The Art of Unwinding.

Fourteen years ago, I brought my 17 year old sister to a man who strapped her wrists and ankles to a table whilst she lay face down.

At the helm was a tall Chinese man practicing Qigong.  He had helped me and many of my other colleagues heal after sports injuries, and this particular hour with him was dedicated to my sister, in an effort to stretch her spine so he could realign it.  She had major back pain, and Western medicine just couldn’t seem to heal it. As he slowly cranked the wrench that slowly expanded her vertibrae, I questioned if it was the right choice.  By all accounts, it was a desperate measure.

What I remember with complete clarity is this… that it was not the stretching of the table that hurt her.  With each crank, he checked in with her, and she was fine.  Once he had her spine expanded, he used his hands to manipulate her spine into its correct position.  What hurt, what gave her pain and spasms and fear, was the UNWINDING.

The letting go.

The part where all future pain was over, but to get her spine back to its normal position would insanely hurt her. I don’t know why, but this is the story I continually come back to in my brain each time someone asks me, “how are you doing?”

My mom died on March 1st.  She was 70. And I miss her so much.

She called me on July 23rd.  We had just sat down to eat at a Cracker Barrel restaurant in Nashville, TN, following a day of games at our daughter’s basketball tournament, and I thought her call was to remind me that it was my brothers birthday.

I had no idea she was calling to tell me she had lung cancer, especially given that she hadn’t smoked a day in her life.

From the moments following that call, I had no idea if I had 2 days, 2 weeks, or 2 months, or 2 years, or 2 decades with her.  It didn’t matter.  I flew to see her the next day.

Turns out we had 7 months together. And I took advantage of every one of those days that I possibly could.

In the beginning, it was all about strategy.  The options.  The ways to kill the cells.  The 3 mile walks where we’d dream that she’d be the “miracle” the statistics would put in their record books.

In the middle, it was about mitigating, with medication and meditation, the cough that would haunt her day and night.  Her lungs trying to extricate a stubborn fucking tumor that wouldn’t move. It was about building an excel spreadsheet that would help us record her dozens of medications, including the needle that needed to be plunged into her abdomen day and night.

Between the middle and the end, it was a blur of pain management combined with far-off yet potential hope.

It was watching my stepfather bravely and delicately drain her lung of 400 milliliters of fluid that accumulated daily, inhibiting her lung function.

It was watching her body become a skeleton, the cancer cells eating everything she could force into her mouth.

It was her moments of giving us her puppy dog eyes just to have a sip of wine, even though it didn’t taste good to her.  It just reminded her of NORMAL.

In the end, it was all about comfort.  It was about pillow management.  It was about keeping her hydrated. It was about ice chips and chapstick.

But most of all, it was about saying everything that needed to be said.  And we did.  We said it all. At moments, we were forehead to forehead, tears spilling down our cheeks. Other times, we laughed at recalled memories.  And in moments where she was totally present, we checked off the items in her “red folder” about her wishes after death.

And in the end, she died with her eyes open, my hand on her heart, and we had our purest connection, right up to the moment she took her last breath on this Earth.

So now, i’m dealing with it all.  And so many people want to help.  Or ask if i’m ok.

And all I can say is this.

I’m on that table.  My body has been stretched beyond it’s boundaries for 7 months. And the unwinding is almost unbearable.  If I go too slowly, I’ll surely bottle up emotions that only years of therapy will help.  If too fast, I’ll explode, plain and simple.  I don’t want either.  My present self can’t believe that my past self endured these last seven months.  Yet I wouldn’t exchange those moments with mom for ANYTHING.

It is the only path I see forward.

Because she is everywhere.

My story is not unique, yet it is.  As my stepmother said to me on the day before mom’s funeral, “there are as many ways to grieve as there are humans on the planet.”

To everyone of you out there who is grieving someone you love fiercely with every beat of your heart…I’m WITH you.

I’m unwinding, and it’s ugly and sad and fierce, but in between each crank, I hold onto a pure, spoken love that mom and I have that will be with me until the end of time. And it makes it all bearable.


DD, Nan Elmira 70


This entry was posted in grieving, healing, Lung Cancer, mothers death and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to The Art of Unwinding.

  1. Bruce Hamilton says:

    What a beautiful way to share your last precious months with your mother. If our loved ones (and we) have to go at least the final days can be some of the most meaningful of our lives. What a good daughter, what a good family. Thank you. Bruce

  2. Elizabeth LeMay says:

    Andrea you are one amazing, inspiring, beautiful human being inside and out. Thank you for being so vulnerable and sharing your painful journey with us. With you every step of the way, in any which way you need me. Honored to be your friend. Love and Peace to you. E

  3. elizabeth says:

    Andrea you are one amazing, inspiring, beautiful human being. Thank you for being so vulnerable and sharing your journey of grief with us. With you every step of the way, in any which way you need me.
    Honored to be your friend. Love and Peace to you.
    “To live in the hearts we leave behind is not to die”

  4. Tammy Wilhoite says:

    Amen. My heart hurts for you. ❤️❤️❤️

    Sent from my iPhone


  5. Karri says:

    God bless your Mom, she is pain free now. Time will be your healer, but know this, you will heal. Try and remember only the good times and moments celebrating her every day.

  6. Lisa Bougie says:


  7. Julie kilgrow says:

    Andrea, I knew your mother as mayor Corradini when I was CEO of United Way in the 1990’s . She was chair of the Success by Six iniative that was implemented in the high risk neighborhoods in Salt Lake City school system. She was a superb leader and the program was highly results oriented. I respected your mother. She was a valued , transformative driven leader and friend. It was my honor to work with her on this important program. I am very sorry for your loss. She was sincerely a giant in our city. I know she loved you all dearly. I send healing thoughts to you and your family. Sincerely, Julie kilgrow

    • Ryan McLaughlin says:

      Andrea, I knew your mother as an associate at Prudential real estate and then Berkshire Hathaway. I was involved as the chair of our local board’s legislative committee and had a commonality there. We often sat next to eachother in sales meeting. I felt very privileged to be able to sit and just talk to a person who had experienced such accomplishments in their life. Your story brought a tear to my eye. She was a wonderful person and I will certainly miss sitting next to her on Tuesday mornings on the little table saying hello and having coffee.

  8. Rhetta says:

    My father died after the exact same cancer 15 months ago, here in SLC. I never imagined saying goodbye to him when I had only just turned 40 and he was a mere 73. I not only symapthize but sincerely empathize with you. My world will never be the same, therefore I will never be the same. Your mother brought incredible change to this city and her legacy will be visible for generations to come.

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  10. Jana DeCristofaro says:

    Thank you so much for these powerful words. Wanted to let you know that the organization I work for, The Dougy Center for Grieving Children and Families, posted your essay on our Facebook page. Your message is resonating for many who are connected to our grief support groups.

  11. Andrea,
    We met a million (20) years ago in Atlanta. Every once in a while I’ve remembered you as being very kind to the lost Irish boy all those years ago. Thanks for that. Today I pulled out an old diary and your card fell out. I looked you up out of curiosity and found this blog.
    I am sorry to hear of your mother.
    Your writing about it is so eloquent though. My own mother is going through something similar at the moment (somewhere between the middle and the end) and I am still trying to make sense of it. I can sense the unwinding to come and it helps so much to have it put in words.
    So thanks … again.
    From the distant past and a continent away.


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