A Mother’s Hug Lasts Long After She Lets Go

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A watercolor rendition of a photo of Joey Feek and her daughter Indiana

It’s post Mother’s Day, a day that is meant to honor. remember, and celebrate our mothers and our own motherhood.  It is often a day of joy and making memories, but for many, it is also a day that signifies loss.  It might be the loss of a mother.  I lost my own mother at the age of 44 due to breast cancer.  It might be the unimaginable loss of a child.  I lost my first daughter, Sierra RayLeen, who was a preemie that died the same day she was born.  Perhaps it’s the loss of hope to become a mother, or the feeling of loss for a mother that has given up a child for adoption, or has been a surrogate, granting another to experience the joys of being a mother.  For some, it may be a combination of these scenarios, or others not mentioned.  I feel so fortunate to have known my mother and have had her for as long as I did.  I know so many that lost their mothers at a much younger age than mine.  Sadly, some never even know their mother.

Joey Feek, country singer and composer, was on my mind on Mother’s Day.  She died recently of cervical cancer, leaving behind an amazing family, including a beautiful daughter, Indiana.  Her story captured my heart from the moment I heard it.  Perhaps it was because she was so young, as was my mother.  Perhaps it was because she died of cervical cancer (I was diagnosed with cervical cancer, the earliest stage remedied with a hysterectomy).  All I know is that I was drawn into the story of she and her family as she was deemed terminal and she went to her childhood home to spend her remaining days with her family.  Her husband, Rory had said she was not going home to die, but to “live”.  The love she had for her family was evident in every last photograph that was shared with the public. I did an abstract painting from a photograph of Joey and her daughter, Indiana, who had fallen asleep on her mother who was embracing her while laying on a hospital bed.  It was a beautiful photograph, and the moment I saw it, I knew I wanted to paint it.  I had found a quote that I thought was perfect for this photograph, “A mother’s hug lasts long after she lets go”.

On this Mother’s Day, I was elated to spend time with my two grown children, Talisa and Taylor.  I am so thankful that God blessed and entrusted me with these  two beautiful beings.  They are grown-up, but they will always be my babies.  I have outlived my mother’s age by nearly five years now, and I recognize how fortunate I have been to watch my kids grow up and to see my grandchildren.  Nothing is promised and we never know how much time we have here on earth.  I am truly grateful for every moment I have with my children, whether it’s spending time together, on the phone, or even the little messages we send back and forth (thanks to current technology).  As quoted by Hermann Hesse, “If I know what love is, it is because of you”.

Empty Arms, Losing a Child

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In Memory of Sierra RayLeen

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Sierra RayLeen, October 27, 1987

As we approach Mother’s Day, I thought I would share my story of losing a child.  I hear so many stories from other women and it breaks my heart every time.  It brings me back to nearly twenty-nine years ago when I lost my first child, a daughter, Sierra RayLeen.  She came nearly three months early, and only survived for approximately five hours.  It was my first pregnancy, so I didn’t really know what to expect.  I was 20-years-old and was excited to be pregnant with our first child.  We wanted the gender to be a surprise, so we had no idea whether we were having a precious baby boy or girl.  I had been having a lot of problems throughout the pregnancy, especially with bleeding off and on.  I, myself had been born two months early, weighing in at 3 pounds 15 ounces, so it had been a concern throughout my own pregnancy; however after nearly six months of problems, and much of that time on bed-rest, it seemed that the pregnancy was finally going well, filling us with much excitement and anticipation.  I can still remember the first belly-flutters, the ultimate sign that that there is a little being growing inside.  It was amazing, and we couldn’t wait to meet him or her.  I knew early-on that I wanted to be a mother.  My own childhood had been pretty rough, and I couldn’t wait to have a child of my own to love and watch grow up.  It was a dream come true.

