I haven't talked about my mom much in a public space. My friends know all about it, and I've sent a few brooding tweets here and there, but I haven't shared the story anywhere. You can probably piece together what happened through some handy Googling, but all you would see is that my mom died at age 55.
My mom's losing battle with cancer and my obsession with music intersected in some very weird ways. The day she was diagnosed, my dad called me in tears and told me to come home from the gym ASAP. I knew in my gut that something was wrong. I continued playing my workout playlist on my way home (which happens to be called "Twerk it") and The Menzingers' "Rivarlies" came on. I started bawling when I heard the chorus "I'm running out of time/I'm running out of excuses," because I knew that once I'd park my car, I'd receive the bad news.
In summer 2013, my mom told us that she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It's one of the most aggressive types of cancers out there, namely because it's nearly undetectable until it has reached late stages and has spread to other organs. The doctors figured it was Stage III or IV because the cancer had already reached her lungs and liver. We sat and cried and hugged for a long time.
My mom started her aggressive rounds of chemo. Her hair started thinning out, so she had her stylist cut the rest off. Shortly after, she had confirmation that it was Stage IV. We discovered this the day I was going to shoot She & Him. I wanted to stay home, but my mom gave me the blessing to go. The show was running late, so I looked up "Stage IV pancreatic cancer" and had a nervous breakdown when I saw that most people are lucky to live 1-3 months after diagnosis.
The band took the stage and I could not stop crying. At one point, Zooey Deschanel and I made eye contact. I can't help but wonder if she thought I was super moved by the music, or what. It was not a good time.
My mom tried out an experimental chemo drug which ended up working really well. Her hair eventually started growing back! The doctors told her that they couldn't detect any cancer in her body. It really was a miracle. They wanted to continue maintenance chemo to be sure. My mom was weary and exhausted, but kept up with the chemo.
This was about a year after her initial diagnosis, just in time for Christmas. My mom loved holidays, so it never occurred to me that this might be our last Christmas. I really thought that maybe she was the rare exception and was going to be okay. What else can you do when your 54 year old mother is dying?
The following few months were a blur. I remember shooting Parquet Courts on her birthday and felt guilty about it. We soon learned that the cancer was back, and there wasn't much we could do.
Fast forward two months to May 2014. I was beyond stoked to shoot Against Me! for the first time since Laura Jane Grace went public with her transition. The day of the show, I came home to find both of my parents sobbing. They were informed that the chemo stopped working. There was nothing else the doctors could do aside from make my mom comfortable. I told her there was no way I was going to go to the show. She once again encouraged me to go and said "you've loved this band since you were a teenager. Tonight's a big night, go!"
I was surrounded by friends at that Against Me! show. I received so many hugs, affirmations, and "I love yous". I lost it when the band played "Walking is Still Honest," as I questioned why I went to the show hearing the words "Dear mother/this is just survival/you can't promise your children anything," coming to terms with the reality that my mom was going to die.
During the show, she sent me a text that said, "Please don't cry or be sad. I love you forever, XOXO!" That was her second to last text to me. The last one told me that I made really good mac and cheese.
She died two weeks later.
I had tickets to see The Menzingers perform both in Phoenix and Los Angeles the following weekend (about a week and a half after she died). I thought about canceling my California trip, but my mom adored the ocean and it seemed like the right thing to do.
The Menzingers are one of my favorite bands, and the lineup of this 2014 summer tour was spectacular. The first night of the tour I attended was in Phoenix. I was lucky enough to shoot The Menzingers, Lemuria, Pup, and Cayetana. That was my first introduction to Pup and Cayetana, and now I can say with full confidence that I love both bands as much as The Menzingers and Lemuria.
That show was exactly what I needed after all of the stress of planning a funeral. I drove out to L.A. the following morning and stayed in Hermosa Beach. It was insanely far from Hollywood, but it was cathartic for me to walk along the boardwalk, enjoy a breakfast burrito, and think about my mom.
At the show, I was lucky enough to watch from a VIP balcony. I was put on the guest list for the San Diego show the following day and called in sick to work to continue my journey. The San Diego show was in a church, and it was absolutely beautiful.
Anyway, the purpose of this post is always save your photos because you never know when you'll stumble across them and need a dose of nostalgia. Looking at these photos brought me joy. I remembered how much I needed to let loose and enjoy myself after my mom's passing. People keep telling me that it gets easier. It sounds corny, but it's true. This is the first time I've been able to write about my mom without crying. The two year anniversary of her death is in a week and a half. This makes me realize just how far I've come along since then.
A picture is worth a thousand words. Take a look at some of my favorite shots from the show. Try to imagine the sticky hot June night and having your left eardrum buzz for a week after standing too close to an amp.