Shopping with my mother-in-law I found the perfect frame for my favorite piece of art – a painting I had commissioned of me and my mother at White Sands National Park near her hometown of Alamogordo in New Mexico. This week my father braved a wooden plank balanced on a ladder step to hang the art above my stairs. I’ve lived in my house five months. Now it feels like home.
I had the art commissioned after I received my check from writing my first nationally published article, which is about my mother’s death. The piece is an excerpt from From My Mother, a book at that point I hadn’t finished. The artist offered to do the painting for $50 less than I was paid for the article. But I wanted that writing to turn into that painting somehow, so I tipped him the last $50 so my whole payment earned me a hand-painted custom canvas of my mother and me.
It’s a painting rife with memories. The photograph that the art is designed from was printed in the Quest article. My family visits White Sands virtually every time we visit New Mexico. The week before my mother spent her last day outside a hospital, we were at White Sands together.
The original photograph is one of my favorite photos, but in the actual picture, I have sand on my chin and my mother is wearing sunglasses. The magazine photoshopped the picture to remove the sand on my chin, then I gave the artist, Mike Claman, multiple pictures showing my mother’s eyes. Now I have a painting of my favorite woman in one of my favorite places showing my favorite part of her looks – her beautiful blue eyes. You could stick an original Berger Sandzen of the Smoky Hill River in my house and I’d still like that painting more.
When I published the article and put every dollar into the painting, I told myself I had bought the potential cover art to my book and I had to finish it.
The art is hanging framed in my household, and the book is 80 or so (ok, 82) days away from publication.
I look at the painting and I remember the good times with my mother – her kind eyes, her loving smile. I think of her story, the life lessons she taught me, her resilient faith. And I remember a promise I made myself: I will honor my mother. I will share her story.
You’ll want to read it. She’s the strongest woman I will ever know.
Riveting, soulful, and courageously told, From My Mother is a meditation on grief, family, genetic disease and also a deeply personal account of the narrator’s coming-of-age amid medical crisis and tragedy to carry on the lessons from her mother to raise her young son. A story of loss, From My Mother is full of life, a story of beginnings as much as endings, a moving book that transforms suffering into art and inspiration. Darcy Leech was born to Jo Lyn Bartz, a mother who carried myotonic muscular dystrophy, a disease 1 in 8500 suffer from. Jo Lyn’s son, Dustin Ryan Bartz, was born with congenital muscular dystrophy with a high enough frequency of protein repeat mutations that of his 13 years of life, every day defied prior medical knowledge. Leech narrates a moving meditation of the enduring mysteries of what dormant harbingers of genetic disease may lurk within, the surprising possibilities in loss, and the deep resilience of the human spirit as the body weakens.
The narrative highlights the relationship between diseased mother and healthy daughter, revealing Jo Lyn as a woman of strength, a caretaker who quietly marched toward her own degenerative weakness, someone grappling for identity while ostracized by an invisible disease, and a resilient spirit who endured holding the child who inherited her genetic misfortune as he took his last breath. From My Mother is the honest story of finding joy through loss, living fully within limitations, and the universal struggle of grappling for identity against the device of innate genetic code through invested love and personal choice. From My Mother leaves the reader pondering the value of genetic testing, the beauty in a disease easy to accept as genetic fault, and the heart wrenching question of when life should be sustained by machine or ended by choice.