My Mom, Who You Didn’t Know

 

My mom
My mom

My mom surrendered in September 2014 to the metastasized breast cancer that had reached through her body: her bones, her brain.

You didn’t know her. Until the cancer journey, I didn’t really know her either. It was complicated with my mom — she left a lasting, sometimes beautiful, sometimes painful mark.

I don’t know where ‘it’ started, but in July 2013, my mom had a crisis. It had been a long time since one like this; something I was happy to have forgotten how to respond to. Our relationship at that point had a pretty simple rhythm after decades of uncertainty. We held a safe distance by phone, one state to the other, where we could just be mother and daughter. I helped her, but it wasn’t that same flash response that had influenced so much of my path with her.

It would be different this time though.

She had made it in from a crisis shelter and was afraid of surgery. The doctor from the hospital called: she broke her hip, how soon can you get here? Tomorrow.

And that’s how it began.

An unexplained hip fracture, a very successful surgery, and a fantastic recovery despite some harrowing emotional moments. I wrote a blog about it and thought, wow, who knew a broken hip could bring us together like this. I was hopeful, despite the challenges, and she inspired me.  You can read that first post and you might understand better.

But it wasn’t just a broken hip, that’s the thing … and everything really changed.

Her health took another turn, only this time she wasn’t in a shelter, or the apartment she had abandoned when all this began — she was in a rehab/nursing home. I had visited, kept pictures of her progression and then the decline. She and I were both asking a lot of questions about what was going on with her health. She was clearly in a lot of pain at times, but with the hip surgery, no one was listening to her explain the type of pain.

You see, my mom had this history: ‘mental illness’ — and it easily permeated everything people saw in her; especially doctors — it often made them not listen to her.

The minute someone read her chart, they would see this label for her struggle. And the pain? Sometimes the response was: she just needs to toughen up and get through physical therapy. We’ll give her more pain meds, that should help. I would struggle with these options because of my mother’s history; often pain meds only magnify confusion in patients, and sometimes depression. There were no answers coming. ‘We’re not entirely sure what’s going on.’ I heard that one a lot.

No one seemed to be able to recognize that on top of the pain, her endocrine system was failing, slowly drifting instead of healing. She nearly died at that point.

The hospital team found the tumor — it was unmistakable when they diagnosed it, and it had spread extensively.

She had been in pain because she had cancer.

Once they stabilized her endocrine system and she was starting to feel better, they told her.

She made a clear decision: no surgery, no chemo, no radiation. We had conversations.

I had to be sure she knew what was happening and what not intervening could mean. Her response was determination. She would live with cancer and we would not be talking about it. The doctors started her on hormone therapy and gave her anywhere from one month to ‘many months’ and said repeatedly that I should ‘be prepared’ for her loss. That without surgery, there was nothing they could do.

Only one doctor said ‘no one really knows.’

My mom would go on to live 10 months.

There’s a story in those 10 months, but my purpose for this story, my getting to know who my mom really was happened in the end, especially the last four days.

My mom, living with cancer
My mom, living with cancer

She had kept the pain at bay. Not that she wasn’t in pain. Sometimes very much so. But she had recovered at the end of 2013 enough to move into assisted living, and was walking with only a cane assisting. The staff really liked her, she socialized so much more than she had in decades. People seemed to care about her. That wasn’t new, but given her history, no one was focused on the mental health or necessarily the cancer, and she preferred it that way. She liked her independence. She wanted to make her own decisions. And she was not giving cancer any of her power. I could ask how she was doing, but she refused to talk cancer. One person even thought the cancer was in remission.

She was tough like that, until she simply couldn’t be.

Her last year was hard sometimes, really freeing at times too. But you’d have to understand, really understand, cancer was nothing compared to some of my mom’s struggles in life. This at least was tangible (the body), it had a name that made people care, and even though I knew I would lose her, it did feel that she was coming alive in a way she hadn’t since I was a child. I didn’t spend my time with her mourning; I opened up my heart even more and just go to know her and tried to listen to what she needed/wanted out of her life. As simple as that life was; it was her life. I felt more like a friend at times than her daughter, and it helped us both.

I don’t think you know how close you can feel with someone though than in the moment when they decide they are ready to die. That moment happened with my mom.

We were on the way to the hospital. This time by ambulance.

Her pain had become unbearable. It was the beginning of the last days of her life and there, with this total stranger, my mom says to me, ‘thank you for letting me die.’ I knew what she meant: she could count on me to let her go. She was done fighting.

The pain had crossed a threshold.

