I recently had the privilege of joining a project spearheaded by the Relentless Life Project at Banner Desert Medical Center. I was one of 7 artists who created murals to be placed in bays that are used for cancer patients at the Oncology Center to receive chemo therapy. The bays are small rooms with a chair and medical equipment that patients sit in for hours at a time while they receive their treatment. The bays lacked a certain "oomph" and seemed to be a bit lifeless. So, artists were called into action to create a beautiful and inspiring space for patients.
This was hands down one of the most important projects I have ever worked on. I am going to be totally vulnerable as I explain why this mural was such a significant part of my journey as not only an artist but as a human being. I have to start first by telling you a little about a few very important people who I have lost in my life and the impact it had on me.
I will never forget that day. I was eleven years old. I think it was around 5 am. I way laying in my bed. The sun had barely begun to creep in through the blinds so there was just enough light to see the silhouettes of all of the furniture in the room. I had just opened my eyes when I felt it. I just knew. A few seconds later the phone rang in my moms room next door. I heard my mom get out of bed to answer it. She said, "Hello" and then... tears. I knew the moment I woke up, before the phone even rang that she was gone.
My mother came into our room to give my brother and me the news. For some reason, I was filled with this unexplainable sense of peace. A voice told me that I had to stay level headed and keep my mother calm as she drove us to my aunts house to meet our family. On the drive there my mother was hysterical. I asked her questions to take her mind off of the trauma we were experiencing. Something just told me to try to keep her at ease and I followed that voice.
We arrived safely, pulled up in front of the house and parked. I remember walking up to the door and still feeling at peace. The door opened, I walked in and as soon as I passed through the doorway, I lost it. I completely broke down. It all hit me at that moment that she was GONE. My Aunt Julie Ann was gone.
She had breast cancer and she fought it so gracefully. For awhile, I didn't even know she was sick. I spent every summer with her. I love her more that my words can ever explain. The day before she passed my mother told me that she had received a call that my Aunt had 10days to a month to live and that in the morning we were going to say goodbye to her. But she had passed before we had the chance. Instead of arriving that morning to tell her one last time that I loved her, I was standing in her home with my family confused and completely devastated.
If true beauty was a person, Julie Ann would be her. She taught me what kindness and love looks like. Her smile is forever etched in my mind. I can still hear her voice and her laugh. I remember sitting with her every week and doing arts and crafts together. Some of the greatest memories I have in this life come from my time with her and my cousins. I often find myself in the midst of trial thinking, "I wish she was here. I wish I could drive to her home and cry on her shoulder. She would know what to say. She would know what to do." Though she is not physically here, I can still feel her love. I know she is with me each day and smiling. I know she is proud of me.
A few months after Julie Ann left this earth, my mother was also diagnosed with breast cancer. The day my mother said "I have cancer" I remember being absolutely terrified. It was like, cancer just stole my Aunt from me and now there was a chance it was going to take my mom? As an 11 year old I couldn't truly process all that was going on. That was the day I told myself it was time to grow up. I literally thought to myself that I didn't have time to be a kid anymore because I needed to be there for my mom. I had to be an adult so I could make sure my mom made it. I needed her. I had zero time to grieve the loss of my Aunt because my mind went into survival mode. I actually didn't start the grieving process until I was 21 years old.
I watched my mom fight with everything she had. I watched the struggle. It was chaos. It was insanity. It was pain and fear. It was trauma. It was years of not knowing, years of anxiety. It was like we were trapped on a lifeboat in the middle of a perfect storm that seemed to have no end in sight. But, it did. She survived. She beat breast cancer. She is my hero and today she continues to inspire me to be the best woman I can be.
Though my mother made it, to this day she struggles with survivors guilt. Not only did we loose my Aunt Julie Ann, we also lost my Grandma Linda to breast cancer a few years ago. My grandmother passed on the day before the 13th anniversary of my Aunts death from the same disease and in the same room in her home. It was such a mirror of loosing Julie Ann that it is still hard to comprehend. Maybe it was Julie Ann telling us that she was with my Grandma. Maybe it was their way of telling us that they were together and that they were okay.
When I stumbled across the Relentless Life Projects mural initiative, it was a no brainier. I had to do this for them. I decided to remember the lives of my Aunt and Grandmother and to honor the strength and courage of my mother. I just felt like I had something to tell them and that there was no better way to do that than through my art that I was giving to the world and to the people who need it.
Below I have posted a few photos of the mural. The flowers I painted represent life, more specifically the lives of three beautiful women that was gifted to the world along with the lives being saved at the hospital through care and healing each day. The galaxy represents and endless space filled with endless possibilities, hope and love. In that space anything you want can exist.
I could feel them with me when I painted. I could feel their pride when I was done. When I was finished and I walked out of the hospital, I could feel them in the wind and see them in the clouds and I truly felt like it was okay. Most importantly, I could feel their love. It was that day that I realized that I never needed to say goodbye because love doesn't have to be articulated. Love is energy and energy can never be destroyed. It never leaves, it never dies, it stays with you in this life and the next. My love will forever exist with them whether they are physically here or not and their love will remain with me for all of eternity.
I'd like to say thank you to Kara and Linda for this opportunity. I appreciate you both.
For more info on the Relentless Life Project Please visit http://www.relentlesslifeproject.com/