At some point in every artist’s journey, art will imitate life. I think that point may be approaching for me. My mother has pancreatic cancer, the most lethal cancer there is. The struggle with the diagnosis in August – and the debilitating effects of the disease and its treatment on her and our family since – have kept me from my blog and my art. Painting and writing about the joys of creating art seemed selfish and out of place as I gave myself over to the selfless act of caregiving, alongside my sister, aunt, and father.
“It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life, that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Caregiving is endless. Those of you who have ever taken care of someone – particularly becoming like a parent to your parent – understand this statement. It is one of the most rewarding, tiresome, and fulfilling roles in the world, and it comes with many emotions: anger, guilt, joy, sadness, shock and awe that so many unanticipated things can happen on the turn of a dime – all sometimes in the same day. It has been a defining life moment for me, not only bringing me even closer to my mother and family, but also making me into a better person as I witness my mother face this dreaded disease with unmatched bravery and grace.
In “Confronting a disappointing piece” I described how I hit a creative and technical wall on a painting I had been working on for months. It was a painting of my mother at 30 years old, a scene in Sevilla just like this one of my father. My goal was to complete a series of these paintings, based on five photographs. I finally did complete the painting, but it remained a disappointing piece that didn’t capture my mother’s essence at all. My mother hung it in her bedroom anyway, because that’s what moms do. While I don’t feel I can go back and redo or “fix” that painting, I do feel I must capture my mom now, fighting for her life. Painting her now could make this experience less scary and could help make sense out of the role reversal, the endless treatments and suffering, and her changed physique. My father, a poet, is writing poetry again, a testament to the healing power of art.
My art studio in my home has been converted into my parents’ bedroom, so I have set up a small space in my office to paint. I have six very large blank canvases that will continue to sit idle a little longer. A small canvas (or maybe paper and charcoal?) is required for this next beautiful subject. In the meantime, dear readers, I would like to share a painting I completed and sold the very evening before my mother’s cancer was diagnosed. After struggling with its title for months, I have renamed it Endless. There are some interesting things going on in this piece – it has an almost foreboding quality to it.
I hope you will share your thoughts or experiences about caregiving, the arts as a healing tool, or other creative techniques that help relieve the stress of endless caregiving.
So sorry to learn of your mother’s illness, Teresa. My sister-in-law battled the same disease for a year. No way to sugar coat it, the process isn’t pretty or fun. But you will learn things, about you and your family. And your art, as you’ve already shown. Many years ago, I cared for my mother for over a year. Through that I learned so many things but this one was key: Figure out how to take care of the caretaker – you. Not easy but the effort will pay back many-fold over time. Blessings to you and family… Jo V
Teresa, thank you for sharing. Deeply sorry to learn of your mother’s illness. My sister-in-law battled the same disease for a year – she left us almost two years ago and I’m still in awe of the fortitude and strength she displayed through it all. I also cared for my mother for over a year (this was years ago) and learned many things as well, the most important lesson was this: Figure out how to care for the caregiver – you. Even tiny indulgences can pay off big when you’re facing what you’re facing. And may you learn much about yourself and your family and your village. Blessings to you on this journey… Jo V
Oh gosh, the (almost) duped post was because WP delayed my post! But the sentiment is the same…
Jo, thank you so much for your lovely words (and no worries at all about the dupes as I really appreciated both messages so much). I love hearing from friends who have had this experience. The consistent advice, which as you know happens to be the hardest to follow, is to take care of yourself in the process of caring for someone else. I hope to honor all who’ve come before me by doing just that. Thank you for sharing your experience, wisdom, and blessings with me and my readers! Best to you!
I am very sorry that you and your family are experiencing this sad time. My father passed from cancer 18 years ago, thankfully at home, with family, and being cared for by Hospice, which was invaluable to us. I’m the youngest of 5 children, and we are a close family, partly because we were raised abroad and also because the oldest child is just six years older than I am. We never leaned on one another as much as we did during that period of time.
I’m writing not because I have advice or counsel, but more to thank you for sharing this with your friends and readers. It’s valuable. I am glad you are finding some outlet through your art, even if for now it’s largely a place to take yourself mentally. That’s important, keep that and hold onto it.
I also wanted to thank you because a year ago JR and I relocated from Austin to Northern California, and temporarily moved in with my mother. Within a month, and very unexpectedly, we found ourselves purchasing a home just a block away, from the estate of the original owners, who had passed. For reasons not worth exploring here, that house is still being remodeled and we are still living, one year later, with my mother (and JR with his mother-in-law). I’ve questioned both the purchase and this situation many times over the course of that year. Your blog has banished those thoughts. Thank you for that.
My best wishes to you and your loved ones. You will be in my thoughts. – Andrew
“Your blog has banished those thoughts.” It’s amazing to read that. Thank you so much for this, Andrew. Sometimes it’s scary to put such intimate details out there, but replies like yours and Jo’s, and many private ones I’ve received, banish those feelings. I wish you the best as you and JR navigate both the difficulties and the beauty of living with an aging parent. Thank you so much for sharing this. – T
I think of you often, and wish I could write something to provide you some solace at this time. But I don’t have the words. So let me just say, thank you. Thank you for your art. As the person privileged enough to acquire Endless, it has provided peace for me in the chaos of building a new life. Thank you for that peace. I will text you a photo of Endless as it hangs in my home in Phoenix. Love you much. – Leslie