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this time felt different

Over the previous eighteen months, mom had been very forthcoming with new information about her health status, every time she had new test results or saw her doctor. This time felt different. Mom had waited almost a week before sharing her pet scan results in January 2005.  At the time, she told me that she had spoken with my sisters also so I assumed they were aware of what I knew. The results that 20 tiny tumors were scattered throughout her left lung and something abnormal was showing up in the lining of her lung.  My heart was breaking as I felt how scared she must be of this news. My dear sweet mother who always gave 100% of her heart and soul to everyone was not well.

I made it through the weekend staying busy, enjoying my children and trying not to think of the news the next week would bring. I spoke with some of my sisters but we stayed away from the topic of mom and her health. On Monday, I went to work and was let down by the news that the job I was being considered for was offered to someone else. I had allowed myself to feel the life giving energy that this job process was feeding me, the chance to use my mind in a strategic way. All signals were that the job was for me. Every time I had interviewed and asked for feedback, all reports were glowing. As I processed the news, my heart sank and felt like it was breaking in two. Here it was, a promise of something new, a fresh start, and all of a sudden, the door was slammed shut. Or so it felt inside. Mom had taught me that when doors were closed or my dreams were not realized, it was God’s way of protecting me from things that were not right or could have been harmful. As much as I knew in my mind that something was not right for me in this job, tears of disappointment flowed down my face. As sad as I was for me, I knew I needed to turn the process over to a higher power, let go and focus on mom.

I awoke Tuesday and imagined holding my mom in my love as she headed in for her biopsy. A few hours later, one of my sisters’s called very upset. Mom’s biopsy was not even finished yet. All of a sudden I felt the depth of fear my mom must have been experiencing. Mom had only shared details of the test results with me and my sister had just found out.  This time was for sure different. I realized that if mom was that scared, she needed support but probably wouldn’t ask for it. When I checked in with mom later that afternoon, I offered to be at her side when she went to her doctor for the biopsy results. Mom was delighted with my offer and I flew in on Thursday.

She allowed me into her inner world, so very close the next two days. Mom picked me up from the airport alone, a first. I helped her cook dinner that night, something I never had really done before. I had always enjoyed baking sweets and my other sisters would help mom with dinner. She wanted it to be different that night and asked me to help her. So I did. It felt like we were in our own little pocket of space, spending time while the world stood still. As we were walking out the door to go to the doctor’s office the next morning, I learned mom had told my father he did not need to come. She really wanted him to go play bridge and enjoy his morning. I was quite shocked as I followed her out to the car. Wow, this time was different.

Mom and I drove alone to the appointment. We were led into the examining room by the nurse and one of my sisters’s joined us. As mom’s doctor entered the exam room, I could see the concern in his eyes. Mom sat on the table and I stood at her side, with my arm around her shoulder. I was facing her doctor as he lit up the xray on the box on the wall, displayed for us to see. Those 20 plus little tumors were cancer and it was spreading through her lungs. If only this was her breast cancer, he said, he could treat her with hormones. But he had checked that with her doctor in Houston. It was the rectal cancer, now metastasized. And radiation was not an option, because of the multiple tumors. Chemo was the only course of treatment, and he only had one or two drugs to offer. The same ones that had made her so very sick the year before.  I held her in close as we processed the results. One more test was needed- a bone scan. My heart was breaking but I knew I needed to be strong, needed most to focus on supporting her.


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letting go

Mom and Dad returned home after a lovely visit built on lasting memories. It was early January 2005 and I was awaiting results from mom’s tests. She had already shared the results from a pet scan, results that showed some activity in her lungs. We were in a holding pattern as her doctor had ordered more tests, a cat scan and some blood work. Here I was again, two potential life transitions taking shape at the same time, one I was definitely not ready for. As my breathing shortened and the muscles in my neck tightened, I braced for what I knew in my heart was not going to be good news from the second round of tests.

At the same time, I was facing a transition to a new role, in a new state. Before that was possible, I first needed to negotiate and secure agreement from my former husband to let me move with my children.  As I processed these experiences unfolding one right after the other, I reflected for a moment on how I was doing. In this moment, I was actually feeling a little stronger, a little less like the sky was falling. After surviving the events of the previous eighteen months combined with the continued expansion of my heart, I realized now that maybe I was strong enough to handle more.

