Diagnosis.

www.angiewarren.com 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.

www.angiewarren.com

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.

- an excerpt from my memior

www.angiewarren.com

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.

My mom.

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.

Abby & the Pow Wow.

www.angiewarren.com October 23.

The day before had been terrifying. Our mom underwent a dangerous procedure in hopes of breaking up the clots that filled her lungs, she made it through, but time would tell whether or not TPA was successful. They basically told us it would work, or she would bleed out and wouldn't make it.

More on that day, another time.

Wednesday afternoon the four of us kids crossed the busy street to get lunch. Our mom was heavily sedated to prevent bleeding, and we sort of wandered through the ICU helplessly, so we decided to get some fresh air. After lunch we ended up here, in this little corner near our Healing Tree.

Our hearts were so heavy.

I didn't think that in the end, my mom would be okay. And I felt so urgently that we should talk about it. I just needed to talk about it. Our conversation went places that will forever stay within the walls of our memories. Pieces of that afternoon still haunt me to this day, harsh realities, honest truths, and spoken words we'd never before dare speak aloud.

At one point my brother turned to Abby and then me saying, "If things don't get better..." he paused. "If things don't get better, what happens to Abby?". You see, she still lived at home. This was the first time I stepped out of my own misery to think about my youngest sister. Oh my word, she wouldn't have anywhere to go.

Circumstances with our dad wouldn't allow them to stay at the house, and he wouldn't be able to support her, so as all eyes turned to me I said the first thing that immediately came to mind.

"Well she will move in with us, of course."

We would later refer to that afternoon as our Pow Wow. Little did we know that in five short days we wouldn't have to wonder about what could maybe, possibly, perhaps, happen. Because it happened. Our mom died.

A few weeks later, some amazing friends of ours showed up at my mom's house. Without question, with amazing generosity in their hearts, they packed up that house to bring their belongings here - to my house. That's the day Abby moved in.

I can't begin to understand how that felt for her. She was 19 and planned to move out of course, but not so suddenly. There was no easy transition for her like there had been for the rest of us. Without a doubt, we wanted her to feel at home here and comfortable as she navigated her way into adulthood. But a house bustling with the noise of three young children and a puppy is quite an exchange for being the last kid at home with two parents who worked most of the time.

I can't speak for her, but the grief of a daughter who is 31 and married with a family, isn't the same grief as a daughter who has just begun to leave the teenage years with hopes of finding a deep connecting friendship with her mom. We both grieved of course, we both missed her tremendously, yes. But we entered into grief from two completely different worlds. And so, our journey through grief is going to be so different as well.

Many days we wouldn't see each other, only to connect randomly in the kitchen and sob over our mom's favorite frying pan. Other times we would take turns smelling the red comb she used, in hopes of getting a glimpse of the mom taken too soon from us. Most of the time we went about life, her working two jobs and me struggling through my own.

For five months I did my best to do and say the things I know mom would have done and said. But in the end I'm not our mom. I'm a vessel, and I can only hope it's helped her some. Next week she moves out on her own. I will miss her tremendously! Yet, I'm so incredibly proud of her. She has taken the worst possible hand life dealt her this year, and is stronger for it. I know, without a shadow of a doubt that our mom would be absolutely bursting with pride.

I am.

Looking back to that day, October 23, I think we all knew. We sat in those cold, hard chairs outside Kaiser and talked about the what-ifs. Discussed what would happen and how we would survive. It was an awful meeting of the sibling minds, but I'm so thankful we had it. So thankful for my brother and sisters. So thankful we had one another during those awful weeks.

I think Hope Edelman said it best, 

"A mother's death also means the loss of the consistent, supportive family system that once supplied her with a secure home base, she then has to develop her self-confidence and self-esteem through alternate means. Without a mother or mother-figure to guide her, a daughter also has to piece together a female self-image of her own.”

 

A Ford Fiesta Birthday.

Yesterday he turned fifty-four. His first birthday apart from my mom, I can't imagine it was easy. I tried hard to remember what she used to do for him on his birthday, likely she'd make a big, fancy steak (his fave), and buy him a new t-shirt.

Instead of re-creating the impossible, I decided to paint for him. Because soon he will have his own place, his first place as a single man, and without a doubt he'll need some art for his walls.

One of my favorite images of my parents is from their wedding day... so very young, so very much in love. Life ahead of them, poor as can be, but completely together, and that's all that mattered. They piled into the back of that minty green, 1979 Ford Fiesta and rode off into their wonderland.  Thirty two years they shared as husband and wife. Not all roses and unicorns. No, no. But they kept their commitment to one another and I admire that very much.

So in the darkest of my heartache, I find art to be the most healing of all. So I do it, and I do it often.

Here's the original image: