Home from the Desert – A Patchwork Story

I returned home last week after spending ten weeks caring for a friend in Las Vegas who was diagnosed last December with the deadly brain cancer, glioblastoma multiforme IV.

It was early spring when I left my central Virginia home; my outdoor world was quietly bursting into more than a dozen shades of green as trees opened their leaves, grasses emerged from their winter rest, and a myriad of plants and bushes happily sprang to life beneath radiant warm sunshine. I confess it was hard to leave in the midst of such glorious re-birth. As I drove away on Easter Sunday, I gazed longingly at my fallow garden.

An un-traveled woman, I was transported up and away in my plane for several hours to Las Vegas, Nevada for my first visit. As we prepared to land, I gazed down at a desert world that was all shades of brown, even the mountains, and where I could see no green whatsoever. My senses felt bereft: I hadn’t considered until this moment that springtime was not luxuriantly green in every part of the world.

When I entered my friend’s home, I felt as bereft as when I’d seen my aerial view of the desert. She’d had a craniotomy, followed by several weeks of chemo and radiation, and was an exhausted shell of the woman I’d seen last Thanksgiving. Our future weeks got even worse, with life-threatening complications of low white blood counts and then multiple blood clots.

Yet slowly I adjusted to the desert, increasingly appreciating the unique beauty of the outdoor environment while seeking to be a positive part of the critical indoor landscape. As the weeks passed, my friend, still plagued with blood clots, slowly improved. Then, two weeks ago her MRI showed the tumor had not grown and swelling around her brain had decreased; she should return in two months for another MRI. We took time to celebrate this reprieve; I called them our golden days.

Her oncologist promised, however, that the pervasive cancer would return and encouraged my friend to think about her next treatment options.

Meanwhile, it was time for me to return home for much needed change and I boarded the plane again. Yet the seven hour journey, I quickly realized, didn’t just drop me off to pick up my life where I’d left off last Easter. I came home, in many ways, a stranger now to my life on this mountain.

I found myself, for example, aching for bright, colorful flowers. A trip to the garden center revealed my favorite brilliant red geraniums for the mailbox planter were sold out. I purchased others that would do, then remembered the last time my soul felt this depleted, how I’d turned to quilting.

Flowers, my heart pleaded. Grandmother’s flower garden pattern, I decided. I enlarged the tiny petal pattern because I wanted this project to come alive soon, not take months. I sorted out the brightest colors from my fabric stash and started cutting the pieces for what I could now see would be a flower-filled tablecloth for the heart of my kitchen: my table.

IMG_20150630_153245530-2                                             Playing around with flower placement

The project is moving along quickly. As my sewing machine and I create each flower, this activity feels almost sacrosanct as each flower grows into being. I am also, in some mysterious way, renewing as I wait for the desert part of my soul to help me understand other recent shifts in my inner landscape.


About Mary Jo Doig

At the turn of the millennium, I arrived at a cross-road that brought me to a splendid, if unforeseen place, almost as if I were a traveler on Robert Frost's The Road Less Traveled. I was single again, my three children were grown and building their lives, I'd experienced a health issue and was working on an improved lifestyle. I also ached to do two other things: (1) change my long human services career in upstate New York's Catskill Mountains, where winter seemed to be at least seven months out of every year, and (2) move to a warmer place in the universe. My decision: did I want to continue on the path I'd been following pretty much all my life, or could I gather my then-fragile courage and start life brand new somewhere else? These were scary thoughts for a single woman in her late 50s. Five hundred miles away, though, I fell in love with a new mountain range, Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, where I knew not a soul except my daughter who was attending college in the Shenandoah Valley, and I moved. I rented a tiny cabin on a mountain in the woods and lived there in solitude for two years, working in a new career by day and, when home, communing with the incredible natural beauty that surrounded me. There I also began to write my life stories, which were aching for release. I joined the Story Circle Network in early 2001, a rich place in cyberspace for women life writers, where I strengthened my written voice and began sharing my stories. I found so many opportunities to grow: 10 year facilitator for an online writing circle of women writers across the country; thirteen year editor of the "True Words from Real Women" section of the quarterly Journal; a reader and reviewer of women's memoirs for the SCN Book Review site; program chair for two Stories from the Heart national conferences in Austin, T. Presently I'm teaching Women's Life-Writing and Older Women's Legacy workshops in my part of the world in Central Virginia and facilitating the ongoing Circle of Memories Writing Circle (formerly an OWL workshop that continued on) at the Crozet Public Library. I am blessed with three wonderful children, a son and two daughters; a small, huge-hearted family; dear friends; my beagle Addie and cat Button. My hobbies include reading, writing, editing, cooking, gardening, quilting, knitting, biking, and simply being with the profound beauty of the mountains that embrace my small two acres in the Blue Ridge. The life stories I began writing in 2001 have grown deeper with time, re-writes, and personal growth. All these years later, I'm scheduled to publish my memoir, Stitching a Patchwork Life, in 2018.
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