Thirteen Weeks

Thirteen Weeks

A Story by Shelley Holt-Lowrey

A Lifetime of Days, turned to Weeks, into Months, then Years, and then Distilled Back Down into ... Thirteen Weeks

Thirteen Weeks was written at the request of a dear friend and gifted photographer for inclusion in a project of his which has since gone global.  For one year this artist took a photograph every thirteen hours exactly, thus allowing him to eventually photograph every hour of each day, on a rolling basis, for one year.  At the end of this year all photographs were printed, and a compilation of 674 images was created. 

Upon assessment of this final work, the artist found that consistent themes about life began to emerge.  Soon afterward, he opened his project to other artists, inviting their participation by requesting they submit an original work each in their own medium.  Each piece would then become part of the original, now much larger, project.  He requested only that each piece be an interpretation of at least one of the themes (shown below), and to contain a reference to the 13 or the 13 hours upon which his  original art was based.

The themes which grew out of the original works, as discovered by artist, were:  
Time, Life, Thought, Memory, Self

The project has become known as the 13 Hours and Interpretations Project and will tour through 2020.

A Lifetime of Days, turned to Weeks, into Months, then Years,
and then
Distilled Back Down into


... for Mervyn's Mum

March 8, 2008
My sisters and I stayed with my mother until there simply was no more of her left. Only the physical part remained.  That which had carried her through her earthbound journey. Later, in the throes of my grief, I felt the hand of my mother reach out to me and touch my soul, even as I missed feeling it on my shoulder. It was then that I knew she was ok.

Thirteen Weeks Earlier


December 10 2007
"He said it was a pretty big spot." she said with a forced calm I knew was effected for me.  I stood in my kitchen stunned, my purse still swinging from my shoulder. "He told me there’s no reason to worry yet," my mother continued quickly. "He said I need to see a specialist."  This last part was spoken so softly I could scarcely hear it.

December 13, 2007
"I'm very sorry to tell you this." my mother's Pain Specialist said in a low comforting tone.  "The tumor is very large, and it doesn't look good. I promise I will do everything I can to make her comfortable. Again, I am so sorry."

Because she was not my mothers primary doctor, she was prohibited from giving my mother this information directly. But she could tell me,
Over the phone,
Just one minute after we had left her office,
With my mom standing right next to me.

After I hung up, I met my mothers gaze. She looked - hopeful. Her blue eyes were wide and innocent. She searched every inch of my face looking for good news. I shook my head slightly and grabbed for her hand. With our fingers interlaced, we walked out of the building.


December 17, 2007
It took two hours to get to the office. and another hour and a half to get checked in and prepped. The biopsy took five minutes. It was questionable whether the sample was adequate for a diagnosis. We would not know for another four days.

Nice word ‘adequate’.  Made it seem that somehow, someway, my Mother was not doing enough to allow the medical profession to treat her properly.

(WEEK 3)
December 24, 2007
We had over 30 people at my house on Christmas Eve. Everyone managed to make it that year. There was much laughter, so many children running about, and mirth overflowed. My oldest sister received a long awaited marriage proposal in front of everyone.  And my Mom was the Queen. She reigned from her chair in the middle of the manic room as children, grand children, great grandchildren, nieces, nephews, boy-friends and best-friends all sat and visited with her throughout the day.  At the end of the day we all gathered for a very large family picture.  We barely all fit in the camera's frame.

I noticed that my mothers gaze looked a bit vacant by then. Her plate of food sat,
untouched, in front of her.

December 25, 2007
Mom admitted she had been unable to keep food or liquid down for two days. My oldest sister and I told her we were going to take her to get checked out. She was uncharacteristically compliant. After triage, they checked her in right away and started treating for dehydration and elevated levels of this, depleted levels of that, and who knows what else.  They only spoke ‘Doctor Speak’.

She would now receive comprehensive and complete care for the various things starting to become affected by her cancer. She would not come home for another 14 days.