I thought about this new role that had been created seemingly out of nowhere and realized that something about it gave me energy, made my heart sing. When I checked in with my lawyer on the likelihood of securing court approval to move with my children, he informed me that the Colorado Supreme Court had blocked two similar cases, even situations where the mom was the primary provider for the children. His recommendation was to convince my former husband directly, bypass the court system, and figure out something that mattered more to him to make this work. Wow. My lawyer really thought I was capable of negotiating an agreement with a man who had chosen opposite sides from me of any topic related to the children since our divorce a year ago. Not so much I thought. That type of agreement was legal and binding and seemed like quite an insurmountable task, definitely not in my direct control. I paused and closed my eyes, asking for answers. I knew my best chance for agreement was to focus on following the job process that was unfolding in front of me, let go, and rely more on my faith that this situation would work out, in the best way for all of us. Maybe my stubbornness and strong will was learning to listen a little more, take a back seat,  let my heart lead, and be comfortable expanding my edges beyond what I knew possible.

I was not really looking for a chance to change jobs at this point. My current role was increasingly requiring that I travel more, work more in California at the company headquarters. Traveling often was something I was not able to manage very well. At least not while giving my children love and support they needed and a strong foundation to heal from, with me around. While the role I had been in for almost a year had afforded me the grace of space and time to heal, I was learning to adjust to my new way of life. I was mastering the balancing act of competing demands and juggling my many roles – as a mom, sister, friend, marketing director, house cleaner. In the meantime, my mind increasingly felt like it had fallen asleep.

I was not feeling intellectually challenged in my current job and my creativity seemed stifled. My passion had faded and taken a back seat to day in and day out responsibility. My life was kind of leading me I guess. I had somewhat accepted that as my norm and was not so sure that anything needed to be different.  And as I considered this new opportunity that had fallen into my lap, my heart was jumping for joy and guiding me to let go, let something bigger than me reveal the path, if I would just get out of the way and let God lead. My part was taking the action I needed to and becoming clear on what was important to me. My priorities seemed so very simple at this point in my life- what was becoming more important was to be present in each moment and passionate about what I was doing, how I was feeling, versus achieving some feat or conquering the world.

My thoughts shifted back to mom as she awaited more results. My earlier feeling that mom was not long for this world all of a sudden resurfaced from the box I had tucked it away in so neatly. The box was shattered wide open as I listened to her share the news. There were nodules in her left lung that required a biopsy the following week, she said. I could hear the fear in her voice as it cracked when she read the report to me. It didn’t look like cancer on one report but did on another, she said. What did that mean, I wondered, how is it they couldn’t tell? I could feel that mom was in shock and didn’t want to talk anymore. I hung up and imagined wrapping my arms and love around her, prayed that God would fill her with grace. On one level, I had been preparing for this day, on another, I was in complete denial. My heart knew I had to let go and honor mom’s journey as it unfolded, that I had no control and couldn’t change the outcome. In that moment, I was grateful that mom was still seeing her oncologist in Houston who had guided her so successfully through her breast cancer and recommended the surgeon who had operated on her a year before. When mom had returned from our visit a few weeks earlier, Dr. Smith had recommended the tests and now the reason for mom’s pain was being revealed, one test result at a time.

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some firsts and lasts

Now entering my second Christmas season as a divorced mom, I was feeling a little more healed and a little more settled.  Wow how much had changed and shifted over the past year. Seemed like a lifetime almost. Snow was falling gently outside as I welcomed mom and dad for a visit in Boulder. Mom had enjoyed the past few months feeling stronger and spending time doing what she loved, putting herself first a little more. Dad was doing well also, felt very authentic. He had been funny, nurturing, supportive and loving recently. What a heartwarming Christmas gift to have them both in my home, and to have been able to enjoy some days with them alone before my children returned.

I treated mom and dad to an anniversary dinner out and we enjoyed reconnecting and laughing a lot. It helped my heart expand a little more, celebrating the special relationship they had created through more than 50 wonderful years together. The next day, Mom and I went for a walk in the snow. It was peaceful and crisp. Dad joined us to go see the movie Kinsey, about a professor at Indiana University. I had not been keeping up with movies very well and had no clue what I was stepping into. Quite shocked when I learned Kinsey was not just any professor, he was a sex researcher! It was quite eye opening to see such a provocative movie with my parents. To them, it was fascinating to see the story of a man they had known, it was personal and real. Mom and dad both saw Kinsey’s work as scientific, feeding the intellect in both of them. Kinsey was working at IU in Bloomington around the time I was born. How fun for me to learn through mom and dad’s perspective what life was like back then, a time when my father worked at IU.  My parents also knew Herman Wells from the movie, the IU President at the time. Wow, such an interesting a little window into my parent’s life as young adults. Later, we enjoyed a lovely dinner together and talked fairly openly about the movie, a first for me. I slept better that night than I had in several months, so happy to have both of them around, to share and learn more so openly.

