I want to take a moment to thank ALL OF YOU folks who have subscribed over the past couple of days. I can’t express how grateful I am for your interest and support. I truly believed that I would be in here talking to myself for several months so imagine my surprise when all of you showed up! Thank you and what better way to say thanks than by offering you a donut? I figured the donuts would be stale by the time I mailed them to you so I painted you one instead. That counts, right?
If you know someone who would be interested in the newsletter (or who likes donuts), please tell them about it.
I’m interested in using this space to not only talk about the creative things I have going on, but also in building a community of people who enjoy the same type of things.
Some of our new subscribers may remember me from when we were hardcore into Google+. Yeah, yeah, I know. Everyone loves to rag on G+. And I admit, it did have some problems; but, there was a moment when it really was the best experience I’ve ever had with social media. That remains true to this day.
The thing that made G+ so special was that before the algorithms and corporate ennui destroyed things it was an open platform that allowed its members identify and connect with people who were passionate about the same topics. Eh, that sounds too serious. It let you find your clique and it didn’t matter what your clique was you could find a group who was into the same stuff.
I believe we have an opportunity to do the same thing here. On Substack. In this newsletter. Yes, the format is different and the conversations may be a bit more structured, but there really is a fascinating opportunity for all of us to connect with one another through conversations right here in the comments.
As a reward for reading this far I’m going to show you something that’s really special to me. I wrote this shortly after my mother died. My mom was 54 when she passed. Far too young. She was able to hold my daughters and get to know them a little, but neither of them have memories of her. I was dealing with all of those feelings of loss when I sat down and wrote this 1000 word story as a way to deal with all of the things I was feeling at the time.
I remember her question.
I remember how stuffy the bedroom felt when she asked. It was the middle of a Sunday afternoon at the end of January. It had snowed days before, but the bright sun hadn’t yet melted the accumulation.
Maybe that’s why the shades had been drawn against the room’s only window. Little good it did. The room was still bright enough to see every detail of the mismatched furniture. I'd always hated that about this room. Not a single piece of furniture matched.
She was the poor country mouse of the family. The room had been decorated not by choice, but rather by opportunity. Too poor to make choices of her own, all of her furnishings and decorations had been the the cast-offs and hand-me-downs that had been discarded by more well-to-do relatives. Each new object presented as a grand gesture of generosity and caring, but the truth was that this act of giving was little more than an easy way to get rid of their unwanted junk.
I knew her simple tastes well enough to realize that many of the items with their fluted scroll work or deep varnishes were objects that she herself would never have chosen as an expression of her taste. However, the room did contain an item that she truly loved.
It was a small snow globe that sat alone on a shelf in a place of honor. Honor because the way it was positioned made it the focal point of the room. I believe the reason why she loved it so dearly was because it was the only item in this room that had been bought for her special. It had been a gift from her youngest sister.
She was its first and only owner.
As a distraction, I picked up the globe and shook it. The little white flakes cascaded into that tiny mountain valley. I admired the craftsmanship someone had devoted to creating those now snow-capped peaks and the scores of conifers that coated its ridges. I wondered how they’d contained so much detail within the confines of that small dome.
I heard the rustle of bed sheets and felt uneasy about having handled her only treasured piece. I felt her intense stare as I lifted the globe to return it to its place of honor.
And yet, her gaze remained fixed on me even after I had stepped away from the treasured bauble. At first, I thought my handling of the snow globe had angered her, but then I realized the real motivation. She was waiting for my answer.
“Do you think I’m going to die too?” she asked again.
Maybe she didn’t think I’d heard her the first time. How could she know all the things that were going through my head? How do you answer a question like that? What’s the right thing to say? Is it better to lie? Is false hope better than no hope? Shouldn't you give a person the truth so they can choose the best way to spend their last days? All of these questions were made even more complicated by the person who asked them.
“Are you like them,” she motioned to the living room with a swing of her head. That’s where all of her brothers and sisters had gathered to say their good-byes… or, at least, that’s what she thought they were doing. “Do you think I’m going to die too?”
I’d spoken to her doctor. Small cell carcinoma. That’s what he had called it. It was in her lungs. Both lungs. Slowly, the five lobes were shutting down. To make matters worse, the cancer had recently metastasized into her liver.
That's what had convinced me. That was when I knew.
Up until that point, the doctor had offered small amounts of hope. He was never optimistic about her chances, but he would point out that some patients had responded favorably to the same course of chemotherapy treatments she had been receiving. While unlikely, a recovery was still possible.
That all changed when the cancer moved into her liver. While she lay sleeping, the doctor called me into the hall. It’s the oddest thing. I remember how he paused for a little too long, took a breath, and then placed his hand on my shoulder. I think that’s the only time in my life when I’ve actually paid attention to how someone else was breathing. Never mind remembering that detail almost a decade later.
The look he gave me said it all, but I waited for him to speak. I wanted to hear the words. I think I needed to hear them. Needed someone to say aloud the things I already knew.
He spoke slowly in the plain manner to which I had become accustomed. “There’s no coming back from this.”
She was still waiting. Her gaze had never faltered.
“Yes,” I said. My voice a whisper. I remember the tear that stung my eye before breaking loose in its mad run down the left side of my face. That was not the response I wanted to give. This was not the message I wanted to deliver.
I wanted to be a good son, but being good means being honest… even when it hurts. Maybe, especially when it hurts. More than that, I owed her the truth. I respected her too much to give her a comforting lie.
My simple one word answer had been the final insult. In a moment my response sent her through a series of emotions. I can still remember seeing them play out on her face. I will forever be haunted by that look in her eyes... those beautiful and expressive eyes. A look that said so many things as it registered each new feeling in turn: Condemnation, Anger, Betrayal, Confusion, and then, finally, Fear. The cancer had brought her discomfort and pain, but I was the one who had caused her real suffering. I’ll never forget that.
She died eleven days later. Her death wasn't the surprise. The surprise was that she came back.
I’d love to hear about your reactions to the story, but more importantly, I’d like to find out what’s your favorite flavor of donut?
So much rawness in there, thank you John
I’m glad you said that ‘yes’ though I’m sure it was hard and probably still is hard, and maybe always will be.
It’s something we nearly all go through, the death of a parent, or both parents. Perhaps that’s the way it should be, for isn’t it every parents worst fear, to bury a child?
Good to connect in here.
I don’t eat donuts 🍩 ☺️
This is so good, I wanna read more! I lost my mom to cancer too. Terrible experience...