Saturday, May 11, 2013

Dalma: A Mother’s Day Portrait

Dalma: Words and Wisdom

About six months ago the oncologist told my mom she had Stage III Ovarian Cancer.

Without skipping a beat, the first words out of her mouth were “Well, I’ve always wanted to find out what happens on the other side!”

She acted as if an airline ticket agent told her she’d have an 8-hour layover in Houston…hadn’t planned to visit, but she’d make the most of what Houston had to offer since she had to be there anyway. And she’d try and learn something too.

And over the past six months, between chemo, recovering from chemo, decisions, clocking the cancer related numbers, taking care of my dad as she had her whole life and being taken care of herself, my mom has risen to the challenge that is ovarian cancer with incredible optimism, humor, fortitude and realism. Though I had no doubt she would…that’s how we do things in this family.

Of course my parents were uniquely prepared for this.  Growing up in war-torn Hungary, they spend a lot of time worrying about, preparing for and living through disaster. Here in the relatively more calm suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio, my mom has continued to be vigilant about possible disaster. In addition to arming all of our cars with window hammers, flashlights, gauze and syrup of ipecac, my mom is the queen of news clippings about recalled tomatoes, carseats, and allergy medicines. While I was away at college she once wrote me a lengthy heartfelt letter about not wearing mascara because it would surely blind me eventually. To her credit, I didn’t wear it for years…opting for subtle eyeliner instead. Eventually, however I did return to the mascara…she’d probably say that’s why I need reading glasses now.

So, after years of preparing for disaster, once it finally hit with this cancer diagnosis, it seemed almost a relief to her in a vindicated parent kind of way and amazingly, my mom found a way to relax, research and have a learning experience with it…like I said, that’s how we do things in this family. We both started a cancer binder to hold the armload of handouts and notes for this “class” we did not sign up for, but were required to take anyway.

My mom really tried to make sure my sister and I were having fun with it too. She was never the depressed cancer patient. It was always a pleasure to see her, whether it was a chemo day, or a driving my dad to the doctor day, or a family visit day.

The morning immediately after hearing the diagnosis wasn’t so cheery for me though. I woke up with a black hole of depression that settled in the pit of MY stomach. Of all the various self-diagnosed neuroses I proudly call my own, depression has thus far not been one of them, but I imagine it must be something like this. My heart goes out to those that struggle with this every day…that you can continue to "live, laugh and love" (as the cliché cheerfully commands you to do) while this oppressive cloud pushes down your every action is truly Herculean and you have my utmost respectbackwards…and in  high heels.

After about an hour though, seratonins, or daylight,
or my version of God, or reason, or paint, or coffee, or the fact I had work to do, kicked in and this empty darkness lifted in a remarkable way…unlike true clinical depression that stays. I took a shower and before too long came to the realization that I didn’t have to be sad all the time from this point forward…my mom certainly wasn’t doing that, so what right did I have to? It wasn’t even me that was diagnosed…though anyone who has lost a mother I think would agree it’s pretty damn close.

In the immediate days after the diagnosis, my very wise friend, Cathy, (soon to pose for Chicks with Balls) told me, “Cancer gives you the gift of time”. Not MORE time, but the permission to use THIS time now. 

But that is exactly how my mom has always lived her life. Before the cancer diagnosis, there were 80 years of living a passionately educated life; fascinated and fascinating, listening and thinking, discussing, creating, imagining, living, traveling, teaching and writing. My mom is a Professor of English Literature and an author of historical family memoirs, plays and several fiction books as well. At 80, she had only just retired from teaching Shakespeare classes each semester at Notre Dame College of Ohio.

My dad is also an over achiever, at 89, he is a Professor Emeritus of Statistics and Probability at Case Western Reserve University. So, I grew up in a house where your career was your passion. You loved your work, so your work was your hobby too. No bowling leagues or bridge club for the Takács family. I was more social than that though, and spent my teen years living for Saturday night. Thankfully my parents didn’t, so I was always able to borrow the car…another perk of growing up in this highly educated family.

As I sit here in the evening hours, after a full painting day, putting together this blog entry, I see that this was the model for my adult evening home life as well. My vocation is art. My hobby is also art, and writing about the art and the people who inspire it.

And as I see my parent’s growing older, I see how their passions have served them well and keep them active, intelligent and sharp. My mom only just a few weeks ago gave final approval before publishing her latest book, “Refugee from Paradise,”  a fictionalized but very much autobiographical story of a young girl growing up as a recent immigrant in London, after leaving her homeland of Hungary after the Second World War. This story was based on my mom’s journals from that time of upheaval in her own life.

This concept of adapting to change and recognizing that all aspects of life can be used as inspiration for creativity and growth is what she has instilled in me, though I’m not sure how she did that, it feels like I thought it up all on my own…but that is how the best parenting happens. She has written about this embracing of the good with the bad in her novel, “The Condo…or life, a sequel.”

A detail of her gorgeous hands…the most fun to paint!
And though the globe presented me with a world of challenges,
I am happy with how it came out.

Since my mom, in her quiet ladylike Hungarian manner is one of the most ballsy people I know, and perhaps my greatest unsung hero as well, having her pose for Chicks with Balls was totally part of my plan. However, she took some convincing, but eventually relented. At 80, she is my oldest Chick, and I let her pose seated. I even let her use the globe she asked for. Up until that point, I really held to my guns that the models had to pose with something that could be referred to as a ball…not just a round object of their choosing. I didn’t want to open a can of worms that would lead to my painting Frisbees, tondo family photos and Franklin Mint Limited Edition™ Elvis plates. But, I’d already had several other requests for globes from those with immigrant roots, international adoptions, and concern for our planet, so I too relented on my global policy.

I bought my mom a globe, which she lovingly held to represent Hungary, England and her European roots along with her concern for the earth and keeping it healthy for future generations. She actually posed for me a few months before the cancer diagnosis; so it wasn’t driven by any kind of bucket-list fervor. She just wanted to pose…because she’s a Chick with Balls.

And now, six months after the cancer diagnosis, with 6 rounds of chemo done with, my mom is doing beautifully. Her cancer indicator numbers are good and, knock on wood they will stay that way for a long time. She says she feels better than she did before all this even started. She has vowed to stay calm and appreciate the daily frustrations of life; all of them being part of the rich tapestry we enjoy because of the gift of being alive.

Dalma: Wisdom and Words

No quick one-liner to sum up my mom’s gigantic life of quiet courage, persistence and passion, so I shall simply call this portrait;

Mother, I love you.

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