Saturday, September 15, 2012

Healing Embrace

Jacob "Jake" Rodriguez -   my father
photo is head shot from his early singing career,
San Angelo TX 1930's
I will be creating an altar for the Dia de los Muertos 2012 exhibit at SOMArts called:
Calling on the Spirits to Face the Future. There will be a total of 40 artists creating various altar installations, each bringing their own unique message and sharing it with the public.

My particular installation has to do with my 2010 diagnosis of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. Here is my proposal as presented to the Dia de los Muertos staff at SOMArts.

My installation will be based on an experience I had with my father who has now been deceased for eleven years.  One month before my November 30, 2010 diagnosis of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, I felt the presence of my father. It was as if we were sharing the same physical space.  I felt his arms around me as I carried on with my daily life. In the nine years that he had been deceased I had never felt such a tangible presence from him. Photographing the Dia de los Muertos 2010 procession in San Francisco on November 2,  I stopped to talk to some friends. I told them about feeling a powerful presence from my father where he had his arms around me. I hugged them with encircled arms, demonstrating how it felt.  That conversation, the feeling of my father’s  presence with his arms around me,  followed by my ensuing Leukemia diagnosis was a profound, otherworldly experience.

My altar therefore will be based on the encircling arms of my father, along with the presence of my ancestors, friends living and passed on, who gave me and have given me the strength, clarity of mind and positive outlook to endure eight months of treatment...."

The photo of my Dad posted above, is what will be hung at the center of the encircling arms. I love this photo. It shows my Dad in his youth, with his life ahead of him. He seems to be so full of hope, happiness, confidence. He had his singing career while also working, helping to support his family. Life was full of work and wonder. 

In many ways, it is those feelings that I used in facing my Leukemia diagnosis and treatment. Darkness, despair, had no place in my Leukemia treatment and hospitalization. Life was all about living, getting through each day. It was about making friends with the nurses, cleaning people and yes, the doctors too. Fear always played a role in facing each chemo regimen or invasive test. Yet, I was always able to grab the strength I knew I had. I hung onto the strength I remembered my father had while he was hospitalized for various ailments. He never gave up. It wasn't until at eight-seven, that his body was just too tired to continue. Then, he let go.

Finally, the message I am relaying in my altar, is that my Dad returned to me after nine years. This was not in physical form but for lack of better words, in spiritual form. He came a month before my diagnosis - almost in preparation for the debilitating fatigue that would overtake me in that month. Our worlds intersected. He helped me with the shock of the diagnosis, hospitalization, treatment and recovery. There were many, many days during my hospital stays, when I could see his face, greeting a doctor, or cleaning person. He was friends with everyone in his hospital kingdom. He is still with me today. My Dad. He was a complicated individual, full of opposing forces. He was human. He loved me.

In addition to my Dad, I had an enormous community of family, family of friends who gave me so much love and support. It was like they "Skyped" my Dad in the heavens and said, "Hey Jake, we've got to work together here. We've got a job to do." I love them all!!!


  1. Marta- you have such a beautiful story to tell. your story is of bright, beautiful colors, of strength, of laughter, and of sadness and joy. although you and i met only once, and for a very brief period of time, when we met, i remember feeling that i was in the presence of someone really special. i knew i would remember our meeting for a long time. you didn't know me, yet you welcomed me into your studio with open arms, you introduced me with confidence and grace to your friends and colleagues. you shared your art experiences with me as if we had been friends for many years.
    a few months later, i learned through your blog about the battle you were about to embark on. again, with grace and strength you took it on. seemingly, you didn't skip a beat.
    i am honored to have met you. i am proud of what you have accomplished, and what you continue to do. i have no doubt that your 'papi' was, in fact with you, embracing you, giving you the strength you would need in the months to come.

    the 'altar' you will prepare, will not only honor him and all of your ancestors and friends who are deceased, but it will honor your family and friends who stand by you today echoing the same.

    que dios te bendia martita, y que siga dándote inspiración.

  2. Marta, what a lovely way to honour your father and your success at life. I choked up a bit, remembering my own dad, Rene, or Pops or Dad, to me. Congratulations on this wonderful venture. I can assure your, Jake is very proud of his higita.


  3. Rebeca thanks so much for your wonderful words. Wow. They are so inspiring to me! You know, each day is a new adventure with either a mini or massive amounts of inspiration. Your wonderful words gave me that massive amount I needed for today, Sunday. Thanks so much.