On a Wednesday morning I woke up and had a mom. When I went to bed that night I no longer did. For days and nights I prayed for her to die peacefully in her sleep. For weeks I tried to make her comfortable and feel as loved and cared for as humanly possible. For months I worried and cried and questioned and hated this death sentence that was thrust upon her. And for years my mom suffered and battled and suffered and battled some more. She suffered right up until her very last breath that I witnessed with my own eyes.
Never once in those days of praying, weeks of trying, months of worry, and years of suffering was her illness and prognosis ever talked about in a way that I could hold onto now. Instead each day I held onto the healing moments created from caregiving – the warm hugs she leaned into each time I helped her from a seated to a standing position and her “I love you better” responses that she would recite with a smile after I’d kiss her on the forehead and tell her that I love her. In those moments that expression of genuine love and care was all that mattered.
But now she is gone. And the emptiness I feel around what never was feels so immense. I feel it in every part and every age of my whole being. It takes my breath away. The genuine love and connection that was felt in each small moment by her side feels severed now. And all of the peace I felt in caring for and loving her feels like it died with her. I don’t know how to exist in a world without my mom. We knew this was coming, but we never talked about it. And now I have to figure it all out on my own.
I recently started a creative project. I have a room in my house with empty walls, begging for artwork. After thoughtful consideration of a variety of ideas I decided to dedicate the walls of this room to scenic memorable places. I began sorting through photos of all of my favorite trips and places I have visited, making note of my top contenders. Then I decided to take this project one step further with my plan to now paint each of these places. Painting is very cathartic for me and has provided opportunities for expression in a way words cannot always capture. (See how artistic expression has been a part of my ongoing healing journey on my Art page).
This painting took me away to Charleston, South Carolina – a place that I hold very dear to my heart. Charleston is a charming city with so much history and character. This particular scene is from Magnolia Plantation and Gardens. The trees in this area are enormous – with branches covered in spanish moss that reach and stretch out wide, sometimes even kissing the ground.
This painting was just what I needed today – to be taken away in the midst of the enormous weight of stress I have felt all day. This painting took me about six hours to complete – roughly the same amount of time my mom was in surgery today, having a cancerous tumor removed from her bile duct. With a stressful presidential election also weighing on my mind, painting helped to slow down my thoughts and allowed me to breathe and wait for the intermittent updates from the hospital. It also kept me away from focusing solely on the ongoing election drama. Shortly after completing this painting I received word that my mom’s surgery was successful and complete. The cancer has been removed, and now she has a long difficult road of recovery ahead of her.
I am grateful that painting has become a healthy and helpful outlet for me. It allows me to express myself, and it helps me stay grounded. Today certainly presented a need for staying grounded. This painting felt like a much needed gift to my activated nervous system on a day where much less healthy coping mechanisms felt tempting.
This feels messy in a way that I’m not certain I can describe. It feels like a tangled ball of barbed wire deep inside my chest. To untangle it from within me will be impossible without indescribable pain, but to leave it there means allowing it to grow and further ensnare me.
My mom was diagnosed with cancer last week. Simply typing that sentence halted my thought process and led me to read it over to myself several times.
My mom has cancer.
The complicated relationship I experience with my mom makes this news carry a polluted burden of feelings. I am scared. I’m scared for the battle that my mom faces. I am scared of the uncertain future that this presents for her. I am scared to lose my mom. I feel powerless. I don’t know what this beast of a disease has planned for her. I am desperately trying to figure out how to help while living far away from her in the midst of a pandemic. I feel a pull to be there to help in any way I can – to be a source of physical and emotional support – to simply be there with her and for her. Yet the obstacles before me are making a difficult situation exponentially more complicated.
The rest of the tangled feelings inside of me represent, among other things, a mix of anger, guilt, hurt, and shame – the complex result of a deep mother wound that exists in my heart. I know those feelings are there because I have felt them with each interaction I’ve had with my mom throughout my life. Yet at this moment I cannot access those feelings. The fear, uncertainty, and concern over this diagnosis and the complex surgery that is fast approaching is all that I can feel. And right now it’s all I want to feel. Untangling the barbed wire will have to wait. Right now I need to help my mom.