On Christmas morning, I awoke to a feeling of tightness in my chest and heart as I was sad to not have my children back yet in my home. One of the things I loved most about Christmas was waking up and seeing the gleam in their eyes. The look of surprise and excitement. How supportive it felt to have mom and dad there, helping me through my first Christmas morning in my new home, without my babies.

Mom and I went for a walk after the presents were wrapped and the food was in the oven. And then I noticed it. Those little breathing exercises mom used when her symptoms first appeared, about 18 months ago. My heart sank. No, it can’t be. God I am not ready for this. I had just finished enjoying several months of peace and now realized I had allowed a false sense of security to settle in. Several times out of the corner of my eye, I could see mom breathing short breaths again. When I asked if she was in pain, she quickly said no.  Suddenly my focus shifted, from my sadness to mom. Something more important than my grief. In that moment, I could feel that she was not ok, but she would not talk about it. How scary it must have been for her to be in pain and not feel like she could tell me. How alone she must have felt. When my children came home a few hours later, mom wrapped them in her love, but still seemed a little short tempered. Mom had always focused so intently on my babies, making life all about them when she was around. She indulged them in reading or painting or whatever they wanted to do. All of a sudden something was different.

We enjoyed a lovely Christmas meal together as I tried to remain calm, act like everything was ok. In my heart, I knew it wasn’t. As I processed the unfolding of the day, I realized our best option was to enjoy the rest of mom and dad’s visit to its fullest, do things we had never tried, and create lasting memories. Christmas lights were a favorite in our family so we ventured out to see the light display at the Denver Botanical Gardens, a first for us since living in Colorado. We all enjoyed the walk through the gardens at night, bundled up in coats and gloves as it was 40 degrees outside. My children squealed with delight as they played hide and seek in the lights. The display through the gardens was spectacular and magical. More amazing than I had seen in one place before. Seeing the joy light up on mom’s face gave me some peace. I felt grateful in that moment for something I knew I would always have, a lasting memory etched in my mind.

We awoke the next day to a sunny, warmer day so we all ventured out for a hike at Chautauqua Park. Another first.The trail followed alongside of the striking Flatiron’s, a series of iron ore hills sticking straight out of the side of the mountain in Boulder. As I walked along these magnificent pointed rocks, I was lost in the beauty natured had created. Happy to be experiencing this for the first time with mom and dad. Pearl Street Mall in Boulder was one of our favorite spots to window shop and enjoy ice cream. Mom had always wanted to go so we headed there next. The children played on the statues along the mall with dad while mom and I checked out a couple of stores.  We discovered some amazing talent, many handmade items crafted by local artists. We bought four hand painted Christmas ornaments mom and I both loved, matching in style yet each in our favorite color.

When we went in an art gallery next, a painting on the wall across the room grabbed my attention. My eyes zeroed in. I had been looking for some art work for my new home and here it was, seemed like the piece I needed. The painting had three panels of hand painted aspen trees, positioned amidst stones of several bright colors. The trees seemed to pop out of the painting. Aspen trees were so Colorado. And the bright stones were so Boulder, very whimsical and fun. Mom helped me negotiate a little and now the painting was mine. I had really wanted a local painting as I was pretty sure this would be my last Christmas in Boulder. I was talking to the company where I worked about moving to a new position, in a different state. As such, it would likely be the last time my parents would come to visit me there. Our time together was filled with firsts and lasts. Little did I know one of the lasts I experienced was spending time with my mother in her cancer-free state.

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a passion for learning

Over the summer of 2004, mom continued to gain her strength and energy back. She was able to start walking again around her neighborhood on Lake Austin, something that fed her soul. The past year had jolted me enough to believe mom might not be here much longer and I realized, if she were to pass on, I was not sure that I would know much about her life. I decided I wanted to know more, committing to myself that I would ask her questions on each visit.

What I did know was mom grew up as an only child, in a very small town in Indiana. Her father owned the town garage and gas station. Her mother was on the city council. Mom was born in the Chinese year of the snake, which represents the intuitive, introspective, refined and collected of the Chinese Animal Signs. Her favorite colors were purple and pink and her lucky number was two, representing duality and duplication. Mom was always ready to chart out new and undiscovered territories, jump into any new activity with enthusiasm and was fascinated by endeavors that spoke to her intellect and filled her spirit with light.

During my visits over the fall of 2004, I explored more about mom’s college years and experiences that she felt influenced her life most. What I learned was amazing but not surprising. Mom was honored with Mortar Board membership in her senior year at Indiana University. That same year, she was one of the founders of the little Indy Bicycle race, a bike race that still runs today. Quite the overachiever, as she also founded her sorority while at IU. Mom and Dad met soon after college and married a few years later. Dad’s work took them to several new places. One of those was Lubbock, Texas. I laughed out loud when mom told me one story about living in Lubbock in the ‘70’s. A generational type of story, I suppose. She shared that she had to dress up and wear a skirt to do the laundry. Mom thought this was quite extreme, but followed along nonetheless. While in Lubbock, mom helped found Mortar Board at Texas Tech University.

Mom’s most influential teacher was Maxine, her piano teacher. Mom spent ten years learning piano under this gifted teacher, starting at age nine. She spoke of Maxine as someone who provided a safe place spend time, a woman who was very spiritual, and mostly, someone who allowed mom to be herself. From an early age, I remember the calming feeling of hearing mom play piano. She could master any new music in short order and could play some music by ear. While growing up, I never quite understood how she managed to raise five girls, all close in age, while working full time and cooking us breakfast and dinner every day. She had a thirst to learn and grow and was an avid reader. When I was in eighth grade, she enrolled in a master’s program in child development, an on-the-job program that was in conjunction with where she worked at the Texas Medical Center.

Mom was a noteworthy seamstress. When I was in high school, she indulged me with my desire to design fancy dresses for formals. I had seven such dances my junior year, and each time, I would draw the type of dress I wanted, then we would chose the fabric together and she would make the dress for me, always effortlessly and so happily. Mom was a great example to me and always indulged me in my wishes and dreams.

Following graduation with her master’s degree, she became the director of the child care center, for all employees of the Texas Medical Center. Starting out in a couple of temporary trailers, mom had a dream to make it more, serve more of those in need. She convinced the medical center leadership to buy some land and build a state of the art child care center. She joined the board of National Association for the Education of Young Children and studied designs of centers and play grounds that facilitated healthy learning a development for young children. Mom developed the business case and led the design of the new center with the architects, paying attention to each meaningful detail that would make a difference in the day of a child. She led the opening of the center with hours that mirrored the needs of the medical center employees. It was the first child care center in the US to be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year. The center became a model for others to learn from.

In her retired years living on Lake Austin, mom explored new hobbies and talents, and increased her focus on things she loved, like spending time on the water. Her journal entry sums up things that made her heart sing: canoe rides, boat rides, playing the piano, painting with watercolors, listening to music, reading, getting a massage, sharing with her women’s group, talking to her loved ones and simple abundance. Mom was a loyal church goer and while she had a very strong faith, she also found a way to blend her spiritual beliefs with traditional Christianity. A passionate learner no matter the subject, always synthesizing seemingly unrelated topics together to help expand her beliefs.

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inching forward

As I was settling into my new life in March of 2003, the fog of depression started to dissipate. Clarity started to settle in. I had a little more energy to make it through the day. I started to hang pictures on the wall and had unpacked all the boxes in my new home. My job situation had become clearer with some focus. . One of my new job requirements of raising two children as a single mom was to limit my travel, a challenging need to fulfill working for a company based in another state. I relied on work contacts as I considered options and continued to try and let go of where I was to work next.

And then it happened- I was offered a new role in a new division with the same company, just three days before I was to be laid off. A corporate marketing role, something I knew well from my work experience and tasks that came easy for me. What a gift, a job that was not very demanding on my focus or energy, allowing me the grace of space and time to grieve and heal my broken heart. A life giving experience of trusting in the bigger picture unfolding. Trust that whatever path emerged, it would unfold just as I needed it to and just in time.

