In the early days of painting in the basement of our Vancouver rental, my husband’s canvases were filled with darker colors and hues. The small lower left corner often harbored the hope.This is where you could find the brighter tones, pushing up the dark curtain that bore down heavily.
We were less than a third of the way through Gary’s battle with Hodgkins Disease. Some people resist this war terminology and I understand why, but the way Gary came at his illness with everything he had is the most accurate depiction of our story. He fought every step of the way to heal, to regain his health, to make sure we survived. And I was his four-star general.
As we entered the fifth month of riding the cancer roller coaster, he spent more and more time sequestered underground armed with paints, brushes and music. Somehow, we made it through as the skies darkened prematurely by the sun’s winter hours and the nearly constant drizzle left a damp chill in every corner.
In October, we were told the nodes were receding, and someone said he was in remission. We celebrated quietly. Gary chose to complete the entire course of ABVD, a toxic chemical cocktail with names too long to write or remember. It was the only kind of insurance we could buy, and it wasn’t without the high price of significant side effects. Just three weeks after his last round of the devil’s drink, the nodes in his neck had, like kernels of corn, popped back up again.
As the film we were working on continued, Gary headed back to Los Angeles for a course of radiation. “Quad Sun” became the first piece of art he created after returning from completing the radiation; it was the first painting to leave behind the palette of darkness. Soft swirls replaced the harder, corded strokes of his earlier works. There was breath and life in each quadrant. No two were the same, but all four shared similar qualities.
With radiation behind us, there was nothing more to be done after this. It would work or it wouldn’t. Perhaps the fact that we had no say in the outcome, that we had done everything we could do, left us in a place of being able to get on with our lives ~ no matter what.
“Quad Sun” was his celebration of accepting what we knew we had for certain each other and us today. Spring crept into the city and infected us. We laughed more, touched more, hoped more. We could choose the darkness and the fear, or we could choose the light. On cut a stone patio, we sipped green tea with friends, celebrated the birth of their child, celebrated life as sun seeped into our bones.
I welcomed this new landscape and felt grateful for the light that “Quad Sun” brought into our lives. There were still times when I lay awake in the darkness without the comfort of his painting, and fear would creep in. On those nights, I would turn gently away from Gary and let the hot tears run silently down my cheeks. But for the most part, this piece of our journey was a time to rest, recuperate and set aside the what-ifs as much as we could. We were both breathing easier.
There had been an evolution during our time in Vancouver. We began to pack and plan for our return home to Los Angeles. We knew the route back there, though we had no idea where it would take us. We could only hope the season of spring, marked by the creation of “Quad Sun,” was here to stay. We could only hope for the best.Tags: grief, hope, signs and connections