The Healing House
By linda woods
6 Jan 2010
The Healing House
My dear 92 year old mother passed away three days before Hurricane Rita came ashore in Houston in 2005. This was not a convenient time to die. Everyone was trying to get out of Houston as fast as they could. Freeways were already gridlocked, gas was running out, and a monster storm like Katrina was bearing down on us all. Even the cemetery was trying to close. They agreed to stay open to take care of my mom. All I wanted was to know she was in the ground with my Dad, not lost in some flooded out basement in the Houston Medical Center. Seven of my mother's family and friends ignored their desire to fly out of Houston as fast as possible and take care of saying goodbye to my mother at the funeral home. However, the hearse bringing my mother's body was at a standstill in the Houston Medical Center evacuation traffic. At 4:30, the funeral directors came into the waiting room to tell us to go home, that there was no way that her body would arrive at the funeral home before late that night. Long story short...my Mom missed her own funeral. I can laugh now, but of course, at the time it was a nightmare. The hearse arrived there at 11:30 that night. The cemetery agreed to remain open one more day until 8:00 in the morning so that they could bury my mother. By the next morning, there was no way on EARTH, short of a helicopter, that we could travel the twenty five miles back to the cemetery. Traffic was at a standstill. The minister from our church drove for an hour and a half to travel the mile and a half on back roads to the cemetery to perform her service. Five sweet men in suits from the cemetery sang Amazing Grace. These men took jpg photos of everything and sent them to me by computer immediately after her service. Imagine my state of mind to miss my own mother's funeral.
Once I had seen the photos and knew she was buried with my Dad, I could finally have my meltdown. Ironically, at that moment I was trying desperately to hammer semi-rotten, pulled off wooden fence boards onto an upstairs window from the inside to try to protect us from the propane tank that remained on my absent neighbor's deck across the street. I was so ill prepared that I did not even have the right kind of nails and they split the semi-rotten wood. I began slamming the hammer down on the wood and sobbing. Something made me stand up, and I found myself slamming my hand down on the CD player that no one had played for the past several weeks. To my astonishment, the song that played was "Bridge Over Troubled Water." During that song I had my meltdown. But before the song was over, I crumpled on the floor in laughter because I knew that Mom was nearby and safe. And that she wanted me to be safe and well taken care of in this frightful nightmarish time.
The storm came and went, we remained in our little Houston townhome, and we were safe.
Five days after the funeral, my husband was just goofing around on the internet. He had stumbled upon photographs of a little farmhouse surrounded by cows, on two and a half acres, a view of three ponds, furnished with antiques, and just fifty-five minutes outside of Houston. The house was just over one hundered years old and located in Chappell Hill, a beautiful part of Texas where the Hill Country begins. We were not looking for a house, but he showed the photographs to me. Still fried mentally, I just gazed into the images of the sweet little house and knew we had to go and look at it.
I took care of my mother for thirteen years after my father passed away. One week a year, my husband and I would take a trip to somewhere beautiful like Maine or California and we always came back more nature starved than ever. I remembered one day when I sighed and said wistfully to Mom, "I can't believe people live in places like that...so pretty...." I turned down two career moves to pretty places because she did not want to leave her doctors and the Houston Medical Center and said she would not go with us. I could not leave her alone, so I turned down those jobs.
So, the timing of seeing that house in Chappell Hill felt so fateful, I just knew we had to go look at it. I just knew that this was one of those life moments that I could not ignore. I felt Mom's spirit soaring in my heart as I called her friend Terry, the real estate agent who had sold my mother's house. She drove us up to see the house that same day. We were the first people to see the house, the day the owners decided to sub-divide their six acre, three house B&B compound into three separate houses on smaller acreage. We walked into the house silently, knowing instantly how perfect it seemed for us. We walked out on the front porch, sat down on the steps, looked at the beautiful pond across the street, looked to the left and right (two more lovely ponds) looked at each other and at the same time said, "This is our house." We put a contract on it the same day. Never in our lives have we done anything so impulsive or so right.
We set about adding memorial rose gardens in memory of my Mom and Dad and my husband's deceased father. We added nine bluebird houses surrounding the house because my mother loved birds and so did I. Bringing some of my mother's antiques and keepsakes into this house when we moved in on Thanksgiving weekend of 2005 seemed absolutely perfect. In the Spring, we were amazed by the bluebonnets blanketing our meadow. Life felt so charmed. This house, the land around it, the wonderful country neighbors who are like family, and the simple lifestyle, have brought us more happiness than we ever dreamed possible.
Suddenly, it seemed that our bliss might be short lived. A year after we bought it, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I felt so cheated. How could I be this happy and have THIS happen to me NOW??? It was shortly thereafter that I knew I had this house for another reason besides bliss. I took off a year from work for my husband and I to take care of me, IN THIS HOUSE. If I was not in treatment at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, we were here in the house, and during this time the farmhouse began to take care of us. I began photographing with a passion I had never known before. Anything beautiful, rare, funny, wild, gorgeous, moving, on four legs, on two legs, virtually anything living that moved me was captured with a feeling I had never known before. Photography became my lifeline during a time that could have been so dark. This house and my photography saw me through three surgeries and recovery periods, chemo, and radiation. My husband and I were able to escape to this place any time I was not in treatment. It was such a gift. And now I am healed and free of cancer with a good prognosis. Hallelujah.
That first summer I was finished with treatment was a time my husband and I looked forward to with glee. We spent the summer at the farm and cherished the fact that our trips to the Medical Center were over. But not so fast. One more hurricane was bearing down on us. Actually two hurricanes. Impossible as it may seem, as soon as I was healed of my cancer and my treatments were over, my husband was diagnosed with colon cancer. My first reaction was to run outside the farmhouse and scream "WHY???" The other hurricane was Hurricane Ike. We spent the evening of Hurricane Ike sheltered in my husband's hospital room as he was recovering from his surgery to remove seven inches of his colon. It all seemed so deja vu. Hurricanes seem to always accompany emotional storms in our case. My husband had to go through his chemotherapy following his surgery, and once again, we retreated to the serenity and sanity of the farm, and even more deeply into our photography as he went through his time of challenges. Now, thankfully, we are both well, and feeling very much alive. We feel that we have been tested from head to toe and are both very optimistic that our hard times are behind us. Of course, time will tell, but we know where we will be and what we will be doing while we LIVE life. Such a precious life here. No day is taken for granted. Every second is spent loving our life in nature, and we never forget our miracles.
I believe my Mom and Dad have been all around me since their passing. I feel their presence in the roses that remind me of her, the moon in the night sky, and the bustling birdhouses that surround our house. I know my Dad would be thrilled that we did not hesitate to jump on something so right for us, and that he could provide such abundance to us through his estate. Our decision was light speed fast, but it was so right. I like to think my Mom did not waste any time when she got to Heaven. I imagine that she immediately tugged on God's arm and pointed down to us. God knew what we needed. All of my Father's years of hard work for our family are materialized in this love affair of a home that we have in the country. And this house has also brought the rest of the family so much closer together. All birthdays and holidays are celebrated here with my husband's family. It is their house too. We all feel the love in this house, and I know my parents are here too. They are in the wind, the flowers in the meadow, the new skills in my "green thumb," the butterflies, and the bluebirds that swim by the dozen in the birdbath outside the kitchen window. They are in the sunrises and sunsets, the moonrises, and the blanket of stars that covers us nightly. I am forever grateful to my Father for working and saving, and to my Mother for having such great communication with God, who obviously was and still is watching out for us.