That dream came to a screeching halt on October 27, 1987 when I was 6-months pregnant.  I was finally to a point where I wasn’t having issues, and no longer required bed-rest (after nearly three months on bed-rest).  Because of the issues I had experienced, I hadn’t bought anything for the nursery; however on October 26th, I finally went shopping with a friend, and bought several baby “things”.  It felt good to finally start getting ready for his or her arrival.  That night, I woke up around 2:00 am with severe cramping and hemorrhaging.  I called my husband and he immediately rushed home and we made our way to the emergency room.  It was there that it was determined that the “cramping” was actually full-blown labor.  An ultrasound was performed and they were able to determine that I was 7cm dilated, and that the baby’s lungs were not fully developed.  It was not likely that he/she would survive, and certainly not without intervention.  My doctor shared that he could send me to Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) where they were performing a procedure where they would put the mother on a bed that actually tipped upside-down, using gravity as a means to hopefully keep the cervix from further dilating and prevent the baby from being born.  We were told that it was our only hope in the baby surviving, because the lungs weren’t developed.  We mentally prepared ourselves for the ambulance ride up to OHSU in efforts to save our baby; however nearly fifteen minutes later, our doctor came back with news we didn’t want to hear; OHSU was no longer performing this procedure because the survival rate was so low.  We were devastated.   We no longer had an option, so began the wait for the arrival of our sweet baby.

The nurses later came in with a steel tub and towels, placing these items at our bedside.  I was not sure what the purpose of these items were, and in the back of my mind, I feared that the staff would put my baby in this tub and whisk him/her away.  I was young and it was my first pregnancy.  I did not know what to expect and was utterly terrified.  I couldn’t even bring myself to question the nurses as to what the purpose of these items were.  I thought perhaps they would take the baby away (I had no idea what the baby would look like or if he/she would even look like a normal baby).  With each contraction, I grew increasingly worried about the steel tub and its purpose.  I tried to relax as much as possible and focus on getting through each contraction….and, so we waited…

A few hours later, our baby girl, Sierra RayLeen, entered this world.  She was just over 15 ounces and just under 12 inches long.  She was tiny, but she was otherwise perfect!!  Ten fingers, ten toes, perfect little hands and feet.  She was breathing, although labored because her tiny lungs were not mature.  They immediately cleaned her, wrapped her in a blanket, and handed her to us to hold and admire.  I quickly forgot about the steel tub.  I only focused on this beautiful little baby girl and how perfect she was.  The doctor let us have a few minutes with her and then came back in to visit with us.  He reiterated that she was not going to survive; however if we wished, we could have her immediately taken to the nearest neonatal center (several miles away); however because of my blood loss (and my body had gone into shock just prior to delivery), I could not go with her.  He assured me that she would be poked and prodded with needles and tubes, and that none of those things could save her.  We would lose all time with her. It was, to this day, one of the most agonizing decisions I have ever had to make in my life, and something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.  We ultimately decided that we wanted to spend time with our precious baby girl.  We didn’t want to waste one minute away from her.

For over five hours, we held her, cuddled her, and kissed her.  She wrapped her tiny hand around our fingers and would occasionally take a deep sigh.  She never opened her eyes.  We were told this was because I had been sedated while in labor (when my body went into shock); therefore she was also sedated.  We had the most amazing doctor and nurses.  We didn’t know what to expect, but the nurses were so attentive to our little one.  They wrapped her up in blankets and kept her warm.  They took Polaroid pictures of her (this was in 1987, long before digital cameras and since we had no idea we would be having a baby that night, we didn’t come prepared with a camera), and provided us with a “Special Babies” baby book, along with her foot and hand prints.  They are the only physical mementos we have of her, and we are so very thankful that they provided these things to us during that very difficult time.  We reveled in each breath that she took and each squeeze of her hand on our fingers.  Even after she took her last breath, we continued to hold her, knowing how precious this time was.  Letting her go was more difficult than I can express in words.  When do you finally let go of your tiny daughter, knowing that these are the last moments that you will ever have with her?  When we did carefully hand her to the nurses, they treated her like any other baby.  They held onto her like the most precious of cargo.  I don’t think the nurses will ever know how much this meant to us, and I don’t think I could ever truly put it in words.

Going home was unbearable.  Empty arms that only had the chance to cradle that precious “little” for a few moments in time, would never rock her to sleep, or calm her cries in the middle of the night.  It’s a time that I’ll never forget, as it was such a time of darkness and despair.  But, we hold onto those beautiful brief moments with our daughter.  We had a gorgeous baby girl less than a year later, and a beautiful son almost two years after that.  We truly recognize how blessed we were, as many that lose a child, never have the opportunity with another.

