When Mom got sick, I started painting my nails.
First, I should provide a little historical context. My adolescent years landed squarely in the Grunge Era. At the developmental stage where young women become obsessed with grooming techniques, social pressures were simultaneously disdainful of such practices. And I listened. I had hairy legs, wore overalls and went bare-faced to formal dances. I still feel a pang of pity when I see young girls exquisitely, painstakingly put-together– shouldn’t they be spending their last gasp of childhood having more fun than flat ironing hair for an hour, or applying a perfect smokey eye?
Forward to adulthood: I own a razor and wear makeup, but still have needed to play catch-up in beautification skills. Luckily I have a few patient friends that were willing to teach me how to put on mascara, long after we graduated from high school.
Shortly after Mom started chemo, my cousin gave me a manicure. She is enough younger than me that models of female beauty had moved on from Courtney Love by the time she entered her teens, and she is a true cosmetological wiz. A chronic nail biter, I hadn’t had polish on my fingertips for over a decade. But I liked the flash of mint green, and with her invaluable instructions (apply a base coat AND a top coat!) I started off on my own.
No pearly pink for me, I went crazy for wild colors: blues, purples, sparkly shades that look best at a disco. It may have been unprofessional. My doctor colleague would roll her eyes whenever she saw me sporting my latest incandescent shade; I felt embarrassed when I was chatting with the hospice nurse, and looked down at my bright, glittery pink nails that would make any 7 year-old drool. But I needed color. I needed fun. It was chromotherapy, delicately applying every hue of the rainbow on my fingertips. As if those bold colors could dissolve darkness from the outside in.
People have asked me what I learned from my mom’s cancer journey. It is this: I chose beauty in times of sadness and grief. Even though I may often be mired in negativity, I also take the opportunity for brightness and light where I can find it. If this is true, I know that I can survive and thrive no matter what life brings.