With my work situation clear, I was able to continue moving into my home. I painted the main bathroom, finished hanging the pictures, and completed the basement organization. Wow. Felt good to do something with my hands. Something I could control, I guess. Up to this point, I had made it through each day feeling like I was in somewhat of a holding pattern, not able to bring myself to start something new or finish anything completely. With clarity and success, I was able to inch forward again, make progress.

In parallel, mom was progressing through her post-surgery chemo, day by day, with minimal energy. Her normal mode of energizer bunny was put on hold as her body succumbed to the poison. Poison from drugs that were killing off the cancer cells, while also having a noticeable impact on her healthy cells. Impacting her ability to eat, causing her tear ducks to clog, and more. As she struggled day to day with the effects of the drugs, mom began to try and understand what she was supposed to be learning from this experience.  In her journal, she wrote- ‘cancer is about claiming your space, having a right to be here on this earth and appreciating the contributions I make.’ She kept track of her feelings each day, what she was able to manage and whether she had any energy. One entry, the day after my birthday, she wrote ‘what did I learn today? to be aware, notice things in my life, notice that I had a wonderful marriage, a warm feeling in my heart to know the power of love.’ Mom continued to focus on healing and on May 13, she wrote ‘no more chemo!’ A triumph for sure to end the poisoning of her body, create space for her energy to inch back little by little. The downside was she stopped short of the recommended amounts of treatment.

By June 4, mom’s energy had increased more. She wrote- ‘1st time more energy after watching TV in evening! played bridge, had dinner and cleaned up! energy returning, thank you god!’ As my home life started to feel more settled, I knew it was time to focus on mom again. Mom’s journey was taking its toll on my father and he was experiencing some health issues. I needed to connect with mom, see what was going on with dad, so I headed back to Austin for a visit. Mom and I were able to get out of the house for a while to have a pedicure and go shopping. We caught up and the bond in our hearts expanded further. She shared her feeling that she was ‘cured’ of the cancer. Wow. Could it be she was triumphant again of the evil ‘c’? I was supportive but inside felt different, felt more like maybe she was healed. I was relaxed and at peace as my mom and I enjoyed some time being totally who were, authentic from the inside out. My father was ok, he just needed his medication adjusted. At dinner, dad was able to laugh and tell jokes, like a stand-up comic, something I had never experienced before.

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awakening to love

As my heart began to expand, I started to see more than before. Maybe just from a different perspective, not sure. In the same year as my knee surgery, I met my husband. I was at work one day and Mike, the guy across the hall from me, was giving me a hard time for being so dedicated to my work. He said there was more to life and he had someone for me to meet.  

Mike convinced me to be brave and oblige. He introduced me to a guy on his team, someone he had worked with before and knew well. Only issue was we lived in different cities. Or maybe that was by design. I was probably a little more open to consider dating him if he was not around every day. After a first date hiking in Muir Woods, I decided maybe Mike was right. After a few more lovely weekends getting to know each other, and a long distance love affair was born. My heart continued to expand. Faith in something bigger than me and the joy and playfulness of this love growing began to have my daily focus, more than the fear of my heart getting stomped on. The following year, I joined him in Northern California and we were married in 1997. The armor started to dissolve, inch by inch, with the persistence of my husband’s love. An emotional thinker, a passionate dreamer by nature, he acted in a spontaneous way, much of the time. Opposite in some ways to me, probably a good model to help encourage the softening of my edges, the expansion of my heart.

My sisters and our families gathered in Austin just before Christmas in 2003 to surround mom with our love and support. Her energy was low but again, she pushed through each day and was happy to have us all around. Mom was the unifier of our family, always trying to bring us all together and keep the peace between us.  For this first year of Christmas as a divorced mother of two, I was glad to be away from my new home and distracted with the family activities and conversation in Austin. The tension and stress was high as we all knew what we were facing just a month later, mom’s surgery. When I returned home, my heart was broken wide open. My reality came back to the surface.  The depth of pain was greater than any I had felt before. Here I was- a newly divorced mother, starting over, while my mom’s life was at the mercy of the evil ‘c’. In that moment, my awareness and understanding was heightened to see why some people turn to drugs or alcohol to mask pain. I had two young babies depending on me and knew I had to be strong, push through the pain and move forward, if not for me, for them. So I carried on, relied on my faith and the help of a therapist and good friends to get through.

Mom chose to have her surgery in Houston at Methodist Hospital, just two blocks from where we grew up, on January 19, 2004. We were all there to support her, along with our many family friends in Houston. Her doctor recommended that we go out into the hall and see her as she was being taken in the operating room. She looked so angelic, as if lit up from the inside out, had a very peaceful smile and rosy cheeks. As mom was wheeled away, I closed my eyes and imagined God’s healing light surrounding her. Focused my attention on healing her body as she had taught me.

While mom was in surgery, we went for a drive by our old house where we created so many memories together. What an eye opening experience that was. As we pulled up in front of the house, I saw something spectacular, so amazing out of the car window. It was a clear day and the sun was shining brightly, rays of sunlight beaming through the trees. The light rays were golden at first and as I turned my head ever so slightly, I could see colors in the rays of deep blue and purple. As I moved my head an inch or two to the right or left, all I saw was the golden light on the green leaves. When I moved back, the vivid hues of blue and purple shone brightly again. Almost like an opening, a path to heaven. Definitely not something easily explainable in words. What was most amazing was the feeling in my heart, kind of like an awakening of the purest love I had ever felt.  

Mom’s surgery went well and she was only in the hospital for five days, recovering quickly as was her norm. We each slept one night with her at the hospital, caring for her needs and wrapping her in love. As she recovered, mom mastered the challenge of living with a colostomy with determination and perseverance, succeeding through trial and error day by day.  She didn’t focus on the frustrations of adapting to living with a bag. She figured out clothes that would work, what schedules and food supported her new body function, and carried on with grace. While I knew mom’s journey had more chapters yet to unfold, it was time for me to focus back home. I had put my life on hold while I traveled many times back and forth to be with mom. My babies needed my love and support and transitioning to a new job needed my attention. The time had come to get settled in our new home, unpack the boxes, and adjust to our new way of living day in and day out. I felt almost like a child myself, each step feeling like something new as I figured out how to handle each daily task by myself while attending to the needs of a five and three year old. I relied on my faith more each day and was grateful for a saying that gave me strength and calmed my heart: ‘when you come to the edge of all the light you know, and are about to step off into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing one of two things will happen- there will be something soft to stand on or you will be taught how to fly.’


invincible me

Mom raised each of us to believe we could master anything we put our mind to, nothing stood in our way. I took this to heart as I grew up and became a young adult. Add a little strong will and stubbornness to that confidence, and there I was. While my career followed a different path than I had planned, I ventured into the corporate world from college and achieved quick success, gained expanded responsibility and was praised for my efforts. Even after I changed careers five years later, I focused intently and succeeded in my new role, just as mom had modeled for me. As such, I grew to believe this success was easily achieved in other parts of my life.

How soon I would learn otherwise. On New Year’s Eve in 1994, I was snow skiing with my friend Stephanie. Having grown up in Texas, I had only been snow skiing a handful of times and had taken minimal lessons. I could get down the mountain but not in the prettiest of form or with much grace, Here I was, skiing with my friend, an expert skier, following her closely as we made our way across the top runs of Breckenridge. I was confident of my ability to conquer and pretended I knew what I was doing. ‘I am in good shape and can keep up with her’ -or so I thought. It was snowing so I couldn’t see very far in front of me. All of the sudden I was flying through the air, skiing off a jump and wow, I landed straight up! Shocking for sure. Quickly the confidence took over- Easy stuff I thought. I can do this! Keep going. Next thing I know I am knee deep in a mogul field, crisscrossing the bumps. I am just getting going and then on one turn, my left ski keeps turning after cresting the mogul. Then I heard it- POP. Ouch. I plopped to the ground and thought, I just needed to rest a little while. I am ok. I will be able to ski down. Boy was I wrong. Next thing I know I am riding down the bumpiest run in Breckenridge behind ski patrol. Yes, I was invincible, or so I thought. Riding down the mountain staring at the sky above, I realized- not so much. It started to sink in that maybe I had limits.

