my mom

Giles is crying again. That scream-crying of yesterday, a sound we haven’t heard too much yet, in these four months of his life outside the womb.

So I walk him around the house and stroller him and nurse him and talk to him and sing and try and try to figure out what is wrong. Finally I sit down at the computer and I put on this video and we listen to my mom’s voice.

Giles falls asleep. I hold him, trying not to move.

My mom talks about the breast cancer playing cards she made. She talks about how there has to be something positive to come from the fact that one in eight women has breast cancer.

And then we watch this video.

What do you have and what do you need? 

Seeing me and my mom together both heals and breaks my heart. This video takes place at a really lovely time in our relationship. December 2012. A time I am so very grateful for and need to be reminded of.

I wish she could see the life I’m making now. Maybe she does, in her own ghost way. But I have to do it without her, with only the memory of her to guide me. Memories of my childhood. The photo albums, notes and emails from her, conversations that are only recorded in my mind and have faded and changed as I take them out again and again to examine and mine for her presence. There is so much longing.

 

 

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art life/life as art

I’ve been looking through my mom’s blog, and found this photo of us from her last exhibit at Images Cinema in November 2012:

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This show was called “Still Lifes and Figures in the Still Life.” The painting to the left of me in the photo, the chairs and lamp with the lemon tablecloth, is hanging in my apartment now and is one of my favorites. She looks so good here, so healthy. This was during a good period before she started a new and very strong chemo treatment in December which made her very sick. It’s hard to look at this image and believe that she died only five and a half months later.

I think we look alike here, with our smiles and teeth and eyes. My mom was my best art friend. I’m getting ready to hang a show on that same wall in April– my first exhibition as a full-time artist. I’ve hung several shows since she died, and it’s so strange without her input and perfect eye for hanging things straight without the aid of a level. My dad helps me, and brings Mama’s hanging box– the toolbox with all the nails and hangers and other stuff, with her name written in thick sharpie on the outside. She labeled everything with her name.

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This photo is from July 2011. Mama painted at Cathy Link’s house that whole summer and sometimes I went with her and modeled in the landscape. The finished painting of this scene is hanging in my baby’s room.

Just thinking about my mom and art. Our art together, the way we talked about it and supported each other in this Art Life. How much I wish she was in my autobio comics workshop. How much I just wish she was HERE. Physically. Alive. Making art. Making life.

It’s almost three years since she died. April 18, 2013. On April 18 this year I will be 19 days from my baby’s due date.

This spring there will be new life. A piece of my mom will come back with this baby: maybe he will have her ears, or her hands, or just something undefinable that he got from her and brings back into the world in that beautiful way genetics have of keeping things going, or a secret she whispered to him in the womb.

mama and me, just born

This is my mom and me, right after I was born. I love this image. It will be me soon, holding baby Smokey, a happy new mom just like her.

good grief

Every day is a new day living in the world after my mom died. I am 795 days into this life. My grief is just as big as the first moment, but it changes shape. Time doesn’t make it better, but it makes it different.

Some days I float and roll through my new life, feeling okay, feeling happy, and then it will hit me that the central human in my life is not here. She’s not part of this, she’s not here to tell me her thoughts, or to laugh, or to just exist. I still don’t know how to reconcile that. I almost don’t believe it. How can the world exist if she is not noticing it, painting it, coloring it with her opinions and cooking smells? I dream that she comes back, that it was all a trick, or that she is a zombie. I get really upset about dumb little things, because while I may be actually upset about those things, behind it is my sadness and anger about my mom being dead. UGH I’m so hungry and my clothes don’t fit right and my mom is dead. That person is chewing so loudly it’s driving me nuts and my mom is dead. I got on the wrong bus and my mom is dead. 

I hate when people tell me that my mom is “with me.” She’s not with me. She’s dead, and her spirit is off doing other things. She exists in my genetic code, for sure, and I wear her clothes. I’m trying so hard to let her be dead, to let her be Ghost Viola or whatever and fly around painting the sky and exploring other dimensions and to not wish her here so hard. I don’t know how to feel her with me in this new form. I want her in an Earthly way, nothing else will do. I’m stubborn, a quality I inherited from her (and my dad, too, we’re a stubborn bunch).

I wish people said I looked like her. My sister really is the one who resembles our mom as a young woman, it’s striking and everyone notices. Sometimes people say I have her laugh. Mostly they say I look like my dad. But I’ve always felt a similarity in our expressions, me and my mom, smiling, or talking with our hands, our style, the way we listen to people by looking right in their eyes. I’ll catch myself teasing Greg (my fiance) in the same way my mom would tease my dad– a fake angry comment, a smirk, an open-mouthed laugh accompanied by a little dance.

She won’t be at my wedding. This fact gets bigger as the date gets closer. I wonder what my wedding would be like if she was here to plan it with me, how it would differ from the real thing. Would I have picked the same dress? Would her ideas have been better? What would we have argued about?

What would I be like if my mom hadn’t died? This grief is my defining feature, her death the defining moment of my life so far– the line dividing everything into Before and After.

This is where I’m at today.