasingly complex talking sounds. He and my dad have their own language– staring and smiling and making funny sounds at each other.

My grief continues to get “different,” and not at all easier. Missing my mom is part of my day, part of everything I do. Giles’ eyes have taken on a quality that her eyes had. It strikes me sometimes. He will look at a photo of her hanging on the wall and smile with recognition. He stares at her paintings and pumps his arms with excitement. I cry and cry. Sometimes I feel lost. Sometimes I am okay.

 

 

 

art as life

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Today I was interviewed on the community radio station in North Adams for a show called Creative City. I got to talk about my art and my life, how they inspire each other, and promote my upcoming comics class (is183.org for more info and to register).

It felt really good to talk about what I do. I’m proud of my life, and it’s validating to be interviewed on a radio show and have someone besides me refer to me as an Artist. It’s important to remember that I work, and it’s good work, even if it’s not a “regular” job. It’s a “real” job and I love it.

My mom and I used to discuss our lives as artists all the time– how we balance time/money/desires and manage the business side of art. I loved talking about that stuff with her. I don’t get to talk about it that much anymore. Not the way she and I would talk about it. I’ve never found another art friend like my mom, and I don’t expect to.

I miss her.

I wish she could’ve been with me on the radio today, talking about her art life. I can’t really talk about mine without talking about hers too.

My dad and Giles listened to the show from the lobby of the station while we were broadcasting. Julia played a couple of my song recordings, one of which was the “Giles Fox” song. My dad held Giles up so he could stand on the floor in front of the radio, and he danced.

 

november, dia de los muertos

Everybody’s gone away.
They think there’s nothing left to see.
The garish colors’ flashy show is over.
Now those of us who stay
hunker down in sweet silence,
blessed emptiness among

red-orange shadblow
purple-red blueberry
copper-brown beech
gold tamarack, a few
remaining pale yellow
popple leaves,
sedge and fern in shades
from beige to darkening red
to brown to almost black,
and all this in front of, below,
among blue-green spruce and fir
and white pine,

all of it under gray skies,
chill air, all of us waiting
in the somber dank and rain,
waiting here in quiet, chill
November,
waiting for the snow.

~ The Fall Almost Nobody Sees, by David Budbill

As it gets colder, the trees get bare, Giles sees his first snow, I think about death and life and cycles. Bringing pain into joy, carrying both. You can see a lot further around here when the leaves are gone, and it’s comforting. Beautiful in an introspective kind of way. Lonely. But good lonely. Greys on greys on greys.

I miss my mom. I dress Giles in a skeleton outfit. I wear all my skeleton clothes and jewelry.  I think about how my bones are different now after pregnancy and labor– my ribcage is wider, my hipbone too, my foot bones longer and flatter. Last year Giles’ bones grew inside me. Greg and I make sugar cookies decorated like skulls and we eat too many. I make an altar in my art studio.

She walks these hills
in a long black veil

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put back together

It’s Rosh Hashanah. The Jewish New Year. Time for letting go, time for leaves to fall. Time for shedding what is no longer needed.

As I start this new year, in a new body, with a new baby, in a new house, so much about me is different.

Some things are the same.

What do I need to let go of? My skin? My pre-mom self?

To be honest, I’m feeling pretty broken today. I miss my mom. I wish we could go down to the river together and throw pieces of bread into the water to take our regrets from the past year away. Maybe we’d ride our bikes in the cool fall air.

I feel something is just out of reach, some core thing that I keep forgetting. Or maybe it’s just one of those days. Maybe I should lean into it. Let go.

My baby is strapped to my chest in his carrier. We took a walk and looked at leaves. We played on the floor. He’s quiet, binky in mouth, looking up at me sometimes as I type. I think he will fall asleep any minute so I’m rocking back and forth in the chair.

He smiles so big when he sees me after we’ve been parted. Whether it’s morning and he’s seeing me for the first time that day, waking up and I’m right there waiting for him; or he’s been with his Nana for a few hours; or even if I’ve only left the room for a few minutes– he’s so happy to see me. We have a tether strung between us. I know I will feel him with me anywhere I go for the rest of my life. Even when he’s grown and off on his own adventures I will feel him in my heart like a physical pull. I just know this. My mom must have felt this way.

She wrote this poem:

The Birdhouse

Anna is leaving me again,
over and over.

Just like I left her so many times,
by choice and not by choice.

Teaching me to tolerate longer and longer absences:
Stretches of not hearing her voice
doing homework with a friend on the phone,

Or the sound of popcorn crunching along to a favorite movie.

I took her to her first movie when she was eighteen months old.
She ate my entire tub of artificially butter-flavored popcorn.
I felt
grateful
that she didn’t choke
and awed by the intensity of her concentration.

She says, “I love you” each time she laves.
And I am trying to photograph her face, her smile,
every time in my mind, afraid of having
so much less to take for granted.

I walk outside see the birdhouse
made in eighth grade shop class.
A father’s day gift for her dad–
she looks so much like him.

I stare at the birdhouse as a light rain
begins to kiss the back of my neck.
I am not cold, and I do not feel the wetness of it.

I realize that she is forcing me to grow up again,
to accept losing what I want to hang onto.
I hate that.

That birdhouse sits on the stump–
It’s maple stain color darkened by the moisture,

and my tears add salt to the raindrops.

Viola Moriarty
2000

When I read this poem I cry. I was fourteen or fifteen when she wrote it, and I don’t remember where I had gone. Maybe on a trip with some friends. Sometimes I regret every time I left her because that’s time with her that I lost. I didn’t know the time was finite. At fourteen everything seems forever, even if your grandfather and pet guinea pig died when you were eight and so you know that everyone dies. It just didn’t enter my mind then that my mom could die. But I also know that we both had to live our lives which meant leaving each other again and again.

When will Giles leave me? How many times? Will I have to leave him? Will he still smile at me when we come back together? Right now his sleeping face is pressed into my shirt, long lashes closed, gentle breathing only just audible. Sweet baby smell.

My pieces are all over the place. My childhood, my heart, my legs, my soul, my art, my drive, my love, my hunger.

I don’t know where I am.

I’m in our house. On our street. In our town. In the autumn of the year 2016. My mom has been dead for three years and five months and 16 days. My baby is just two days shy of being five months old. My feet are inside my slippers. My head is inside my favorite knit cap.

It’s the new year. 5777. The Days of Awe.

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This photo is from 2011, in the ER waiting room. I had fallen and hit my head pretty hard so my mom insisted we go to the hospital to make sure I didn’t have a concussion. They gave me an ice pack which I tied to my head so I didn’t have to hold it there. We both thought it was pretty funny, so my mom took a picture. Turns out I didn’t have a concussion. I was okay. Not broken at all.