Friday, December 12, 2014


While I was looking for some Christmas labels a few days ago, I found a picture of my mom I'd taken a while back. My parents had come to visit me in Philly where I was living and working as a photographer for an area newspaper in the summer of 1990. I'd graduated from college about two years before. My graduation year was the same one in which my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer.

That day in my apartment, my parents didn't really do anything special. My dad sat on one end of my tiny sofa and read the newspaper for much of the afternoon. My mom chatted about stuff that I can't even remember now. At some point, we grabbed a bite, but although I don't remember if we went out or ordered in, I do remember taking pictures of the two of them with my ever-present camera. I mostly shot black and white then and processed my own film and printed my negatives in my bathroom/darkroom. The picture above is one of the ones I shot. Another from the impromptu photo session was used for her funeral program.

My mom was only 49 when she died. In this photo, she was the same age that I am now - 47. It's hard to believe that I have lived almost half my life without her in it. Even harder to realize I am almost the age she was when she passed away.

I had turned 25 only a few months before she died. The thoughts of a 25-yr-old single woman still sorting out career stuff and life in general are very different than the thoughts of a 40-something married woman with children. My life at 47 is very different from what hers was at 47, but very similar, too, in many ways. For example, both of us are moms who worry about our kids, even though they are adults. We both love our partners with all our hearts and so much appreciate traveling this life path with them by our sides. Both fiercely loyal to family and friends, we feel very deeply for and with those we care about, which can be both a blessing and a curse. And of course, there's breast cancer.

I'm not sure if she did, but I think about my mortality a lot since I finished active treatment. Did my mom at 47 hear the loud ticking of the clock, reminding her that time is fleeting and there may not be as much of it left as she thought? Did she ponder all the places she'd never seen and the things she never did and wonder if she'd get to do them some day? Did she make plans for the 50th birthday that she never got to see?

I do. And I'm kind of sorry that I never even thought to ask her any of that.

Time is fleeting for all of us as life really can turn on a dime. But nearing the threshold of an age my mother never got to see is both humbling and terrifying. My living model of life at 30, 35, 40, after a cancer diagnosis and at 49 isn't here to show me what life at 50, 60, 70 and beyond will look like from the outside.

So I'm not sure if 49 will be a happy or a sad time for me. I had a big birthday party for my 40th, but I'm not so sure if one for 50 is something I want to do. Such a strange feeling, it really is.

Oddly, I feel so much insight about this life stage, if that makes sense. It's kinda strange - and beautiful at the same time. I can't explain it any better than that.

But first, there's 48 - and the continued celebration of my 10-year cancerversary to get through. Onward...


ldk said...

She is words. I've read her story you wrote. I've read what you've written about her but I never saw her before. I think it makes it worse. Is that shallow, stupid? I don't know. It just does. It makes it even more unfair if that's possible. You speak about losing her at you have no touchstone for life after her death. My number is 61. I'm 53 now. I think, well....I have 8 years left now. My son will be 30 so that might be okay, my daughter 28 but she's stronger in some ways so maybe that will be okay too. If I retire in 3 years I will take a huge hit on my pension, but if I wait just 4.3 years more I can get the entire thing, but by then I'll only have a year left to enjoy it. My Mom's Mom died at 41. She thought she'd never see 41. She told me everything she thought I would need to know before she was 41 - but then time continued. I think we all think that way....the author of that book "Motherless Daughters"..a book I hate and needed at the same time says that's common. I think we have to stop it somehow.....I know you have reasons to to think deeply about this perhaps more than I due to the fact that you both shared this disease. Last month I had a mini stroke, a transient ischemic attack they call it. I couldn't walk correctly or pick up items on my right side. I couldn't say the words I tried to speak, I shook, my ears rang, my face tingled like needles were stabbing me. I tried to ignore was so loud at work, in the car with my daughter blasting he music, the TV in the livingroom later.... that not once, but three times I garbled sentences and nobody noticed. They got the last word right (the only one I spoke correctly, sort of) and answered me. So, I stopped talking and stopped eating and drinking because I couldn't hold a cup or fork. Nobody noticed. I told no one. I teach stroke awareness and I ignored all of this. I went to bed because that fixes everything and thought well, I'm 53. My Dad died a year and a half ago suddenly of a heart attack, but was probably a blood clot blocking his aortic valve. He was 74. I thought I had until 74 and now I wasn't sure of 53. Finally I had the sense of impending doom and went to urgent care....they were concerned, they ascertained that I actually did have a T.I.A. and my bp, bmi, cholesterol is normal...I don't smoke, yet I had this. After preparing what will happen after I'm gone in my head - I went to a good neurologist who yelled at me, gave me an mri with and without contrast and a doppler on my carotid artery. My grandmother died of vascular dementia....this stuff is genetic. Well.....I'm fine. I've had a few of these but no long term damage. It is unlikely I will be one of those 1 in 4 people who will have that fatal stroke 10 days after a T.I.A.. I just have a brain with white matter pinpoint lesions that will put me in a higher category for this. I have to lose weight, lower bp, be aware, change diet....but I may make 61, at least until the next thing happens. This was not supposed to be about me....but about us and how we give ourselves an expiration date based on our mothers. Even when we surpass it, it still doesn't make us feel any better does it? It's like we won the prize that we don't appreciate. More years between the last time we saw them.....with the potential of even more, making them more into a memory than a real live person. Children, grandchildren, loved ones, all that wonderful stuff should make us appreciate this but deep down I think we count. I don't know if we will ever stop. Love you Felicia....I am so sorry about your friend. I really am.

Felicia said...

Lisa - I'm glad you are ok. Must have been scary to deal with that alone. I'm also glad the neurologist yelled at you, LOL.

It's crazy how we measure ourselves through a mom-filtered lens, right? Really weird, but I think we all do it - especially when mom isn't/wasn't around. She's kind of our guide to how things will be for us, a road map, if you will. I think it shocks the system when she leaves suddenly or we approach the age she was before she left. I constantly found myself asking, what was she thinking? Was she happy with her life? What was it she really wanted to do but just didn't?

I'm sure we aren't the only ones who experience this - but nobody ever really talks about it. Thank you for doing that. And we still have to do lunch someday soon. We live too close to not get together for a meal and conversation.

Love you back, my friend...