With a torn ACL and meniscus, I returned to Austin for surgery. Characterized as outpatient surgery, I would be released in 23 hours, so the doctor said. I ended up in the hospital for four days. While I am not a believer that God is responsible for bad things happening, I am grateful for the outcome as this accident altered the direction of my life- in a positive way. Mom raised me to believe that good can come from our life experiences, if we chose to see the glass as half full. This perspective has served me well so far and taught me that I could choose my response when ‘bad’ things happened. During the four days in the hospital, the care I received from the nurses was minimal at best. Here I was a young adult and guess who was at my side, mom, caring for me lovingly as if I was still a child. She stayed with me day in and day out, all four nights. Cared for me, made sure I had pain medicine, and helped me relax. It was in this moment, this turning point for me where I first felt my mom’s deep love, in my heart. She selflessly gave me her time, support and mostly unconditional love. A turning point on my journey for sure- the birth of a deep and growing relationship between us.

So in 2003, it was my time to give to mom. And how blessed I was that she wanted me to. That I had started to learn how to, by listening from my heart. Mom was in and out of doctor’s offices and hospitals over the month of October. Being the obedient patient, she bravely faced the radiation and chemotherapy day in and day out, starting on November 3. Mom had 27 radiation treatments and chemo six days a week for four weeks- through a fanny-pack like bag that released the chemo slowly over the week. The doctors said her chance of survival would increase dramatically with this approach before surgery, so she agreed. Mom was ever so strong as these chemicals poisoned her body. After her treatments were finished, she had a regular dermatology appointment. Just a routine visit. Unfortunately, it was not so routine. Her doctor discovered a mole on her back that looked questionable and removed it. The results came in- melanoma. Shock once again. I started to feel a lump in my throat as I processed this news. Deep sadness of accepting reality. Her body is speaking loudly- feels like it is tired. Probably worn out from caring for everyone else. I felt paralyzed in my steps. As tears streamed down my face, I prayed- ‘Lord, fill me with peace and wrap me with love as I face this unknown, the transition I am not ready for, the biggest of limbo’s in my life’. Here it was- more news, just a few weeks after I signed my divorce papers.

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a warrior from the start

Mom came into this world a warrior. Weighing in at 4 pounds at birth on March 9, 1929, it was a miracle she lived. She was the only one of her three siblings to survive and grew up an only child. Mom was born under the sign of Pieces. In her journal, she captured some key descriptors of the sign: generous, compassionate, receptive, imaginative, and efficient. All representative of the mom I came to know growing up as the youngest of five girls.

It’s now August 28, 2003, and I feel the wall of grief hitting the hardest. A time when everything about my identity with my home, my job and my marriage continues the journey to an end. I remain amazed with the support and love that mom and dad continue to give to me. Pure unconditional love. I finally convince mom that I am stable and to go home and see her doctor. She went soon and her doctor ran several tests. Wow, what a difference a day can make. In early October, we were all stunned when the test results came back. An ulcer-like tumor the size of a grapefruit, cancer. A fast growing, atypical type of cancer. Shock and fear paralyzed me. How could this be?

My warrior mom was not a novice to cancer. She had faced the challenge of cancer once already when I was in college. Out of the blue, a call came with news. Mom had late stage breast cancer. Surgery was scheduled for the next day. 2% chance of survival – statistics her oncologist only shared with her family, not her. At that time in the mid 1980’s, mom became a quick study of the beliefs that your mind can heal your body, in part from the book Love, Medicine, and Miracles. I remember sitting in her hospital room after her radical mastectomy and her teaching me about visualizing her body being healed. She would say- ‘Imagine the cancer cells evaporating like water on a hot sunny day.’ Mom survived her breast cancer with persistence and determination as I graduated college. She survived with grace and reverence, all while she endured painful bone marrow and liver tests every six months for 15 years.

As I sat in my soon to be former home back in Boulder, I was paralyzed once again, that evil ‘c’ disease was coming back for another round, a different type of journey this time. Something felt different. As the fog started to clear and my depression of the transition I was living through started to subside, I had a feeling. Call it a dream, a gut level thought that popped in my head. Mom is not going to survive this time. I quickly dismissed it. No, God, I am REALLY not ready for this. I am not strong enough. Her clinical prognosis was not good. Through clinical research, I learned what the likely outcomes would be for someone with her pathology. In five years, less than 12% chance of survival, for patients who could withstand the entire treatment pre and post-surgery. The cancer had spread to her lymph node that was connected to all her major organs, something I learned from reading her pet scan. Mom’s body had a strong voice this time around, something I would come to learn.