The doctors had showed me the MRIs just weeks before at our last ER visit. It was clear the cancer would not be stopped. I had been having those horrible talks: the different ways this could go … talks she couldn’t have.

How much did she understand what was happening? All that seemed to matter was that it was happening. You have to come to some pretty deep acceptance on the spot to show up as that person you must be for someone who is dying.

I had not come for this visit to watch my mother die, and suddenly there it was: all I could do was capture the last moments and memories, make her laugh, forgive her few moments of anger, and trust that it would go quickly. And it did, in a way.

But it was still so painful, for her and for me. But would I have made it something else, if I could rewrite it? Is there a better way to die from cancer? I don’t think so. It’s a path that my mom chose wisely. She did not spend her last year fighting with chemo and surgeries; which would have been so exhaustive given she was Stage 4.

She fought with her mind, and her desire to live. And she did live.

People remember her with that strength and beauty that was such a core of who she was, despite everything that had happened to her in her life.

My mom was on one medication to manage her mental health, the smallest of doses. She was her own woman, on the inside. No, she could not do everything she wanted. I did have to play that guardian role sometimes, for her safety. But I did not take over her life, her decisions, or ever keep her from choosing what should wanted for her own body.

I was her advocate though, ’til the end. And I have these wonderful last pictures with her and my cousin in the hospital bed. The friend side, the daughter.

She was so tough and funny. Moments that would probably only mean something special to me or someone who loved her.

And then suddenly there were these quiet seizures and her body just started letting go. In one moment I held her head in my hands and thought oh god, she’s going to die right here like this.

But she didn’t.
It was ‘tomorrow.’

And it was quiet. Within hours of finally winning the battle over hospice care.

She wasn’t able to speak anymore, but I could feel her still there. I said a prayer for her gentle release and told her she was one of the bravest people I’d ever known.

I sat down to finally eat something, looked up, and she was gone.

That’s how it was. Just like that. Her struggle was over.

And so was mine. All the years since her breakdown, when I was just a child. The past that loomed over us in so many ways that seemed we’d never forget, or heal from, or whatever it is a mother and daughter search for after so much loss, so much grief.

We had found something after it all, some kind of trust, something of beauty.

At one point she said to me, ‘Heather, it’s okay. If this is what it’s going to be, I don’t want to do it.’

The pain. She was talking about the pain. She wanted her life. She didn’t want to try to live in that pain.

There’s so much to my mom’s story.

You know … she was a great cook as one of her closest friends reminded me. (I really remember that.) She loved the ocean. We used to spend what seemed to be endless hours along the shores of the Pacific. She was a hang glider. Loved Baja. Her laugh was impossible to forget, and she had a great smile.

And when she was mad, oh, you knew about it. One nurse had to force her hand to get an IV back in her and afterwards made a kind natured remark like, ‘okay, I’m done now’ and my mom’s response was, ‘okay, well I hate you for that.’ The nurse and I got it; she had hurt enough.

She could be so sharp tongued in the most impossible situations, so honest in every situation and her wisdom was not lost on many who crossed her path.

And even though you didn’t know her, I can say I feel I really did. Cancer helped me see who she was capable of being, and she inspired me. She inspired a lot of people. She was as tender as she was tough. It only took seeing her for who she really was.

A doctor handed me a paper and it said, ‘history of breast cancer.’ The first medical document I can remember that didn’t say, ‘history of …’ you know …

I was grateful that she could finally be free of that stigma in her life once and for all. Maybe I could be free of it too; seems it’s never okay to have  a parent with mental illness; but maybe it’s harder for people to understand how you could ever find friendship with them after all that happened. Forgiveness and acceptance, the rest just heals from there.

She was a survivor, no matter what ‘cancer’ had to say about it. And she was more than the sum of any diagnosis.

She was my mother.
She was Stella.
And she died at the age of 61 …
from breast cancer.

dear FCC, love Solarseed

fcc

Human consciousness thrives in the confines of individual discovery; in the collective’s boldest, beautiful manifestations; in the greatness of being, of knowing — something we call experience, intelligence, evolution. Brimming with life and pulse and power, we are interconnecting and priming our greatness with all that exists; weaving thoughts, words, language, stories, ideas, images, lives, heartbeats, mindsets, discoveries, recoveries: into a tapestry We call the Internet. But it is really Each Other — across the line, here and everywhere. And it is my freedom, as a human being, to be connected to my fellow human being. It is my right to have this experience of Openness. It is our Global Destiny to be Brilliant, not mired by money, deception, politics and financial schemes that deepen schisms. It is our Destiny to Share as One. The Internet teaches us how this is possible and we are greater for that Freedom. To build barriers to access Online is to build barriers to access Within each of us across the planet. It is an impossible failure to stand in the way of progress, evolution, or Destiny. We must all bow to the truth: the People want to get to know one another. And we are. Keep it so.