My mother, who passed away just a few years later, wrote the following poem for our precious little one:  “Sierra RayLeen, child of my child, you only stayed a little while.  Bands of love wrap around my heart, knowing we would have to part.  Time stands still, there’s no tomorrow, wishing mine, was yours to borrow.  Time goes on, and hearts will heal, but the love of Sierra, we’ll always feel.”  -Grandma Lois

Sierra’s headstone where she lies was perfect in our eyes and we knew it the moment we found it: “She gave so much to be so little, but angels always do”.   Our beautiful angel is gone, but never forgotten.

 

 

 

April Giveaway!!

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April Giveaway!!!

 

Sign up to follow my blog and be entered into a drawing on April 30th for a FREE 8×10″ matted and framed custom watercolor portrait!!  Drawing will be held on April 30th at 8pm and winner will be announced thereafter.  This is a $120 value.  Go to my Facebook page (Watercolor Creations Gallery) and share my page for an additional chance to win.  Good luck!

Best Friends

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Best Friends

A few months ago, I was asked to paint a picture of a friend’s husband with their beautiful (and quite large) dog, “Big John”.  I was a little nervous that I wouldn’t do the portrait justice, as Big John is very black, and watercolors tend to lift, so you have to be very careful when painting.  It took longer than most pictures, as it took many layers of paint to get the desired effect, but it is one of my favorites.  I want to give a shout-out to my friend, whom this painting was done for, as she and her husband have the most amazing business called Woodsy Wonders Props, making beautiful props for newborn photographs (they have many other amazing things too).  Check out her Instagram account @woodsywondersprops.

Dogs are known to be and often referred to be “Man’s Best Friend”.  I miss having a dog, but my allergies were pretty intense as a child when I had dogs.  Plus, I really don’t have adequate time to spend with a dog, or other pet, so I choose not to have any at this time.  Perhaps down the road, when I am retired and/or have the adequate time to spend with my pet, I will do so again.

I appreciate the loyalty that I have experienced with pets.  My first very own pet was a dog that actually adopted me.  I was about twelve-years-old and in the 5th grade.  My parents and I lived out in the country, about 8 miles from town.  We had horses, but no other pets at the time.  This short, little black and white mutt showed up at our house and I was absolutely elated. He didn’t have a collar, and we assumed he strayed from home.  A few days later, we found out that he belonged to our neighbors just up the road.  I was a little bummed that we found his owner, as I wanted to keep him, but at least I knew I could visit him, since he lived so close.  I found out that his name was Spanky (a little homage to The Little Rascals series) and the neighbors had just adopted him the prior week.  They tried to keep him home, but every chance he had, he would run down the road to my house, much to my surprise, and joy!  After many weeks of trying to keep him home, the neighbors finally suggested that I keep him, since he clearly had adopted me, and they couldn’t keep him home. We all, including my parents, knew that he belonged with me, so that’s how he became my very first pet of my own and my best friend.

I LOVED that dog!!!  He would  actually wait for me at the bus stop each day when I returned home from school.  He had short, stubby legs, but he could run surprisingly fast when he saw me, or knew I was coming.  He brought joy to my world and often went with me as I explored the outdoors (this was long before video games, cell phones and DVDs).  He was a Heinz-57, which ultimately meant that he was a various mixed breed of dog.  I couldn’t even tell you what various breeds he may have consisted of, but it doesn’t really matter, because he loved me with all of his being, and he helped me get through a difficult childhood filled with instability and uncertainty.  I have had other pets, and he is long gone, but Spanky will forever be special in my heart due to the unconditional love that we had for each other.

 

 

Wrapped in Love

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Wrapped in Love

 