December 28, 2007
Finally, as the IV's and various chemicals being pumped into my mothers fragile person began to work their magic, she started to become focused and able to understand what was happening to her.

Dehydration can cause a near dementia-like state. We were unaware of how out of it she had been. The day was quite windy. In her confusion, my mother thought that perhaps the wind caused her dehydration. We laughed, and we did not correct her.

December 29, 2007
We had the diagnosis. My mother had non-small-cell stage IV lung cancer, and was
was given about 16 Weeks to live. The doctor advised should she take an aggressive
treatment of combined radiation and chemotherapy.  With this, she stood a chance of survival.

She agreed without question. Not once did she ask what her odds were. In deference to her, neither did we. For my mother, any chance was better than none.


December 31, 2007
Earlier that year, I had booked a cruise for my family and my Mom which was sailing late February. This became her target ‘Well’ date. Though still hospitalized Mom rallied and was more herself than she had been in months. Once again, she reigned as family and friends dropped in for brief visits. Mom's three girls were her beauticians, her hostesses and general gofers. In the mean time, her chest was marked with radiation tattoos; ink dots where radiation would shoot deep into my her body " killing everything it encountered along the way.

January 3, 2008
Immediately after her first chemo treatment, my mother suffered a heart attack.  At that point, we all became fully aware of her delicacy. Though my middle sister, the most steady of us all, reminded us that our mother's final bell had not yet rung. Still, we were shaken. "How much time?" was something we all wondered yet could not say aloud.


January 6, 2008
Two Weeks after arriving at the ER, my mother was allowed to go home. Upon her arrival, she announced she was ready to continue the business of living.  Thus begun a lightly choreographed dance of round the clock care and doctor's visits between my sisters and I.   Somehow the three of us managed to keep our own families and careers functioning as well.

I started a blog to keep family and friends up to date on Mom’s progress.  They, in turn, would post messages of hope and encouragement to her.  My mother listened intently as we read every entry.  She dictated one post for us right after returning home:  “Dear Family & Friends:  I never knew what a blog was before, but now that I do, what a wonderful tool it is. I can’t tell anyone what a lift it is, and was to read all the notes, prayers an interesting tales from each of you.  My daughters have been such brightness for me, especially on some of the darker days.  They brighten my life more than they will ever know...  Love to all, Marilyn.”

January 7, 2008
I discover my inner domestic-goddess as I am now forced to cook, clean and oversee the procurement of the provisions required to run a house fighting a terminal illness. A parade of nurses, hospital supply people and therapists march through our lives bringing comic relief, and distraction to us all. Days are filled with medication reminders, trips up stairs for showers, doctor's appointments, phone calls, visiting
friends and relatives. My mother's social calendar is burgeoning.


January 13-24, 2008
The new rhythm has become the routine. Dinner is provided by neighbors.  Doctor’s
appointments are made and kept.  Nurses, therapists and guests come and go. Perhaps the most significant part of these Weeks is its lack of anything significant at all.  During these Weeks there is no panic. In these Weeks, we find time enough. Time enough for Time.  Time enough for talking with one another. Time enough to laugh, to share and to remember.

During these Weeks we remembered everything we wanted to say but had not. We said it. These Weeks are full of love and expression and acknowledgement. These are perhaps the best of all the Weeks.


January 27, 2008
Earlier that day, my mother had her third chemo treatment.

At 4:00 A.M. we called 911.

My mom was experiencing what was the precursor to a major cardiac event. At the hospital, the doctor advised that things were dire, and we should prepare to say goodbye.  At that exact moment, beepers and whistles and bells started going off.  The three of us were pushed out of the room as equipment, nurses, techs and doctors were rushed in.  I recall with crystal clarity my sister Doria raising her head above the crowd and crying out:  “BUT I DIDN’T GET A CHANCE TO SAY GOODBYE!!”  Those words, ripped, straight from her heart, are forever etched on mine.  To this day, she does not remember saying them.

