It wasn’t until I was in my mid-30s that I identified myself as a writer. And it wasn’t until then that I knew I wanted to write for a living, or that writing was my destiny, or that I wanted to write to encourage others, or that I simply loved telling stories.
Another love was photography, ever since I was a little girl with my Brownie camera. I wanted to be a National Geographic photographer, but my mother and her third husband told me I couldn’t make any money at it, and I listened. I gave up that dream.
Neither of my dreams would come to fruition for many years. I had other journeys to take. I married young and worked while my husband got his college degree. Mine could wait. After our divorce I became involved with Transcendental Meditation, returned to college, remarried, had a baby, left TM, moved back to California where I was raised, briefly returned to college a few more times, got another divorce, became a midwife, moved to Washington, finished raising my son, and then in 2000, after my son graduated from high school, I returned to college for the fifth time to get a degree in journalism. I’ve worked as a secretary, a grounds keeper, a ski instructor in Park City, Utah, a midwife in San Diego and Central Washington, and a health educator.
I once rode my bike from Eugene Oregon to Bend, Oregon, helicopter skied the peaks of Utah and was photographed for a ski brochure. I learned to garden 40 years ago in a small garden plot behind our house in Park City. Today my husband and I grow a 30 by 30 foot garden on our acre in Central Washington.
When I returned to college I was told by more than one person that a degree in journalism was not a good idea. There are no jobs, I was told. You should go into psychology or community health, I was told. I was wrong, I was told by a friend who became no longer a friend. Fortunately, I knew by then not to listen.
After graduation I had two or three job offers, but because my mother was in her mid-90s, I needed to stay where I was. A year after graduation I found a job at a newspaper 45 minutes from my home. At 58 I began a new career. Every day I got to tell stories and my dream of becoming a photojournalist came true. Not for National Geographic, but for a tiny community newspaper on an Indian reservation. Really…almost as good. Every day I wrote, and nearly every day I was taking photos of everything from school assemblies, to powwows, to dramatic fires. I won a “best-spot news photo” award and took numerous photos of the native population, one of which was used as a template for a ten-foot tall wall sculpture in Wapato, Washington.
After two and a half years, I was asked to become editor for a start-up community newspaper in our own town. I worked another year and a few months before I decided I needed to quit. My mother was 99 years old and required more care for a multitude of issues that kept arising. I wanted more time for her in her last months, which turned into two more years.
This blog was originally titled “Taking Care of Mom.” It is now titled, at least temporarily, “Life After … Taking Care of mom — Reflections.” The original focus was the journey with my mother–not only being her caretaker for many years–but my childhood journey with her.
On March 4, mom died seven weeks shy of her 102nd birthday. I was shocked that I was shocked. She had a decade of ailments and a number of times we thought she was dying. Even though she had been doing well, there had been so many medical dramas, I was certain her final breath would entail more drama. Instead, she died peacefully, on her terms, at her apartment, preparing to go down for her noon meal.
I’ve been told often that I must tell my story. But I have, I insist. It has always been my story, this journey with mom. In the process, I’ve told some of her story. I will continue to do so within the context of a new life without mom, my story, which has always been my story.
It’s not as if I will stop grieving and missing my mother. I’m not sure that’s possible. But the hard edge is softer. The sadness is tempered by the knowledge that she no longer suffers each day in an ancient body and I no longer suffer with the waiting, anticipating the grief that finally came.
But what I’ve learned in the months she has been gone is that grief is only tempered by time. As I write this in late February, 2012, I am beginning to find my direction. but remain exhausted. It’s one day at a time until it clears. March 4 is the anniversary of her death and then we will go to California in late April, 2012, to bury her ashes. Finally, I will no longer be taking care of mom.
In the meantime, I write. And I photograph. And I recognize the thread through my life leading me to this place and time.