Tag Archives: miracles

another dimension

Galveston, August 2011



I admit it– I hate goodbyes.  They gut me, everytime.

When a significant relationship is severed by death, whithers due to physical or emotional distance, or comes to a decisive end, I imagine an alternate dimension. This place knows no limits of space or time, and the relationship in its finest moments and greatest joys, can live on into infinity.  For example, in this place Kirsten and I are still slugging through the snow, across a frozen lake in Minnesota; Shane and I are still driving under a starry New Mexico Sky with Paul Oakenfold filling our ears. 

The thing is, I don’t know where Mom fits into this dimension, because she was everywhere.  Her love was as ecompassing as the air I breathe.  She was the quiet joy of an everyday phone call. She was everything from a smell and a touch from the first moments of awareness, to my career counselor as an adult.  She was there for all the biggest days of my life and during lots of the mundane ones, too. 

She really liked the beach, though.  Maybe we are still there, bathed in an eternal sunshine.

a mother’s love

Mom wasn’t very sentimental. After her death, I collected my baby pictures, which were shuffled together with hundreds of other photos loose in a plastic storage box. Her best friend Catherine has also sent me copies of photos my mom sent her after my birth, and everytime I see a new snapshot it feels like hitting the goldmine.  These images have been such a gift to me.

I don’t know that Mom ever looked as radiant and happy as in these photographs– all wide smiles with a brand new baby in her arms.  The joy is palpable.  Sleep deprivation must have really agreed with her.

at least one of us was happy!


These pictures are so precious because they are authentic. Of course, I don’t remember life as an infant, but from my first moments of awareness, I felt surrounded by her love. She had such a big heart, and adored me completely, without expectation or ridicule.  I was always enough, just as I was. Of course, she had ambitions for her only child, but her love was pure, encompassing, constant. And from the first days to the last, we always felt the greatest happiness when we were together. Twin stars, shining brightest in each others presence.

I am so fortunate that from the very beginning I was fully embraced and appreciated.  I pray that every child on Earth could know this kind of love.

sustained by love

My mom’s spirit took flight on December 13th, 2011 at 4:12pm.  Just yesterday.

We spent a lot of time together on December 13th. I was with her most of the morning, bathing her, repositioning her.  I dressed her in a pink nightgown, and changed her bed with fresh, pink sheets.  After a difficult night, she was finally very calm, and entirely still. That afternoon, I was listening to Sarah Brightman’s album “Time to Say Goodbye” on repeat while I journaled, took a nap, and listened to her breathing, and to the gentle rain outside my mom’s bedroom window.  Mom’s breathing was steady, but her nails were starting to turn blue. We were getting close, but I thought we had more time, more hours, maybe a day or two.

My friend Kathy surprised us with a visit a bit after 3pm. Seeing her suddenly appear in the kitchen in Sun City filled my heart with joy. She helped me reposition Mom again, and we took a break, eating peach lavender bread she brought from a bakery in Tucson.  It felt good, sitting in the living room with my family and dear friend.

Then, John called me into the bedroom.  There was urgency in his voice. Mom took two more gasping breaths.  I felt her pulse under my fingertips flutter like butterfly wings, then fade away.


A dear friend of mine passed away while we were in high school.  Her family were of a spiritual/philosophical persuasion that teaches the soul leaves the body slowly, over three days.  But it seems to happen more quickly in my experience. With my mom, I saw a green glow in the corner of the bedroom about 30 minutes after she died.  Reflection of an unseen surface, or mom’s spirit?  I know what I’d like to believe.   

Even though I saw the bus heading towards me for the last number of months, I still feel the full force of the impact.  Everything is altered; the world looks familiar and yet entirely different.  This is the first day of my life without my center of gravity, and I’m wobbling on the inside.

Last night, I dreamed I visited a Tarot reader with a group of people from work.  My companions all drew animal medicine cards, and my card was simple, with a large pink heart in the middle.  I asked, what is this?  I don’t understand.  The Tarot reader responded: this is Pure Love, Divine Love.  You are full of love and it surrounds you. This is your situation.

Yes, I think its true. Love is surrounding me and sustaining me in this time of grief. Love from friends, family… and Mom. 




the best possible outcome

 (written September 6th)

I’m on my way home now, after 2.5 weeks with my family.  A lot has changed– in the interim, Mom had a week-long hospital stay, several procedural interventions, one round of chemotherapy, and oh yeah, we packed up their apartment and made it back home to Arizona.

I’ll be honest, on my way out to Houston, things sounded bleak, and when I landed and was able to asses the situation myself, I wasn’t reassured. I was scared of the possiblility, which was far from remote, that she would get rapidly and progressively sicker, and be unable to make it back home.  I was afraid her ticket to Houston was the one-way kind.