We were ushered into a small ante-room, with the doctor hurriedly requesting  a living will directive.  As my sisters and I huddled, my mother went into full cardiac arrest.  She died on the table.  Our DNR decision came one half second after they’d applied the paddles to her chest and revived her. She was alive - again. And her heart beat on.  

February 1, 2008
We learned that my mother had a blockage in one artery, but there was nothing they
wanted to do until after the cancer had been dealt with. We therefore continued on as we were, with a new awareness of the degree of my mother's tentative hold on life.

February 3, 2008
When asked about her death experience, my mother said that she'd felt no pain, she did not see her life flash before her, nor was there any white light. She said that she felt very peaceful. She also said she was going to be OK when her time came. I would not remember this for another two years.


February 4th, 2008
My mother came home again much weaker and more fragile than before. Treatment
had to be delayed while she healed, and what had shrunk before began to grow again.

February 5-15, 2008
Just as the earlier non-event Weeks were so very sweet, these following non-event
Weeks were equivalent in their sorrow. The beginnings of depression, anxiety and
narcotics withdrawal had begun. What had become fun outings to doctor's offices were now dreaded major treks across town. There was no longer anything hopeful about our routine. Everything became difficult for my mom, and we knew she felt as if nothing would ever be the same. She took to saying "I'm sorry" after every request for assistance. We watched as her spirit slowly spiralled downward, ever downward, further and further. There was not one damn thing we did or said or tried which helped


February 18th, 2008
Somehow, between hospital discharges, multiple prescription instructions, and changes in dosage or strengths of the various medications taken, I gave my mother more blood thinning medication than was prescribed.  My sisters tried to console me in my error with humor.  I was devastated.

On this day, what started as a simple nosebleed brought us back to the Emergency Room at 1:00 A.M. This time, my mother stayed for a Week. Her depression worsened further.


February 24-26th, 2008
Mom came home once more, but decided she was far too weak to make the cruise. This was tantamount to her giving up. On the eve of the 27th, she decided she was too weak to attend her brother's wedding, which had been hastily scheduled to coincide with the sailing date. During the ceremony, my mother listened on the phone while her brother was married; he carried the phone in a pocket near his heart.

February 28, 2008
Torn, my husband, son and I set sail for Mexico.
My Mother stayed behind.


March 1, 2008
My mom is taken to the hospital for what would be the last time.  She can no longer breathe without assistance. It is determined that treatment has failed. No further hope is forthcoming.

A ship to shore call is placed telling me, who is off the western shores of Mexico,
that I must come home. 

March 2, 2008
Mom, Marilyn is cognizant but on much medication. We decide to not tell her that treatment will not resume, that her tumor has grown, and that she has a  matter of days.  She knows.

Those closest to her are invited for a last visit.   She manages to stay awake through it all and  has something kind to say to each one.

March 4, 2008:
My oldest sister Lori asked our Mom if she ever wanted to do or be anything else. Mom's reply was “Oh Never.  All I ever wanted was to be a wife and a mom.” 

Lori posts the following on the blog:  “It’s such a beautiful sunny day today.  I wish Mom could just sit outside in the sunshine and put her head back and relax with a book.  She is just so tired from all of the pain and medication.  It is such an honor to comfort and love the woman that brought me into this world.  She will see the face of God much too soon in my estimation, but as his plans are larger than my understanding, I will trust in Him and continue to walk this walk with my sisters and my Mother, thanking him for the most perfect of all mothers.”


March 5, 2008
My sisters and I thanked everyone for everything. we let them know that we wished to have the remaining time alone with just the four of us.  We then shut the door to the world, and waited for our mother to die. She is no longer awake much.  When she is, she is not coherent.  Her heart beats less than 13 beats per minute. The Death Rattle has begun. She is disconnected from everything save the pain medication which will allow her blissful  sleep.