By now, many of you have noticed that I paint a lot of pictures about mothers and children, primarily babies.  I don’t think there is anything more beautiful, amazing, precious, delicious-smelling, soft, and snuggly than a little baby.  I will expand that to say that I also love baby animals; kittens, puppies, ferrets, you name it, I love it, especially in baby-form.  Baby toes are like little sausages…you just want to eat them up!!!  Not literally of course, but seriously, I want to kiss those little precious nuglets of goodness.  You can’t really do this once babies start crawling/walking, as then they no longer remain clean, and, well being a germaphobe, it just ain’t happening.  For some reason, this brings me back to when my kids were very little, probably 4 & 5 years-old.  It was Father’s Day and they had brought my husband and I breakfast in bed.  It was simply a bowl of cereal for each of us (I love cereal…hello!!!…who doesn’t love a good bowl of Cap’n Crunch?!), they brought up two bowls of cereal and two spoons…it was a precious moment.  The look on their precious, cherubic little faces was priceless.  They were so proud that they had done this all on their own…yes they did.  I’m not going to lie…being a germaphobe, I am always concerned about whether someone has washed their hands before handling something that I am eating, or after shaking hands, etc.  I wanted to enjoy my bowl of cereal that my precious littles had prepared for us…but I let my husband take the first bite, since it was Father’s Day.  He did so, and of course, raved about how delicious it was, and how he especially loved it because it came from them.  I went to take my first bite, when I saw that my husband had a puzzled look on his face and hear him utter, “where did you get these bowls?”….I slowly put my spoon back in the bowl, as they answered “the dishwasher”…which, of course we were both realizing contained dirty dishes, hence the film of grit that he had scraped upon while gathering a spoonful of cereal.  There was also remnants of something on the spoons, the likes of which, I didn’t want to even guess what it could be.  We laughed and “ate” our cereal (and when I say “ate our cereal”, I mean, we pretended to eat our cereal and then dumped it out when the kids weren’t looking).  It is one of those funny moments that you laugh about with your kids when they are older and can find the humor in it all.  It was such a precious moment.  It wasn’t about the cereal, or dirty bowls & spoons…it was about the love that was demonstrated when our precious babies thought  about us on that special day.  There are many other precious days like this, but this is one is one of my favorites, as it was when we were still a strong family unit.  There is nothing more precious than that.  While my husband and I divorced, we each still experienced many other loving moments with our kids.  I watch my son with his kids and see the love that he has for them.  I know he will have many memories of dirty cereal bowls filled with love, and that makes my heart full and realize the many blessings I have in my life.

New Beginning

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New Beginning

This is a commissioned painting that I did for a young woman that I watched grow up from a young girl into a beautiful (inside and out) woman.  She is now a mother of the most adorable little baby girl, now one year old.  I enjoy painting wedding pictures, as they are so precious; full of excitement of a new journey through life together, and wonderment of what’s to come.

I have been married (and soon to be divorced) twice now.  It is not how I had envisioned my life, and there are times where I can’t help but think, “what is wrong with me”.  What could I have done differently…what could I have said that may have changed the course of the life of me and my partner.  In my limited wisdom from both age and experience, I now believe that there are a million answers to those questions.  I wasn’t perfect, my partner wasn’t perfect, and ultimately, not one person, but in fact, both are to blame for the untimely demise of our relationship.  Hindsight is always 20/20, and that’s because we often see what we refused to see when we were together with that person.  It’s always easier to blame the other person, but the truth is, in my humble opinion, that there is always some blame on both parties.  I won’t go into the details of how my marriages dissolved, but as a wiser person, who truly tries to learn from my experiences, I think that in both cases, we simply grew apart.  We “allowed” ourselves to grow apart.  It’s tragic and sad, especially when there are children are involved.  But, one must hope that they can pick up the pieces, learn from the past, and continue their journey into the future.  That’s what I have done, and I have to say that I am happier than I have ever been.  I have a wonderful man that has been in my life for the last nearly three years, and because we have both been married, I believe that we don’t have unrealistic expectations or fantasies about what a relationship should be.  We have taken our experiences to heart, and  together, we appreciate the relationship that we have, still appreciating our previous experiences.

I went into my first marriage very young (just turned 19) and had unrealistic expectation of what marriage would be.  I was still very much a child, so I was literally growing-up as I was first experiencing my role as a wife.  Not the best combination to ensure a lasting marriage.  Top that off with the loss of a child, parents (on both side) and other stressful situations, and you have the perfect recipe for a failed marriage.  Sure, if I could go back, I would change many things, but on the other hand, I may not have changed a thing, as it led me to where I am today.  I am happy, in love, doing what I love (watercolor painting).  I have beautiful, happy, adult children, and grandchildren.  I have many blessings in my life and I truly wouldn’t change a thing.