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Unexpected Summer

Updated: Jul 24, 2023

The beginning of May seemed to indicate the kind of summer I love - warming sun, still some spring rains and overcast days (my favorite!), and great opportunities to work with groups, attend conferences, and consult. I had 2 wonderful new programs ready to launch, new collateral to share, and a new training series in the works.

There were also graduations planned, summer getaways, and thoughts of getting some more time on the kayak. A couple of vendor markets for selling art and make new creative connections all looked ideal.

Until it all wasn't.

By the middle of May it was clear that most of my plans would be replaced by a family crisis that required my full attention. Suddenly, I was swept under this complex and uncharted wave, and just as I was coming up for a little air, our beloved, recently-adopted little kitty became seriously ill. Adding her care into the mix, the blur of May became June.

I always brace myself for June. Somatically, June and my body are not well aligned. I have a personal history of serious and rare illnesses that stack up like dominoes with infection dates all beginning with '06' of some year past. And, since I knew I was heading into the month with few resources left for myself given the chaos of May, I felt sure my early June cold would blossom into something a doctor would invariably tell me is 'highly unusual - especially in the summer.'

But it didn't turn out that way.

It would not be my body that required attention this June: it would be my mother's. I received word she had gone into the hospital right at the beginning of the month. It was a clear and difficult diagnosis: lung cancer - stage 4. Inoperable.

I waited impatiently for my summer cold to subside, worked to gather support for the other crisis at home, and find someone who could give the now-healing kitty the medication that seems to be curing her of a disease that would be fatal without it, before making arrangements to be with my mother in hospital. My demands would be in two places - 1/2 of a country apart. I was, quite literally, torn.

I arrived on a hot, June Friday afternoon at my mother's bedside. Talks of long-term care facilities, calls about placement, ways to assist her palliatively, had all been held on my drive out to her but upon arrival it became clear that those conversations belied the reality of the seriousness of her illness, the depth of the pain it was causing, and the rapidly approaching onset of multi-system organ failure.

I never left the hospital - and on Monday morning, June 26, I held my mother's hand and said goodbye one last time as she slipped away.

Rarely do we ever actually expect to lose someone. Even if we understand the diagnosis, that moment when death arrives feels untethered, unplanned, and sometimes oh-so-cruel. The mixture of relief that my mother’s considerable pain was ended, tangled with my own emotional feelings of loss and even anger as I grappled with how she had been so ill felt (and still feels) like a different kind of wave. Like the death itself, grief also feels untethered, unplanned, and sometimes oh-so-cruel, especially in the ways it can creep up on us: a song, a smell, even unearthing a mundane piece of paper with her handwriting on it can instigate a crushing wave. And in truth, my relationship with my mother was never simple or easy. The complicated dynamics of that reality, much of which was left unresolved, make for more unexpected and unpredictable steps.

And then there was uncovering the box of cassette tapes and recalling my mother’s uninhibited ability to break into a dance if she liked the song - no matter where we were - that brought the first smile I could manage when clearing out her home. There was finding the copies of black and white photos with a face looking suspiciously like my own and reading ‘maybe Paula at her wedding around 1937’ scribbled on the back that grounded me back into a ‘these are my people’ place. There was the pride and fondness of finding a huge box full of my mom’s fair ribbons – she loved baking so much and scrupulously recorded each win with the details of the item, recipe, and even notes on her competitors! Those little moments were an opportunity to come out from under the wave and remind me that grief and grace are roommates in this new journey I’m on.

And now, having leaned into my resilience and self-care skills to manage some new traumas, I am slowly starting to emerge again. Knowing that another wave maybe just around the corner but understanding that it can be navigated with my tools means it’s time to get back to serving my clients and myself through my work. In this unexpected summer, I encourage you to hold your loved ones, capture the little moments of joy wherever you find them, and know that there is hope and light in even the darkest corners.

Be Well.

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