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.’