April 4, 2013
“Hey mom.” I answered, hurried as the kids were underfoot. I was trying to get dinner on the table, help with homework, and feed the baby. The line was silent.
“Mom? You there?” I asked, a bit irritated with the delay.
“I... I have... cancer.” she said in between sobs. The world around me began to spin and I held on to the chair beneath me. As she started to relay the dreaded phone call I felt my gut clench at her words.
Tumor. Cervix. Rare. Treatment. Oncologist. Chemo. Radiation.
I was at a loss for words, I quickly grabbed a piece of chalk and scribbled the words 'Life is precious' on our table. And at that moment, all I wanted was my mom. I wanted her to wrap her arms around my thirty-year-old self and soothe me with her words. To tell me all would be okay, I needn't worry. Sadly, this would be the first of many times, at the end of her life, where she couldn’t do so.
It would be a few days later, that she'd ask me one of the most precious of things, something I think deep down inside she knew would mean more to me than to her. She asked me to photograph her fight.
“You’ll document this, right?” she had asked.
My throat constricted. Of course, my passion being photography, specifically of the photo-journalistic nature, I had hoped to do so. It was a personal thing however, a cancer diagnosis, and I never wanted to assume or intrude on this dark and strange time for her.
“Of course I will, mom.” I said lightly, not knowing just how hard the images would be to take, how difficult the journey that lay head, what the commitment entailed I was making.
As we were packing up to go that day in early April, my mom looked at Quinn, just 15 months old at the time. Her eyes were glossy and sad.
“Quinny, Nana doesn’t know if she’ll get to watch you grow up…”
I sprang into action, thinking it the most dramatic, ridiculous thing I’d ever heard. “Mom! Stop it.” and she shrugged, scooping her only granddaughter up in her arms.
Looking back on that day I often wonder if she knew. She said many things that lead me to think perhaps she did. Deep down in her heart, no matter how easy her diagnosis seemed in the beginning. I think she did know, and it broke her to pieces.
Yesterday morning I was listening to Go Rest High on That Mountain as I got ready for the day. The words resonate so much with me, it's my mom's song if ever there were one. I felt the weight of this day approaching and emotions were high. Danny called from the other room, "Come look at this sunrise, mom! Come look quick!".
It was gorgeous. Dark pinks and oranges rising over the houses across the street. Instinctively I took a few photos with my phone. After putting one on Instagram I began to notice something in the sky. The shape startled me. It was very different than any of the clouds around it. I zoomed in closer (image on right) and as I did, sobs escaped my throat. Very clearly, just above my house, was the outline of an angel, dark hair and all.
Normally I wouldn't believe this if you told me. I don't 'feel' her around and have a hard time grasping Heaven, though I believe 100% that's where she is. But this, this absolutely took my breath away. I cried most of the morning before work and kept going back to the image. It was just exactly what I needed so very much, in this very hard season of life.
One year later. An entire year, since that dreadful call. Stage 1. Easy treatment. Great life expectancy. Promising future. Nothing turned out the way we expected it to, and as I write this precious book of mine - pour endlessly my memories and thoughts and pieces of my mama, I find such comfort in the honor I have that I get to tell her story. I miss her. But I will continue on in the commitment I made.
Go rest high, mama. Love you more.