It was a brutal start to 2018: On New Year’s Day, Stacy Waldman Bass’ mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
In the dizzying month that followed — dealing with the diagnosis, finding doctors and treatment plans, facing a very uncertain future — Stacy fell into despair. She searched desperately for something positive.
Photography is one of her many talents. She’s superb at it, and feels comfortable behind the lens. She’s taken many photos of her very photogenic mother. Others have too, over her more than 70 years of life.
Stacy wanted to share her images — and others — with her mother’s many friends.
She asked her mother if that was okay — and to let people know why. A few days later she told Stacy: sure. Go ahead.
Stacy’s plan was to post a photo a day on Facebook, for a year. “I didn’t even know if she’d still be alive then,” she says.
The idea resonated. The project began on February 1 — one month after the diagnosis. Every day Stacy’s photo was accompanied by a brief message.
Her goal, she said, was to take
tiny slices of her then almost 74 years as a daughter, summer camper, counselor, student, wife, mother, grandmother, friend, teacher, philanthropist, passionate theatregoer, and lover of language (to name only a few). I hoped to create a living and breathing portrait, one that would both delight and remind my mom of the wonderful life she had lived, and the range of people she had impacted and influenced.
She also hoped to create and fuel a community of supporters to nurture my mother’s memories, and engage her in an online conversation that could buoy her spirits and positively occupy her time.
The photos Stacy chose (and took) were beautiful, insightful and meaningful. Jessica looked forward to them.
For Stacy, the daily postings became a way to fortify and connect with her mother. They were a way to chronicle her life, and battle. They were a way too for Stacy to stay motivated, and get out of bed each day.
Every day, Jessica woke up eager to see what image Stacy had chosen, what she wrote about it, and what the online community would say.
Through the process, Stacy says,
I had the chance to fall in love with my mom anew. I grew to see her as a whole person, a complete and multifaceted woman who was my mother, but also so much more.
It gave me a more refined appreciation for the nuances of her life, the choices she made, the challenges she faced. I saw strength where before I’d seen only softness. Layers and layers of lovely that I may have taken for granted, now shone through.
At moments along the way, Stacy believed that
the swelling force of the movement that formed around her could somehow change the course of her prognosis, or at the very least extend her time. I think she believed that too.
The love and positivity that flooded in her direction, from near and far, from “likes” and “loves” to comments and questions, was so empowering and transformative that maybe, just maybe, it could work. The digital conversation quickly spilled offline. My mother was supported in ways unimaginable by many she knew and loved and many more that she did not.
Yet Stacy’s mother died just shy of a year after her diagnosis: January 12. Stacy was devastated.
Mother’s Day last month was particularly difficult. That morning, she wrote on Facebook:
I felt unending joy and good fortune in being lucky enough to be a mom, step-mom and mother-in-law to 6 extraordinary, wonderful, kind and generous humans. Not to mention the wild excitement I have in anticipation of our first grandchild, due only a few short weeks from now.
But then, then, it was impossible to get though this holiday, another first and looming large, without also feeling the crushing and often overwhelming weight of my own mother’s recent death, only 4 months ago. The contrasts were staggering.
In the quiet moments in between the mourning, the grieving and the throbbing tears, I have been working hard on a plan to make a difference: to honor my mom’s memory and to help others who may have similar challenges still ahead.
Looking back, Stacy wrote, she realized she had tried to “harness the immediacy, range, and force of social media for good.”
She did. The project was a success. But now she wanted to do even more.
She had planned to make a book of all the posts, and give it to Jessica. It would be a small, beautiful treasure.
Stacy’s Mother’s Day post continued:
I imagined that together, we could celebrate the victory of both the medicine and the memories, and marvel at the astonishing community that blossomed around her.
In her absence, palpable and ever present, I nonetheless still found myself wanting and needing to make that book; and to find a way to redirect the gift that was intended for my mom to others who are still fighting, and who could still prevail.
So — though her mother was gone — she made the book anyway.
And she created it to help defeat pancreatic cancer.
In partnership with the Lustgarten Foundation — the world’s leading pancreatic cancer research group — donors of $75 or more will receive an e-book version of “I Love You, Mom.” Print copies are available too, on demand.
In the foreward to the book — a slightly curated version of her posts — Stacy writes:
I hope that in reading this you will not only learn about my mother or my journey or my loss, but that like so many who followed along, day by day, you will be similarly inspired: to be grateful for and expressive about the relationships in your life—with your own mother, or daughter, or sister or friend; to mindfully nurture and attend to those relationships and to cherish the simplicity and beauty of the everyday.
Every day that you can.
I can’t imagine a finer tribute to a mother.
Or a more fitting epitaph for anyone.
(To contribute to Stacy Waldman Bass and the Lustgarden Foundation’s “I Love You, Mom” initiative, click here.)