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.