With Love, Solarseed

un-Locking & Locking Story: Threading the Truth

"Super Dads" opening image sketch by heather cimmy ayres
“Super Dads” opening image sketch by heather cimmy

My storytelling adventures tend to migrate toward the realm of the heart; endeavors that seek out how to change the world, shift a dialogue, break open the real (and equally imaginary) aspects of how and why we live, how and why we must heal how we live.

Sometimes as storytellers, we are gathering up ancient thread to dive deep within the psyche; sometimes we are harpooning the future to move ourselves beyond. But we are always, and either, in truth with a story, or working against the flow as Story has a way of staying close to something every step of the way; and it is that “something” that has the potential to unlock a current of truth between us.

On a recent storytelling dive, we navigated the emotional matter of broken lives. Interviewing fathers who had navigated homelessness with their families in different ways, what became clear was the emotional impact; we do not all know how it feels to survive it, to be haunted by it, or even healed by it, and the dads and their kids wanted to share that with us.

The film journey started out as a documentary idea on paper, and developed into a short animation; which meant we had to find our way to a visual story that could support the voices unveiling their vulnerability.

The moment we walked into a room full of mostly homeless mothers and their kids, I felt it. This wasn’t the first time I had been with a group of homeless families, but it was different this time: because I was looking for how they could tell us their story. The first feeling that truly overwhelmed me was ‘they are stuck’. The stuckness is all I could feel.

I imagined what it would take to unearth oneself from being completely stuck like that. Asking questions seemed trivial, it was all I could do to feel beyond each question to the collective energy in the room because I knew that is where something authentic could emerge in the story.

Researching access points for the film, I learned about the crisis homeless dads were facing across the nation, and in other countries too. Interesting, the first person in that room that first day of interviews was a father; we knew we would need to focus on dads from different walks of life if we were going to unlock our story. Where the mothers on the face of family homelessness have all too often suffered tremendous traumas such as domestic violence, many of the fathers are dealing with the hardships of a broken economy and larger social/societal issues such as their immigrant status. The largest hurdle though that homeless fathers and their children face is the denial of access to homeless services, or separation of the father from his family while in the family homelessness system. All of this works to create a climate of trauma for the fathers now too.

While editing the audio recordings, it became clear that the thread of their stories was like a baton, each character handing their experience off to the next, opening little doors to more enlightened thinking, or feeling, on family homelessness itself. While listening to this one dad share his story, an image emerged of a big dad; in one hand he’s holding a house, and in the other he’s holding his child.

"Super Dads" story sketch  by heather cimmy ayres
“Super Dads” story sketch by heather cimmy

I wrote “Superdad” and thought of that interview, asking this boy, whose dad was so tired from the struggle: “is he trying to be super dad?” I could see this father standing between layers of the world, and wrote, “breaks into a 3rd world: i.e. new karma, enlightenment, faith, create your own world.” Sometimes our audience is ourselves; how to expand on what we believe. My sketches were amateur in comparison to the animation team, but by listening to the dads, being willing to sit with their truth telling, it was enough to find a way to tell their story.

"Super Dads" butterfly lady sketch idea by heather cimmy ayres
“Super Dads” butterfly lady sketch idea by heather cimmy

Getting into that deep-end emotional water land of storytelling can be uncomfortable, and when it works, it can be consciousness elevating, shifting, or at the bare minimum, awareness building.

You can watch Super Dads here.

when all we have are our words

writing2

 

Like many, I grew up with pen and paper. I can honestly and frankly say, without writing, scribbling, wondering and creating, I may not have ever made sense of my life. But using that tool to save oneself feels a lot different than trying to save the world, you know? Who am I: my words floating, flapping among the millions also trying to make sense of things.

I am an environmentalist, and sometimes activist. I have shouted, marched, painted my face, sat in circles, prayed, meditated, written letters, emails, blog posts, made conversation, debated, researched, dug deeper, let go of my expectations, revisited my assumptions, and cried — and there is something else I’ve done that is much harder to describe in words. This is where my story may belong, not in the environmental debate, not the activist-speaks, but rather in the realm where feeling meets thought: we can call it soul searching.