With less than two weeks from moving to my new house and not fully packed yet, I called mom and offered to come to Austin to be with her. My own drama seemed so insignificant compared to this news. Mom was ‘fine’ and I did not need to come. I could come later, she said. The next morning, the phone rang. She wanted me to come now, wanted my support. I made plans and went for the weekend. Mom was not afraid, or so she said, and was not sad or didn’t need to cry. We went for a walk in the rain. A bolt of lightning struck very close to us and we heard the loud thunder reverberate through the trees. Mom said that was good- lightening brought oxygen and her body needed oxygen to fight the cancer cells. Being present for her in this moment helped me put my grief in a box; hide it away for a while. We took her to get a makeover also. Wow, how mom’s faced glowed with pure light as the joy exuded from her heart.

Our deep and growing relationship continued to expand. One experience at a time. I was grateful to be able to start to give to mom from my heart, something that was hard for me to do. Somehow through my experiences growing up I built an armor of protection around my heart. My logical mind believed my heart was safe and no one could stomp on it with this armor. Funny thing- opening up and supporting mom now from my heart felt safe. So I continued to give.


venturing into the unknown

Real or make-believe? I actually used to think purple butterflies were make-believe. Something creative and lovely but not real in nature. Funny thing, I learned I was wrong. How you might ask? Through the process of saying goodbye to my mom as she passed from this physical life. And now as I look back, I see the similarities in a purple butterfly and what this blog premise is about. If you have never ventured to push your edges or beliefs, you miss out on things and experiences that are real and lasting. A connection of the heart is one of those things. We don’t really have to say goodbye to our loved ones as they pass. They just take on the form of angels, watching over us and cheering us on through our joys and tribulations.

Why start now? I actually started a few years ago, capturing some of my experience and using entries from my journals and my mom’s writings.  I recently saw the movie Brave with my children and Princess Merida spoke to me. I was taken back to the stubborn young girl I was, determined to make my own path in life. At church this morning, our pastor talked about ‘God loves us, now what’. ‘Go out and do something’ was the message he left with us. And here I am, venturing into the unknown to share my story of how a heart can expand beyond any boundaries a mind can imagine.

It was late summer of 2003 in Boulder, Colorado and I was struggling through one of those tough life transitions, a divorce with a four year old son and two year old daughter. Changing almost everything I knew, even the type of job I held. Good news is I had some constants in my life that pulled me through. My mom and dad were some of my strongest supporters. One day, my dad asked what I needed. He was thinking I would say money. What I needed most was for my mom and dad to come help me through, be by my side, wrap my babies in their love and help us all survive the worst. Or what I thought was the worst at the time.  My dear friend Lyn says God only gives us what we can handle. A divorce with small children was more than I thought I could handle, but figured I would take each day as it came, face the fear and uncertainty and carry on. Each day felt like a wall of grief. Some moments like quick sand, others like water. How soon I would learn otherwise- that my heart would grow to handle more.

My mom and dad came to live with us and help – a trip that had no defined end until I felt stable.  As my mom was picking up toys around the house one day, I saw her taking small breaths, kind of like the breathing taught in birthing classes to prepare for having a baby. She tried to keep it to herself and kept a smile on her face.  I started to notice her do this more and more often. My mother represented the rock of Gibraltar for me. Stronger than anyone I had ever met. Quick to offer help and always loving each of us with her heart wide open.  When I asked if anything was wrong, she said she was having a little pain but nothing to worry about. I was quite distracted with my own pain and dismissed it as nothing. One day we were hiking in the open space and she opened up a little more about the quick little breaths.Mom never complained once a day in her life. What she shared told me this was a whole lot more than nothing- mom was experiencing some bleeding and having lower hip pain, a pressure-like feeling near her tail bone. As we talked more, I learned that a year and a half before, her colonoscopy revealed a small benign polyp that was removed. Her doctor recommended another test in 3 years. Nothing to worry about, he said.

My heart grew heavy each day knowing that mom was helping me while she suffered inside. That was my mother, always giving to others, very selflessly. The wall of my own grief as I transitioned out of a marriage distracted me more. One day as I packed and prepared to move to a new house, my eyes welled up with tears. I was frozen in my tracks as my reality started to settle in. Could it be another life transition starting to take shape? One more life-altering than a divorce? Oh no, God, I am not ready. I am not strong enough. I grew up as a daddy’s girl and had only opened my heart enough to feel my mother’s love just seven years earlier. A deep and growing relationship was in the nascent stages of forming. I was starting to feel whole.