Dancing in the Rain and Other Important Cliches

Dancing in the Rain and Other Important Cliches

It’s been a busy week of taking back May! For those of you who are new to this project, you can click here to read more about the purpose of Operation Take Back May. Here’s what I’ve been up to:

May 6th and May 10th: Spreading love
My mom was always good at making people feel appreciated and loved, and with graduation approaching, I thought it would be appropriate to take the time to thank the people who helped me get where I am today. So on these two days, I took some time out of my day to write letters to the people who have impacted me and let them know how much they are loved and appreciated. Yours might still be in the mail! 🙂

May 7th: Old haunts
On this day, my dad unexpectedly participated in celebrating Mom when he suggested that we stop for lunch at a locally owned sandwich shop and store in our town called Merritt’s. Not far from my mom’s work, Merritt’s is where we would stop on Saturdays when I was too young to be left at home and had to go to work with her. I remember taking a lot of time to deliberate over my choice of ice cream flavor while Mom would catch up with the owner, Robin. I’m pretty sure we even befriended a homeless cat in the back of the parking lot who was always there as we ate our treats and seriously contemplated taking it home. Coincidentally, we learned that Robin actually recently passed away from cancer. Robin used to always ask about my mom’s health and was just one of those people who becomes a part of your life over the years because she just cared. So as my dad and I enjoyed our BLTs, we reminisced about coming here with Mom and how wonderful it is to have good friends around town like Robin who have the ability to form connections with anyone and just genuinely care.

The most delicious BLT known to man
The most delicious BLT known to man

May 8th: Gardening
My family and I have a confession to make: in the past three years since Mom passed away, we have not once touched her gardens. If you knew my mom and the amount of time and love she poured into her flowers, you can fully appreciate how great a travesty this is! Although the beds have become overgrown with weeds, we often laugh about how she must have intentionally planted resilience into the soil along with her flowers because we are constantly surprised by how many flowers and plants continue to thrive.

In preparation for my graduation party, we decided it was time to tackle the garden. We spent most of the day outside weeding the flower beds and cleaning up the yard. I’m sure she was laughing at our incompetence as we tried to figure out which ones were weeds and which were actually supposed to be there! It was just fun to spend the day together as a family doing something that brought her so much happiness and reminded me of all the afternoons we spent together in our yard.

iphone crap 497

May 9th: Mom’s day
As I explained in my last post, this day was devoted to just living as fully and honoring everything related to Mom and this journey as much as possible. I drove to the beach with my cousin, explored some local shops that she would have loved, and ate a lot of mashed potatoes (one of my favorite foods she used to make). We told stories about her, remembered the last time we were all at that beach together, and wondered at how powerful time can be. It was a day of missing her but feeling truly grateful that we were given the chance to be a part of her life.

May 11th: A picnic
I graduated from college on Sunday! When my dad and I were discussing what kind of graduation party I wanted a few weeks ago, I told him that I wanted it to be like a picnic. Since graduation was also on Mother’s Day, I wanted some part of the day to include my mom. On our last Mother’s Day together, I really wanted us to have a picnic in her garden. I don’t know why or where I came up with the idea, but I guess I just wanted us to be able to spend that last Mother’s Day in a place that she loved. I envisioned us taking pictures, pictures that I knew would be our last together, and preparing a special meal for her. Unfortunately, she was stuck in the hospital that day and spent most of the day asleep. And even though I was old enough to understand why we couldn’t have it, the fact that we weren’t able to have the picnic was something that I held on to for a long time. So, three years later, we finally had that picnic. There was good food, great people, music and dancing, and twinkle lights in the trees. It was the perfect way to celebrate four years of hard work and add my mom’s spirit to the party.