Today, she is at home in Arizona, and looking better than she has in weeks.  After a few days of settling her and Grandma back into their former lives, I am on my way back to my normal life too. 

There are still many unknowns– will her current chemotherapy regimen control the cancer?  For how long?–  but after a string of dissapointments in her response to various treatments, I feel a glimmer of hope. I believe that she got benefit from the chemo, because she really looks and feels ever so much better.  Of all the rapid changes we went through over these last few weeks, her turn around is the most wonderful by far.

We wanted the Houston chapter to end with a remission, a cure.  We didn’t get either.  But my mother recieved incredible care, and we did end our time there on a happy note.  My mom recovered from renal failure, left her hospital bed behind, floored her oncologist with how great she looked for the final outpatient visit, stuck her feet in the sand one last time in Galveston, and came home.

the ordinary and the extraordinary

Mom on her 57th birthday (2010)

It has been 58 years since a charismatic and complicated young woman gave birth to a baby girl in Southern Minnesota. A very fashionable aunt named the baby Janelle.
In many ways, my mom’s life has been ordinary.  After graduating high school in the smallish town she was born in, she moved to “The Cities” and graduated from the University of Minnesota. She spent most of her career working for local non profits. She attended a Unitarian church with my stepfather.  She drove used cars, vacationed once a year in Mexico, voted in both primary and general elections, and loved to walk around the Minneapolis chain of lakes in her free time.  Her life has had its share of joy and heartbreak, but that’s pretty ordinary, too.
But this seemingly ordinary life has changed everything– and I’m not just saying that because this woman was the reason I came into being, although that’s a pretty good reason to be biased.
A few individuals change everything, and its obvious and measurable to the entire world, for generations beyond– the Napoleons, the Mozarts, the Buddhas.  Most of us live quieter lives, and its harder to see the difference.  Try picking out one butterfly in a flurry of a million, then discern how that one butterfly affected the air temperature, the current, the state of things. You can’t really do it. 
But yet, its true: one butterfly, one human can make all the difference.

Be it raising money to causes she believed in, or making the cashier at the grocery store smile, my mom has spent her life serving others and spreading happiness. Cancer has opened up this generous soul to the boundless love from those to whom she brought so much joy.  She has been showered with blessings from coast to coast. Buddhist monks and Catholic nuns chant her name in prayer.  She has touched the lives of her immediate family, but also the lives of individuals she has never met.

This life may be a flash of gossamer wing amidst the storm.  But the multitudes of prayers, blessings, mantras, and wishes come together in a symphony which sings that this life is a miracle.  This life has made a difference. 

On her 58th birthday, I feel a range of emotion: anxiety about the future, and gratitude for all the joy we have shared. 

And I am filled with awe of this woman, who takes her ordinary life and lives it extraordinarily. 

Happy birthday, Mom.

April 1st, 2011

Cancer is like a magical vegetable peeler; it removes layers and shows who you- and those around you- really are.  As my mother and I gaze at her latest scan, the area of active cancer shimmering brightly before us, I am mired in negativity and anger. I hate the lymphoma coursing through her veins, all the while dividingdividingdividing. I hate that my mother trudged through months of chemo, and it has come down to this, a fluorescent glob winking gaily on a computer screen. It appears and disappears as we scrolled back and forth between the pictures taken by the CT scanner, as if to say “surprise!  I’ve been here all along, just waiting for this moment, my day in the spotlight!”  I feel nauseous.

My mom, she smiles back.  That’s great, she says.  I’m so glad it isn’t larger.  I’m happy there isn’t more of it.  I’m grateful that the treatment worked on some of the cancer. Gladness.  Gratitude.  Joy. That is the miracle in this mess.  Not that one of her B lymphocytes had managed to collect a series of specific mutations, tiny points in the twisting DNA, that caused uncontrolled growth, and resistance to the multitude of ways the body has to kill off these kinds of cells (and even, it seems, resistance to cytotoxic, multi-drug cocktails).  The miracle is that she can smile at the cancer that may take her life.

There is a quote taken from the writings of Eckhart Tolle posted on a whiteboard at work.  One of our nurses heard it from a patient with metastatic breast cancer, and knew she had to share this message with our team.  “What is, is. Accept whatever the present moment contains as though you chose it.”  

I can’t imagine a world where I would have chosen this disease for my mother, who is undoubtedly among the most beautiful, kind and delightful humans on the planet.  But even though I have spent the majority of my career in oncology nursing, I can still learn from my mother, and from all who transcend the multitude of challenges in life.  I can hate my mother’s cancer, but I can also accept it. This acceptance lets joy and hope shine through the bleak moments.  We can fight her lymphoma with drugs, but also with love. This is not only the miracle of cancer, but the miracle of life.