‘But you’re not here’: Mother’s cancer death inspires music, lifestyle turnaround
Weber grew up on a dairy farm in Colfax, Wis., and while his mother was deeply involved in her Methodist church, religion didn’t click with Weber. “It was all extremely boring to me,” he said. “I didn’t connect with the sermons. It really wasn’t for me.”
Still, Weber and his three older sisters enjoyed a happy childhood on the farm, and Weber learned to love music through his mother, who sang in the church choir. After his sisters moved away and started families, Weber decided to relocate to Minneapolis and pursue a career in music. His parents sold the farm, with plans to downsize their lifestyle. And that’s when everything changed.
Wendy Weber first learned she had a mass on her left ovary in 2011. Based on the tests, Weber said, the doctor said there was nothing to worry about and advised her to have the mass surgically removed. After the seemingly routine procedure, the doctor had the mass tested and was surprised to find it was cancerous.
“The (surgeon) was apologizing up and down, telling us, ‘We’ve cut into it, we don’t know how much it is spreading.’ It should have been done by a cancer specialist,” Weber said. Wendy then learned she needed a complete hysterectomy to properly remove all possible cancerous cells, but she had to wait until she recovered from her first surgery.
After seven long weeks, Wendy underwent a grueling second surgery followed by an aggressive schedule of chemotherapy treatments. She lost her hair, eyebrows and eyelashes, but after finishing chemo, doctors told Wendy her cancer was in remission. A few months later, Weber said, “it came back, stronger than ever.”
From there, Wendy’s health fluctuated, and Weber attempted to devote himself to helping her heal. But he was consumed with his own problems, like the breakup of his band of eight years and the end of a friendship he’d had since fourth grade. He stopped making music as drugs, alcohol and partying helped him avoid reality.
“I assumed she’d snap out of it again,” he said. “I didn’t really take advantage of the last few moments of her life.”
Shortly before Wendy’s death, Weber started to pull himself out of his self-induced fog and began looking into alternative medicines to help his mother, but it was too little, too late. But Weber didn’t stop studying cancer and the various treatments. He also began delving into Wendy’s book collection, which was heavy on spiritual and self-help tomes.
One predominant theme hit Weber: “I kept reading about how if you simplify your life, all aspects of your life will become better,” he said. “I decided I would simply my life.”
He sold many of his belongings and bought the van that’s been his home for three years. (He does find apartment-dwellers looking for temporary roommates during the deepest winter months.) He became a vegetarian, reconnected with the spirituality he shunned as a child and continued researching cancer and all-natural lifestyles.
The idea to write and record songs about his mother came from an unexpected source. “I was painting houses with this guy who was a strong Christian. I was just starting to get back into music and he said, ‘Why don’t you write an album about your mom? Explain it all and share your story. It will help others.’ ”
Weber took the advice and started a Kickstarter campaign to fund the recording and CD manufacturing, pulling in $400 more than his goal of $3,000.
What he told friends would take a few months ended up consuming more than two years.
“All of these emotions that I had pushed back and not dealt with started coming out,” he said. “It’s like I was experiencing all the stages of grief at once. At first, the songs were not coming easily. My mom was such a beautiful woman, I felt like nothing I was writing was doing her justice. I trashed dozens of songs and rewrote hundreds of lyrics.”
It started to click when he penned the song inspired by his mother’s voicemail plea. “I’m not living, right now, so if you’re there I need you to help me out,” he wrote. “I’ll be right here, right here waiting for you.”
“I remember that was the first song that brought me to tears,” he said. “I thought, ‘This is good, this needs to be shared.’ So I kept chipping away. Sometimes I’d dive into music for weeks on end, staying up until 5 in the morning. Sometimes I’d get frustrated and wouldn’t open my computer for a week straight.”
Weber recorded and produced the synth-driven tracks himself, mostly inside his van. He said he’d still probably be working on them now, if it wasn’t “for friends telling me ‘Hey, this needs to go out, now.’ ”
During the process, Weber figured he’d heard each song at least 500 times.
“Listening to the album as a whole is even more powerful,” he said. “I get really choked up, it still brings back those wrong decisions I made. I wish I could have been a better son and been there for her.”
For the past year and a half, he’s been working as a graphic designer for a social media company in Oakdale, and he often keeps his van parked in the lot outside.
“I was able to land a full-time job doing what I love, and they’re very supportive of me,” he said. “And when I need to change my environment, which is always good for my creativity, I’ll move to a hotel parking lot or a park or wherever they’ll allow it.”
Weber said his Kickstarter supporters “essentially gave me my quality of life back” and that he was happy to be donating the proceeds from the project to charity. “I wanted to continue where she left off, to do my part and to do the right thing. I think my mom would be very proud of me.”
And while “Wendy” is a dark journey for Weber, he said he hopes people take something away from the music. “Maybe people will think twice and not take their family and loved ones for granted. Make sure they feel appreciated. It’s also an opportunity to share with people the realism of what addiction is and how easily it can overcome you.
“The last song, ‘Gold,’ is about finding the good inside. You’re not done, you’re not washed up. You can persevere in the face of darkness.”