I lost my mother on Labor Day in 2012. She was diagnosed with leukemia that March, and we all spent the next six months holding our breath. Since her cancer had elements of both AML and ALL, there was no clear course of treatment. She therefore decided against chemo, but she responded beautifully to the weekly transfusions (tiger blood, we said) and she felt pretty well until she didn’t. In late August, she decided to discontinue the transfusions, and six days later, she was gone. I stayed with her in hospice for her last five days, and my brother, sister, sister-in-law, and I were all there when she passed.
I was glad I could be there when she needed me, and I held it together preparing for her funeral and the inevitable aftermath, the endless thank you notes, going through her things, getting Dad set up to be on his own. But when it was all over, I was completely lost. I felt like taking care of her was the most important thing I’d ever done, and I felt like nothing else that I did would ever matter in the same way. Then the hurricane hit and everything went to hell, but that is a story for another day.
In 2008, English artist Kirsty Mitchell, lost her mother to brain cancer. She says that when her mother died, her “world fell apart.” Boy, do I know how that feels. But she did something I wish I’d done. She channeled her grief into her art. She explains her process better than I ever could in her fascinating and heartbreaking bio.
Because her mother read to her “to an age I could no longer admit to my friends,” her photographic tributes all have an element of fantasy to them. Her lush, elaborate images convey pain and beauty in equal measures, and there’s a depth to them that’s almost too much to take in. The photos are really striking, and I am blown away by how evocative they are.
I wish I’d had the presence of mind to turn my grief into something beautiful, but I’m very glad that someone did.