DSC01439

May 12th and May 13th: Lazy days
After days of celebration and time with family and friends, it was time for a rest. I curled up on my bed with a book and spent these two days reading and enjoying post-grad life. I definitely think I acquired this habit of needing to recharge and spend time alone from my mom. We would have lazy Saturdays where everyone would just pick up a book and read. As I got older, my mom and I would swap books and talk about them, kind of like our own little book club. Whenever I read a book for leisure, I always think about what she would think about it and what I would share with her.

May 14th: Piano
I took piano lessons for about 10 years growing up and it was one of my favorite extracurricular activities. When I came home for the summer after my freshman year of college, I eagerly anticipated being able to play the piano again and knew which pieces I wanted to work on over the summer. After my mom passed away, however, I just couldn’t bring myself to touch the keyboard. The piano was in the room that became hers when she got sick and I spent many high school afternoons playing for her. It just hurt too much to sit in that empty room and it took too much energy to learn new pieces. Since that summer, I avoided the piano because I thought it would still be painful and quite frankly, I was too busy. But playing the piano is such a great reminder of her; when I was little, I used to watch her hands fly over the keys and I thought she was just the most talented, magical person ever to produce such beautiful music. I would sit on her lap and she would help me pick out a tune. From the age of five, I begged my parents for piano lessons because I wanted to be just like Mom, who had also grown up playing and even went to a piano conservatory while in college in Paris.

It felt strange to be sitting down at the piano again. It’s a corner of the house that I know so well but I haven’t sat there in four years. It brought back so many memories of growing up sitting on that piano bench, playing while Mom sat on the bed knitting. Sometimes I would get frustrated and bang on the keys angrily and I remember how she would just tell me to start again or help me get the rhythm right. I went through some scales and my old music that I found, and then I started working on a new piece, a waltz by Chopin. Before I knew it, two hours had gone by. Every day since, I have spent a little time at the piano; it’s like meeting an old friend.

iphone crap 582

May 15th: Dancing in the rain
Yesterday, it poured rain. My mom always appreciated a good rainfall but I wasn’t really sure how I could incorporate it into my Take Back May plans. As I looked out the window, I suddenly remembered exactly what I would have been doing in this weather fifteen years ago. When I was very young, like under the age of seven, I was enthralled with the rain, so much so that I wanted to be a part of it. I don’t know when it started, maybe around the age of 2, but I would take off all my clothes and go outside and play in the puddles and dance in the rain. My mom told me later that at first she wasn’t sure if she was supposed to let me do this as a responsible parent. But we lived in the woods far away from any neighbors and so she finally decided there couldn’t be any harm in letting a three year-old run around naked in the rain. I’d like to think that it was good for her heart, strained by the trials and stresses of adulthood, to watch her daughter take such pleasure in playing in the rain in the most natural state one can be in.

Rest assured, I was not running around my yard naked yesterday afternoon. But I did grab an umbrella and run outside into the pouring rain. I walked through the gardens and through the trails in the woods. I watched water rushing in the creek, stuck my toe in the water and felt its crispness. I splashed in puddles and listened to the satisfying splash they made. And then I ran back inside when I got an emergency alert on my phone warning me about tornadoes.

Even though it was cut short, standing in the yard in the rain triggered so many happy memories of simplicity and childhood bliss. My memory seems to tell me that this nude rain dancing stopped around the time my mom got sick the first time, when I was seven. Life suddenly got more complicated, with doctor appointments, hospital visits, and shuttling kids around. Life got scary and inexplicable, and all of a sudden the darkness of those rain clouds seemed uninviting to my seven year-old self. Or maybe it was simply the product of growing older and becoming more self-conscious and aware that such behavior is not really encouraged in society. Whatever the reason for the end of my rain dances, it will forever be a memory belonging to a distant past, before I became aware of the harsh realities of the world.

I’ll Always be her Daughter

I’ll Always be her Daughter

As I’m writing this, it is midnight of May 9th. This is a day that is always in the back of my mind. I measure the time and progression of the year in relation to this day. I don’t mean for it to have this power over me, but in spite of my positive outlook regarding today, its emotion is already hitting me.