When we take everything we know and place it at the feet of our soul, the answers become clearer, including what we do not yet know for certain. That soul does not need to be spiritual. There is the soul of a nation, of a people, of a tribe, even of a decision. Each choice may in fact have its own soul. The soul can be thought of as tiny molecules of energy bouncing around, or perhaps something so awe-inspired-beyond-the-imagination that our words are weak to define it. That soul of a choice, a decision, can often be defined as a crossroads. A moment in destiny when a single decision will literally change the course of our lives, forever. That kind of decision sometimes happens without us knowing it, but sometimes it sits before us very clearly as that magnitude of a decision.

We have all been conditioned to make decisions based on knowledge, and pushed hard to let go of our gut instincts, our intuitive, softer selves. We have been told to be strong, and be determined. But we aren’t always told to be brave. We are told many things, but what we tell ourselves is what will ultimately define it all, or redefine it as needed.

The big stories of our lives, whether scientific or religious in nature, point to this time as a major crossroads. Each day, our decisions are literally rewriting the old story, or creating a new one. But we are coming up to those soul-searching decisions, we have been all along. The stakes are just much higher now.

My decision is to be on the side of planet earth, because I am honored to know her. Most of my most profound moments of bliss have been with nature. Most of my happiness comes from the love of land, air, water. The last few years have deepened my honor with the planet. I am proud to be called a tree hugger. I relish walking past a turtle in the mud, or sunbathing with a seal on the beach, or discovering some little old baby bear in the woods. Climbing to the top of a mountain seizes your heart, and climbing the mountain of your soul seizes your mind. We have a life to make beautiful together.

Environmentalists have been shamed for too long. Their work has been ridiculed with a nonstop PR machine telling us that safeguarding the future is wrong. People have been going to jail for decades fighting some of the biggest battles to ensure clean air, clean water… protecting sea life, animal life… standing up to unregulated industries… trying to keep cancer from spreading from chemicals, toxins… the list is long, and so are the hours of work.

I wasn’t an environmentalist 10 years ago. Growing up, I thought I’d become a veterinarian, or a teacher. But I loved nature. It just never occurred to me that it was part of my job to help steward the earth. It is the job of each person to care for some piece of this planet though, and to soul search those decisions that clearly do the planet harm. Some decisions you never get back, and some you can live with; some you cannot. But it is never too late to make the right decisions. It is never too late to climb to the top of your mountain, inside or out, and choose earth. That choice is easy to make when you rely solely on your heart.

 

equinox~

equinox

The Equinox ………….a moment&time when ‘both’ are near equal
A passing at the equator //

If you take this moment to close your eyes, add to the palette—

the flutter of a bird’s feather
warmth from an opening in the cloud
a drop of rain along your forehead
waves forming

This is what keeps life
True
Expressive
And Listening

That moment of near equal today.

drawing the line: and finding peace even deeper within

IMAG1113

Each of us grew up with the stories: whatever those stories are. Incomplete human journeys, experiments with life, choices, decisions, carvings on a path. These things get handed down, and published in many forms: both within ourselves and in the greater world. Consciousness guides us into this knowledge and calls it wisdom. That wisdom might begin with someone’s quote; words that literally reshape your heart in an instant; a film that shaved a layer away of your world and held you in truth long enough to feel you are not the only one who sees this new thing taking shape; novels, scriptures, essays, scientific discoveries, Facebook posts, moments with nature. All of these are wisdom teachings; the wisdom gleaned by your own heart+mind connection. The “who” you want to be in this world. Each of us came in attached to another, and have spent our lives moving from one form of attachment to another; some healthy, some not. Some raise their voice to speak truth, others find a quiet space in the forest and offer love to a tree. People gather to spend dozens of hours in a week to create something new, others to protect something old. But each person has their story, and it is literally threaded by endless story pieces, like a big puzzle, that has been given to us, bit by bit along every step of this journey we call life.

Ownership of the story has always been questioned. From the beginning, I’m sure, someone asked, “why?” Why do we do that? Why can’t we change it if it doesn’t work? These are not questions that emerged because of conflict; they are inherent to our psyche. We tinker, we think, we feel, we dramatize, we rise up every single day to be part of life on earth.

There are so many prophecies, so many stories that have brought generation upon generation to this moment. But they are, and have always been, tools, guides, suggestions, if you will, on how we might live. They are all sacred because a human being lived to share that wisdom. And we are those human beings now.

