There are moments in life that are touchstones. These are the events that allow you to evenly divide your existence up into blocks of time before and after said event occurred. These moments change you so significantly as a person that the being you were before they happened is totally different from the individual you are after.
Until now, I’d only had two such occurrences in my life: the death of my mother and the birth of my son. I can look at photos or think of times in my life and they all fall within the parameters of whether or not my mom was still alive and whether or not I was a mother. What’s funny is that these two events–complete opposites to me, in that one devastated me beyond what I thought possible while the other brought me the greatest joy of my life–can both hold this same power over the perception of my life.
My cancer diagnosis has this same effect. I look at the photo above, just two months ago, and see a person and time that almost feels foreign to me. Look at her, with that mess of hair wrapped up in a sloppy bun, sitting in the morning sun with her husband, blissfully unaware of the shit storm looming just beyond the horizon.
I’ve thought about this a lot lately. All the significant and mundane things I did earlier this year while cancer was secretly growing inside my body. That family vacation, trips for work to Las Vegas and New Orleans, dinners with my husband, girls’ days with friends, furniture markets I walked for my job and countless nights rocking and nursing my son to sleep. I just had no clue. I was happy. I was normal. I was in the before.
We don’t know when these life-changing moments will happen. Both good and bad, it’s hard to predict exactly when these things will occur. Even with childbirth, I had a due date, but that’s not the day my child arrived. And with sudden, often bad things, we rarely have warning, either. Even with a prolonged illness, it’s nearly impossible to pinpoint the day and time a person will finally pass. You know it’s coming–just like we all have some vague sense of dread that bad things can and will happen to us in life–but you have no real idea of when.
It’s how we look at the after that shapes us, though. There are definitely photos of myself from the year after my mom died where the sadness is almost palpable. Something’s just off in my face–my eyes are a little duller than they once were. But as the years pass, that fades and while I’m still in the after, I’m also moving back into the before. Before both good and bad things. As I go through this process, I’m trying to treat every day in the after as also a day farther into the before. Because I know there is a lot of good yet to come in my life.