For the past two years, I’ve struggled with what to do on this day. On the first anniversary, I spent the day laying on my bed crying. I was still so angry at so many things: my family, myself, the doctors, the cancer, the world. I thought that I was supposed to spend this horrible day in mourning, that it was important for me to feel all the pain in order to recognize the fact that it’s an important day in my life. But after that misery of that day, I promised myself that I would NEVER spend May 9th like that again. Last year, on the second anniversary, I surrounded myself with people I love. I went for a hike. I ate ice cream and watched the sunset. I appreciated the air flowing through my lungs and the beauty and gift of life. I was determined not to cry, not to feel the pain. And while all those things were done with great sincerity and joy, the day still ended in tears of guilt and frustration, and feeling like nothing I’ll ever do on this day will ever properly capture all that May 9th signifies to me.

As today has approached, I have thought a lot about how I want to spend it. Neither of the past two years have felt completely right. Which has led me to ask myself why today is so important. I miss my mom every single day of the year, not just on May 9th. I do not want to dwell on the painful memories but I want to recognize that it occurred. Because today does matter. It is the day that my life changed forever, the point at which my life is divided. And maybe that’s my problem with today: today and the events associated with it will never matter quite as much to anyone but me and my family. But I want the world to stop, to become split in two, as my world did three years ago when I looked up from the hospital bed and out the window at this newly terrifying world and realized it was over. On May 9th, I want the world to realize what an incredible human being it has lost and feel the magnitude of her absence. Quite simply and selfishly, I want today to matter to everyone.

Today is a dichotomy. It will involve a little bit of crying, a lot of laughter, and whole bunch of living. I cannot pick and choose what I remember or honor today because every memory, joyful or painful, every emotion, every moment in the past three years makes up the importance of May 9th. What matters is that my mom was here, that she lived with joy, that she loved fully, and that she was loved beyond description. That she was a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a cousin, an aunt, a friend, a scientist, a teacher, an artist, a knitter, a gardener, a cat-lover, and the best hugger. That she taught me the power of kindness, love, a good belly laugh, and chocolate. That she was flawed and made mistakes. That she fought to be here with all her might and refused to let go until we were all together. That it still hurts and that’s okay. That I will never stop missing her. And that, most importantly, no matter how much time passes, I will always be her daughter.

In loving memory of Claire Barbier, 2/15/59-5/09/11

Photo credit: Viviana Bonilla
Photo credit: Viviana Bonilla

 

Taking Back May

May is not my favorite month. It’s a month associated with loss, pain, and emptiness. Every time May rolls around, another year is ticked off, marking the passage of time between now and when I had to say goodbye to my mom and best friend. This May will mark three years. Overtime, this gap will grow bigger and bigger; that scares me. And it’s as if my body can sense the change of season, almost as if the memories and grief associated with this month have been absorbed into my bones, resurfacing every year like a bad case of arthritis or seasonal allergies. I woke up on May 1st and I could feel that it was May. It’s like a heightened sense of awareness that something important is coming up, the passage of time that is so hard to wrap my head around. It’s a lump in my throat and an ache in my heart.

At the same time, I know that May was one of my mom’s favorite times of the year. Everything in her garden would be blooming and more often than not, that is where you could find her. And although my mom was in incredible pain three years ago in May, her demeanor was not phased. She remained optimistic, at peace, and smiling.

Mom's iris
Mom’s iris

As I sat studying for my exams on May 1st, feeling slightly sorry for myself and a bit apprehensive about the month, I started laughing thinking about all the silly things my mom would do to help me relieve exam stress. Like the time she stole my notes and textbook and forced me to dance with her for fifteen minutes while I was preparing for my AP exams in high school. At that moment, it seemed only appropriate that I have my own dance party to start off a difficult month. There’s really nothing like dancing around your living room and laughing at yourself to shake off the blues. As cheesy as it might sound, I felt like Mom was watching and laughing right along with me. It was like bridging a memory of the past with my present.

