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.

 

 

 

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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.

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.

 

A Little Tune Up part 1

Hey guys, I’m finally posting a new comic! This story is called “A Little Tune Up” and will be posted in several parts. If you are new to my blog, and have not yet read my cancer comics (which are about my experience dealing with my mom’s metastatic breast cancer), I recommend going to the Cancer Comics page and reading from the beginning.

And now, here’s A Little Tune Up part 1:

 

new nudes

First of all, happy birthday Mama!

It’s been a busy summer and I hadn’t been able to go to my weekly life drawing group in a LONG time and last night was my first night back. Often when I haven’t been in a while my drawings don’t come out very good, because my life drawing muscles haven’t been exercised. But sometimes that freshness of not having been works really well. Last night was great! Not only did it feel so good to be there but I also have some drawings that I’m really proud of. Here are my favorites (click on each image to see it bigger):