You might be wondering, where have I been? I want to take a little time to explain what has been happening for me in reference to writing this blog. I started this endeavor in the summer, last year. I have a vision of it being a place to tell the story of caring for my dear, sweet Mama who was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. I see it as a place where I share with you all the things I learned about walking her toward her death, emotionally, spiritually and the boring practical stuff. I want to come here to grapple with grief, talk about death and by doing that, invite us to live our lives authentically. Do you know what happened? Every time I sat down at the computer to write the next blog I was overwhelmed. I did not know where to start. I could not figure out how to get a map of the series of blog entries.
Do I start from my present moment? Showing how living without her is the hardest, strangest thing. Or do I share our story chronologically? Then how will I bring it back to show everything I felt since she died? Could I just share stuff randomly? I could not make up my mind. I felt anxious each time I tried to write something.
This inability to make a choice about how to proceed is something I have walked through before. I have ADHD and that means my brain is different. What was happening to me was analysis paralysis. I needed to take in a lot of information and deliberate about what mattered and what made the most sense for the blog. I just did not have it in me to decide, so I asked for help. I have been seeing a therapist who specializes in working with adults with ADHD who are not on medication. I brought this issue to her and we immediately started to figure out what I wanted the blog embody. I told her my dream for this blog and with her help I began to know what the answer was. We created a road map of what I will be discussing in my blogs for about a year.
And here I am. Writing to you about my process so we can establish intimacy, practice heart felt vulnerability and express myself authentically, from my heart. I have decided to go back to the start. We will walk through the journey I had with my Mama.
I had moved back to Philadelphia in February of 2016. I received a full scholarship to the University of New Orleans, in the MFA program. I thought I wanted to make art and teach at the college level. I love taking photographs and I hope to always see the world in picture frames. After teaching for a semester there I realized academia was no place for my tender heart. I wanted to pursue a career that was all about intimacy, vulnerability and authenticity. I applied to all of Master's of Social Work Programs in the Philadelphia area. I was so excited to be near my Mama again. Living far away from her always felt hard and really strange.
Fast forward to Thursday June 16th, 2018. I was working in the city and commuting, via train, from deep in the Northeast of Philadelphia. I was staying at my Mama's house. My Dad lived there too, even though they had been divorced for 20 years. (That is a whole different blog post.) My Mama was set to pick me up from the train station around 9 pm. She wasn't answering her phone. This was very odd, she was the type of person that always had her phone. It was usually in her hand and she was playing some casino game. I called and called and called. I started walking the 4 miles home. There were no buses running the way I had to walk. Earlier that day my Mama was having some tests done at her doctor's office. She was at the doctor's a lot. About 15 years prior she was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease. Then, the very next year she was hit in her company car, from behind. It messed up her neck and back even more. From that day forward she battled debilitating chronic pain. She was never able to go back to work full-time. I called her about 258 times that night. I was worried. She always stayed in touch and let me know if her plans were changing. I made it home and she is sound asleep. I talked with my brother and he told me that she took something for anxiety so she could do a CAT scan earlier in the day. Her doctor had found a tumor in her chest and sent her for the CAT scan right away.
Friday June 17th, 2016. I woke up and went to work. Mama was still sleeping. I left her a note telling her I love her and I asked her to call me when she wakes up. I was a nervous mess most of the day. Justin, my brother, calls me at work. “Mom has cancer, stage four lung cancer, meet us at Fox Chase Cancer Center as soon as you can.” My heart drops. Oh fuck. I begin to tremble. I leave work bawling my eyes out. I get the next train to Fox Chase. Our whole immediate family is there, my Dad, older sister, younger brother and Mamabear. We meet with a lung doctor. He is sweet and approachable. His eyes are bright and his skin looks soft. He was waiting for some test to say if the cancer was small cell, which is a very, very aggressive cancer, or non-small cell. They would not know until Monday. The doctor gave us the option to start chemo that night, which is the route you take if you have small cell lung cancer. Or Mama could take some pill over the weekend and start some type of treatment next week. This was the way you would go about it if it was non-small cell cancer. I asked the doctor to explain the difference. He said if it is small cell it might have spread already and if that was the case starting treatment that day was imperative. I asked how long a person usually lived with stage four small cell lung cancer, he said 10-12 months. We all started crying. I held her hand as she cried. All of our lives changed in that room. All of our hearts broke. And my Mama came to know she was going to die soon.
I am not about beating around the bush. I asked the doctor, “What would you do if this was your Mother?” He said, “I would start chemo today.” After a little talking, Mama decided she wanted to start chemo that day. Justin, my brother and myself stayed there with her. I remember thinking to myself at one point when I was alone. How am I going to walk beside my Mama, while she is dying, as I am anticipating her death? How will I grieve and love and care for her all at the same?
Saturday June 18th, 2006. The next day was my gathering with In Sacred Balance (ISB). ISB is a national, nature-based, intergenerational community that centers renewed reverence for the earth through classes, workshops, seasonal events and celebrations, solo sessions and the backbone program, The Wheel (and starting this year The Hive). (Check out ISB at https://www.insacredbalance.org/ !!!!) This gathering was to honor the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year. It is a time of year when the light is the brightest and shines for the longest. There is no hiding, from one another or from ourselves. It is a time of year that asks us to be humble and discerning about ourselves and our actions. Earlier that week the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL took place. One person killed 49 precious humans and wounded 53 others. Pulse was a haven for the LGBTQI community. As a queer, non-binary person I know how important spaces like this are to our people. This grief was weighing on all of us that day. I made myself go even though I did not want to leave my Mama’s side. As I drove to the gathering I thought, "How can I carry all of this grief?" I went and was met with so much love from my community, the plants and the healing waters. Above the community altar, there was a banner that read, “May all beings in all worlds be healed”.
This was the medicine I came for: Let us grieve and weep together. Let us hold each other in this season of fire. We can then move forward, with love, to cultivate change.
I knew I was stepping into uncharted territory. I knew I had to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I knew I had a lifetime of memories and examples of my Mama doing this for our family. I knew she was leading my way. I had met my grief. Let's see if I can learn to love it.Stay tuned for how this story unfolds.