This little dance episode sparked an idea: do one thing every day of May that reminds me of Mom, something that captures who she was, what she loved, and how she lived. That’s 31 days of moments that will hopefully help me feel more connected to her. It’s going to be a celebration of all things Mom and focusing on the joy we shared. This will also be an opportunity to share more with you all about her. So it’s time, I am taking back May!

May 1st: *Epic* dance party
There is no photographic evidence of this because let’s be honest, the world wide web does not need to see that! But it did happen and like I said, it was the spark behind this idea.

May 2nd: Try a new recipe
On the second day of May, I decided to channel my mom’s inner chef. My mom was an incredible cook and even though she didn’t have a lot of time for it, it was always something she loved and it was always a treat when it was Mom’s turn in the kitchen (sorry Dad…). One of the coolest things about my mom’s cooking is that she was never afraid to try new things. It was an area where her scientific background and creative mind blended and resulted in delicious ‘experiments.’

While I can’t claim that I came up with this myself, I thought it would be fun to try out this recipe for homemade Cheez-Its. I’ve wanted to try it for a while but never made the time for it, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity. Granted, it’s not a very complicated or glamorous recipe, but while I was making them I kept thinking about how funny Mom would find it that I was actually making something in the kitchen. I’ve gotten a lot better and interested in cooking in the past three years, but it certainly was not my forte three years ago. I think this episode of Take Back May would have greatly amused her.

May 3rd: Grocery shopping with Dad
You know how when you’re younger you often accompany your parents when they run errands? Well, I did this a lot with my mom and it was during these seemingly unimportant moments that we had some our best conversations. It’s simple moments like those that I really miss being able to share with her.

With all the craziness surrounding the end of the school year and preparing for graduation, I felt like my dad and I had not been able to spend much quality time together. So on Saturday afternoon as he was preparing to go run some errands, I offered to come with him. I could tell he was surprised that I wanted to go with him, as I don’t normally offer to spend time with him while he runs errands. It was a beautiful afternoon and we had a great time catching up and just enjoying one another’s company. It took me back to my childhood when Mom and Dad were my entire world and it reminded me to appreciate every moment, even if it is as simple as going to the grocery store.

May 4th: Go for a walk
Sunday was a busy day so I was worried I wouldn’t be able to fit in an activity. But then I remembered that one of my mom’s favorite stress relievers was going for walks, and it seemed like the perfect way to get ready for a busy week while doing something she loved. Our neighborhood is nestled a mile back in the woods so it is a beautiful time of year to walk and just be completely surrounded by nature. My mom loved plants and being outside; we have photo albums filled with pictures of flowers, trees, and other things she found beautiful that she took on these walks. Walking with my mom was always a special way for my brother and me to spend one-on-one time with her, and catch up on all that was going on in our lives. The memory of the last walk I took with my mom before she passed away is still very vivid and one that I will always remember.

Sunday walk
Sunday walk

May 5th: Chick-fil-A celebration
My mom was a very healthy eater and American fast food was not something she indulged in often. Honestly, I have no idea where this tradition started but on the last day of school, Chick-fil-A became the celebratory food of choice all throughout my childhood. And when I would walk over to UNC Hospitals to visit my mom at work or sit with her during her chemotherapy during my freshman year of college, we always got Chick-fil-A. During the rest of my college career, I have continued this tradition of saving Chick-fil-A for special occasions, only having it after completing my last final exam of the semester. So yesterday, after finishing my last exam of my college career, I headed over to Chick-fil-A. Maybe it sounds weird that a fast food restaurant triggers such strong memories of my mom but…it does. It’s a perfect example of how so many small, insignificant things remind me of her every day.

So stay tuned to see what other adventures May will bring in an effort to turn this difficult month into a celebration of Mom!