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.