March 8. 2008
Shortly after 7:00 AM, my sister Doria moves as she sees my mother stir. We stood and walked to her bedside. We had felt the approach of this moment, and we felt its arrival finally. Individually, we each said a quiet goodbye, and provided her permission to go. 

At 7:31A.M., our mother opened her eyes wide one final time. They were a color of blue I had not seen in years. Ice Blue and clear as crystal.  Looking at her, we each knew that her eyes no longer looked earthward. Rather, they were looking into that which was beyond us all.

We believe that at that moment, our mother looked into the eyes of her Lord.  At that moment, he reached out, and received her as she walked into his arms, and home.  I looked up at my eldest sister - our eyes locked.  “She knows everything now doesn’t she?” I, the baby of the family, whispered.  My big sister met my gaze, nodding once before slowly lowering her head.

My sisters and I stayed with my mother until there simply was no more of her left; only the physical part which had carried her through her earthbound journey. Later, in the throes of my grief I felt the hand of my mother reach out and touch my soul, even as I missed feeling it on my shoulder. It was then that I knew she was ok. That her spirit was whole, that she lived on, and was free.

These were the final thirteen weeks of my mother's life.  Perhaps the most important thirteen weeks I have ever lived. In those weeks, I loved more, lost more and learned more about love and life and myself than I had in the 44 years prior.

Eventually, the pain of those weeks ebbed.  I finally got to a place where I was able to reflect back - and eventually even smile.  Today I have much gratitude for those weeks.  We were granted more during that time than many ever receive.  

 ... We were given Thirteen Weeks.

® Shelley Holt-Lowrey 2012

© 2012 Shelley Holt-Lowrey

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Featured Review

This one really touched home. So similar to what my own dear mother had to endure. Very professionally written, meaning you did a great job of writing about a subject that so many families must navigate and you did it with compassion and insight. They say growing old ain't for wimps. Luckily my own mother, though frail and weak, was emotionally as tough as they come. Hope you're happy Shelley, you made me cry.

Posted 9 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.


This was awesome, very touching!!!

Posted 9 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Shelley Holt-Lowrey

9 Years Ago

Again, thank you :)
Ragin Cajun

9 Years Ago

No problem...Its what I do ;)

Living through the slamming doors one finds solace almost nowhere..yet the days pass by indifferent to the growing sorrow and the smiles become more of a fleeting notion, dispelled by the reality of what shouldn't be, of what makes no sense and of what measure of good-bye will soon be required.

then the days grow faint in the rearview mirror, and life shared moves into the spirit of recognition, knowing one's presence is present during moments of thoughtful reflection.

some parts i couldn't read for the parallels ran so close to experience, but all of it is a should-read and meaningful...

a wonderful measure of devotion...

Posted 9 Years Ago

I feel privileged to have read this Shelley and so glad i come across it. It's a difficult thing to say but in places I smiled, laughed even...the part where your mother thinks the wind could cause right with such loyalty to her memory...a glimpse of a strong family bond is clear and for unfolding something quite personal in such a vivid way captures my mind and heart.

Posted 9 Years Ago

Magnificent in every way. Thank you for being you.

Posted 9 Years Ago

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Bloody perfect. Anything else is just words.

Posted 9 Years Ago

You wrote this beautifullly, but I should never have read it. I lost my mother, my father and my husband, and though each was different each was the same.

Posted 9 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

This one really touched home. So similar to what my own dear mother had to endure. Very professionally written, meaning you did a great job of writing about a subject that so many families must navigate and you did it with compassion and insight. They say growing old ain't for wimps. Luckily my own mother, though frail and weak, was emotionally as tough as they come. Hope you're happy Shelley, you made me cry.

Posted 9 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

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7 Reviews
Added on June 18, 2012
Last Updated on June 18, 2012
Tags: Life, Death, Family, . Mothers, Daughters, Sisters, Project, Artistic Compilation

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