Everyone wonders about their life, their purpose. I stood outside a monastery once with a Buddhist monk and explained that while I feel Buddhism is important to my life, I don’t want to take refuge and formalize some kind of process in my life that might keep me from thinking for myself. He said he never felt to be a Buddhist one had to take all those steps, that it was more a matter of principle; that if I was choosing to live with Buddhist principles in my life, that I could consider myself a Buddhist (if I wanted to).

Last summer, I had a long chat with a man in the oil business on a plane ride. It was an unusual moment of clarity for us both. He said, you know, under any other circumstances, I never would be having this conversation with an environmentalist; usually they would be shouting at me from the other side of a fence. I took that fence to be something much more than literal; we all have fences in our lives that we stand on one side or the other and shout across at one another through. But what those fences might represent is not so much our fear, as our misunderstandings.

Every conflict in our life, every moment of not agreeing, every time one person, or group of people, says another is not allowing for freedom, it is an opportunity to ask ourselves what this world is that we are co-creating. It’s a chance to ask what can we do different this time? What can we do different with this choice before us? Do the same thing, get the same result, right? So, what can we do different? Is it that we don’t argue this time, we don’t fight? Is it that we finally speak up? Is it that we finally listen to the other? What haven’t we thought of yet? What creative solutions exist? Kind of like stretching the body in new ways, solutions are floaty at first, sometimes stretching into our sphere of awareness in ways we don’t fully recognize at first. Patience plays a huge part in the discovery.

One of our greatest barriers as human beings is our need to catalogue things as “right and wrong.” This is an incredible practice, that gives us great insight, and often great control, but it also builds a lot of walls. And who wants to climb over a big huge wall to say hello to the fellow human on the other side? How could you even see them standing, sitting, crying, laughing, or whatever it is they are up to over there? Why would it matter to your life even?

Whatever we believe has power, has power. It’s pretty simple. I believe in the power of love — so much so that I once lost a friendship over an argument about whether we could heal one another through love. Her idea was valid, that we cannot; it is actually a natural extension of Buddhism that we cannot heal another; that we can only heal ourselves. And yet, how does one meditate on a flower and not watch it bloom? Or water, and not see that it has clearly changed its cellular form? Is that science, or spirit? Or both? All I know is that when I was sitting with my mom, who has a mental illness, and now stage four breast cancer, I meditated on love. The doctors were preparing me to lose her in November; it’s March. She is living with cancer, not dying; doesn’t make it easy — very complicated in fact, but I had to surrender my “belief” about what a cancer journey is or should be. I’m along for the ride; it’s her journey. My offering is love. Every challenge forces me back into that place. But holding a belief in love, and just trusting the path (especially when it seems uncertain what’s ahead) takes patience with yourself. More patience than I have ever known I could give myself, because I am imperfect, and always will be.

Many years ago, I ventured on a rather unknown path to heal myself, my body, and to try and detangle myself from some pretty heavy family pain. The first thing I had to learn how to do was surrender, because to be honest, it was scary. Taking those steps with shamans, working with plant medicines, opens spaces in a way that I had never been prepared for. But, after some struggle, I surrendered, and what I surrendered to was love. I literally had to find this new love for myself, and my path. I had to, in that moment, it was now or never. So I opened the door and let love come pouring into my heart, and it was remarkable. I felt what it was like to be held by all who love me, and everything in my being felt as though I had never, ever even been shown love before. I continue to look for ways to express it in words, but today felt like it was important to remind myself that that kind of love actually does exist. And it is new, because learning how to love ourselves completely is still very new. New things take time to find their harmony, and a lot of people are seeking that harmony all at once.

Changes happened. We aren’t the people of a 100, a 1000, or even 10 years ago. We are these people, now. We have everything we need to build a fair, just, and spectacular world together. The only thing we may still be developing is our trust in one another, and our patience with the processes that were built by others over a very long period of time. Co-existing is, and continues to be, our best way to find peace within.

Each person needs inspiration; it may be that it comes from a wide variety of teachings — much broader than we ever really understood. We may be the generations that are able to bring the ancient together with the modern, in alignment with our brain power and our heart power to make choices, come up with remedies, and expand our collective future in a way that simply could never even be dreamed before, much less realized. Right here, right now. We are perhaps the best dreamers, co-creators, that have ever lived at one time together. That should excite us. It’s kind of amazing that every direction we look, something new is unfolding. Something beautiful and brand new. It just takes believing in yourself, and making the decisions that back up that belief in yourself.

Namaste. Aho. Aloha. Gratitude. Gracias. And endless thanks to everyone who draws the line at love.

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