2014: Blowing In a New Direction
What direction? I’m not sure. But, in 2013 I felt I was the tree in the tornado. (That was what I had previously titled this piece) Being buffeted by forces outside myself, I didn’t know which direction I would get hit from. My mantra was, “stay flexible, stay strong”. It worked. I drew inward, staying observant of those things I could not change, aware. I built my strength up from within. I improved my diet, my exercise and overall health. I got a fitbit to track my steps and I walk and I walked and I walked from mid-summer into late fall. And sometimes when it didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere fast enough (or getting away from things), I ran (and I don’t like to run). My goal was 10,000 steps a day and I was obsessed with reaching it. With my children both off to college this past fall and an empty nest for the first time, my dog, Lucky Penney was my constant companion.
You see, last January we found out that my mother in law was diagnosed with in-operable lung cancer. My family’s journey had taken a sudden turn down a dark path. She impressed me the first time I met her as a woman with an independence unlike other women of her generation and especially from the northern area of Michigan where she had lived all of her life. She had a worldly-ness outside the small town she grew up in. And as is often the case, the aspects of a person you most admire upon meeting them, ultimately grow to sometimes irritate. She had opinions! Of her own! (I do too, and I did admire that she shared hers openly….at first). She also had a conviction that her opinions where right. In my 20’s when I met her, I had many questions. And she KNEW the right answers. So, I immediately loved her.
She had two sons. I was a “daughter”. She was a wonderful and thoughtful gift buyer. I can still remember one of the first Christmas gifts she got me, even before I had married her son: Silk camisole and half-slip (yes, back in the day girls wore a thing called a slip under their dresses and skirts). I was a very cash strapped college student, so this was quite the luxury for me. I could go on and on about her generosity toward me. Then I had children and she became not a granny, but the “GRAND mother”. She loved children, had gotten her college degree in education and taught for a while before having her own children. She was hard to compete with. My in-laws came to visit a week after I had my first son and she was hard to stay a step ahead of, bathing the baby, cleaning the kitchen, laundry, everything but the breast feeding! I wanted to seem capable to her, and felt a little incompetent. She always had way more energy than I did. She was a young grandmother. I know in hind-sight her intentions were good, to be helpful. And over the years, that was the story…me trying to keep up, to live up to her homemade pies and immaculate house. I learned many things from her and sometimes I just didn’t live up (to what were really always just my own expectations of myself). It’s ok, it was never a competition.
In September she decided not to continue with the cancer treatments. They were wearing her down and the test results were not showing improvement. We hoped she could make it to Thanksgiving. My husband and I traveled the 6 hour drive each way several times this past fall to spend some weekends with her. We were suddenly caught in the meat of the “sandwich”, having both of our children just off to college for the first time and now tending to our parent’s needs. We attempted to help her wind-down her life with end of year yard-work and the putting away of deck furniture. Now, we didn’t even have to carry the bulk of the care. My brother in law and his wife and my nieces all live in the same area. So, they were tending to these things on a daily basis. But, the emotions and stress that went with these visits and the putting our own life on the back-burner, re-scheduling our fall household tasks and work commitments certainly had its impact on our life in 2013.
We were all able to be together for Thanksgiving. The first time in a few years that all of my nieces were back in town and my daughter was able to fly home from college for the weekend. It wasn’t the rosy last dinner and family party one might hope for. Stress and grief pay their toll. My mother in law was actually rallying, feeling better that she had the previous times we had visited. Hospice had been coming to the house and she was taking oxygen and had a scooter to help move around more. She was out in that kitchen sharing with us the “right way” to do everything. While I had wanted to create for her to a family dinner as a thanks to her for all the years she had put the meals together for us, she needed something different. She needed to still feel needed. She wanted to be in the role she had always been. Ring leader and matriarch. It caused some tension.
I felt in my heart that she probably wouldn’t make it through to Christmas. Christmas was her holiday. She wasn’t Mrs. Santa. She was SANTA! She passed away the week before Christmas. My husband’s father had passed away 12 years ago and although always active and busy, she has been lonely. So, I know that she is at peace now. And we will get there too.
This second piece, shown here is titled: “Rust, Dust and New Growth”. I worked on it simultaneously along with “Blowing In a New Direction”. They are both acrylic on canvas with mixed media and fiber, 18″x18″. This piece was my therapy over the past few months. In the past week the green stitching was added as I came to realize that the seeds of life are sprouted from the decay of death. I started these pieces during sessions of “Art For The Soul” workshops at Whispers From the Moon in the Oak Park Arts District. Both pieces are on display this month at the Oak Park Art Leagues’ exhibit “Beginnings” opening on January 10, 2014.