Weaving Our Lives

Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.
W.S. Merwin

When I was young, I used to envision my future as a richly colored tapestry, full of opportunity. Any thing was possible — careers, adventures, travel, love, a family. I could go in any direction I wanted, change the pattern, weave in new colors, make the tapestry as big and bright as I wanted.

Over time, as my life’s weaving got larger and more beautiful, I assumed that I had complete control over it. Sure, bad things might happen .. financial challenges, job losses, sickness, losing my older parents, etc. But nothing that I couldn’t fix, change, handle or overcome.

And then Jimmy was diagnosed with brain cancer, and everything turned upside down. My focus narrowed, and my world got really, really small. Those bright possibilities turned dark, as the future became scary and uncertain. There were days and weeks at a time when my world was nothing but shades of hospital gray and pink, lit by florescent lighting and brightened only by the colorful scrubs the amazing pediatric oncology nurses wore. I stopped caring about almost everything but keeping my son alive.

After Jimmy died, my world went black. Leaving the house felt impossible. Talking to anyone other than Dan, Molly or my mom was excruciatingly painful. Falling asleep was hard. Getting out of bed in the morning was harder.

Purple was the first color to reappear. Jimmy left us just before spring. As we processed our grief and passed the time while Molly was at school, Dan, Buster and I would walk and walk and walk on the horse trails near the house. That year, the purple wildflowers were everywhere. As I walked, I would force myself to focus on how gorgeous they were and remind myself of all the beauty that still existed in the world.

Up close photo of purple lavender

Over time, more and more colors returned to my life. They’re different now, more muted but somehow more beautiful. I take none of them for granted, yet I refuse to add any that don’t bring me joy. Some only exist because Jimmy died. I would trade them in a heartbeat to have him back, but I know that I don’t have that option. I’ve also learned to appreciate the dark filaments of black and gray. Instead of detracting from my tapestry, they define it. They made me into who I am. They taught me about what and who matters. They helped me realize that I can trust my own strength, judgment and beliefs. They remind me not to take opportunities, people or love for granted nor assume that anything will last forever.

I’ve earned the color in my tapestry, but I’ve earned the dark colors, too. I walked through fire for them. No matter how hard it was to watch, I never looked away. I fought for my son’s life with everything I had, demanding the best care, researching every option, pursuing every possibility. Despite my shattered heart, I spent a year showing up for my mom as she went in and out of the hospital, fighting to live, desperate not to leave me. Although I couldn’t change the outcomes, it is the black thread of grief that makes all the other colors burn brighter, reminding me of all that is lost but also all that remains.

Life is a patchwork of the brutal and the beautiful. Karen Gerstenberger

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