The smell. It’s what gets me every time. I’m not talking about the grass and flower scent that makes you think of sports carnivals and new beginnings, though that smell was definitely there. This was something more. The smell of oil paints and turps. The scent my mother often carried with her. I walked into the art studio and was catapulted back twenty years, to when I was 17 and had just broken up with my first real boyfriend. My high school sweetheart. The guy I was certain I was going to marry. Spring was supposed to be a happy time. It wasn’t the time I was supposed to find out the boy I loved had also been loving someone else. The words he had thrown at me in parting had cut deep, ‘If you’d given me what I needed I wouldn’t have had to look elsewhere.’ Hurting more than I’d thought possible I retreated to the safest place I knew. My mother’s side.
The pain may be different now but so much else is the same. The scent of fresh mowed lawn, new flowers, sunshine and paint would add this memory to the ones that came before. The thing that bought me here would keep it separate, but still the safest place I knew at a time like this was at my mother’s side.
I stood in the doorway and watched as my mother added more color with sure strokes to the canvas in front of her. Some artists don’t want their work seen before it is completed but mum was never like that. She always left the door to her studio open so we could come to her whenever we wanted. Yet another thing that hadn’t changed.
There was something peaceful, calming, about watching my mother work. There always had been. I never knew if it was to do with the steady way she observed and worked or if it was just a thing that accompanied the artist everywhere she went.
“Honey you know it doesn’t bother me to be watched,” she said without turning or missing a stroke, “but if you think I can’t feel the weight of what it is you’re carrying with you then you are deluding yourself.”
She always knew. How could you lie to a woman who knew something was wrong without even looking at you? You couldn’t. I know, I tried it a few times. She put the brush down, looked at me and stood. I walked into my mother’s embrace and allowed the familiar feelings and scents to wash over me. She held me tight and I held her knowing she would never break the hug first.
“Oh mum.” I couldn’t stop the tears starting to well.
“What is it?”
“Abbey has to go in for more tests. They think it’s leukemia.” The tears flooded down my cheeks as the wall of denial finally burst apart. “How can this be happening to us? To her? What’s God thinking? Why?”
Questions that part of me knows don’t have answers, but another part demands answers for, tumbled out.
My mother pulled me close. “Sweetheart, you know there aren’t answers for those questions. Don’t waste your energy on them. Abbey needs you.”
“I don’t know if I can be strong enough for her.”
“Of course you can.”
“But what if…”
“No,” she cuts me off. “That’s not a place you need to be. You need to be in the moment with your daughter. You need to hold her, be by her side and listen to her. You don’t need to see a big picture of reasons, you don’t need to understand and you don’t need to blame. You need to pray only for the strength to take each next step on this journey and know that no matter what happens or what you are feeling, that you never journey alone.”
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