Lessons Learned

It’s been five months now since my Dad passed away. I of course still miss him daily. I find myself unable to see elderly men out alone, it reminds me of his loneliness, and that is difficult for me. I recently had to leave the produce section at the grocery store because there was a man of a similar age shopping alone. It moved me to tears. I found myself wondering if he had family, or if he was alone in this world. In Sunday’s New York Times there was an extensive article about a man named George Bell. He had died alone at home, discovered only because of the odor that began to escape his apartment. The article told of the procedures involved when the police discover situations such as George’s, but it also shed a little light on George and his life. George may not have had anyone in his last moments, but his story will stay with me, and in that he won’t be forgotten.

When you lose both of your parents issues of your own mortality come to the surface. You become the oldest generation in your family. It’s an odd feeling. Many years ago someone (who shall remain nameless since she seems to go out of her way to say not nice things) told me I was a bad mother. Why? Because I was too close to my children, and that in the end that would hurt them. I hadn’t yet lost a parent at the time. I sort of get it now, but I don’t agree. When you’re a parent the hardest thing in the world is to see your child hurt or in pain. It’s intolerable. Knowing the pain that my Mom’s death caused, and the recent loss of my Dad (more about that below), what troubles me most isn’t that I’ll die, but its knowing that my own children will suffer at my loss. The one pain in their lives I cannot heal. When I saw Titanic I wasn’t moved by the love story of Rose and Jack (they quite frankly could have gone down with the ship and I wouldn’t have cared…no offense Leo and Kate), what did move me, and resonate with me, was the scene of the Irish woman in steerage putting her children to bed knowing that they were going to drown and that there was nothing she could do about it. I can’t imagine her pain. Where I disagree with what my anonymous critic said is that as much pain as I felt eight years ago (and still do) and am currently feeling about my Dad, I wouldn’t trade my relationships with them for anything. My Mom knew I loved her more than anything, My Dad knew I loved him, and worried about him, and I knew that they loved me. Were they perfect parents? No, none of us are. They were human, but they both had a tremendous capacity for love and gave it to their four daughters. Would my pain be less if they were absent parents, or abusive parents? I don’t necessarily think so. I think that it actually might be more painful to lose someone and spend the rest of your life trying to figure out what you did that they treated you as such. I have spent nearly thirty-one years as a mom. I have spent all of those thirty-one years trying to show as much love to my daughter as possible, and twenty-five years with my son. I am not a perfect parent, and like all families we have had our moments, but I know without a single ounce of doubt that my children will always know how much I love them, and that means I’ve done my job.

When my mother died eight years ago it sent me into a tailspin of grief. It was like being at the bottom of a well without a ladder or rope to climb. Long periods of sobbing, and of questioning myself with all the “what ifs”. Eventually I sought counseling, probably one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. My Mom’s death served as a catalyst for much needed changes in me. I guess you could look at it as her final gift to me. I came out of that mourning as a stronger, more open, and determined woman.

My Dad’s final gift to me? I tend to be a loner. I always have been. I am not someone with a large circle of friends.  I mentioned here before how much I talked to him on the phone. I have come to realize that I wasn’t just filling his time so that he wasn’t lonely, but my own as well. I need to put myself out there in the world a little more. Twenty years from now I don’t want my children to feel the need to call me incessantly because they don’t want me to be lonely, or God forbid because they are lonely. I want them to learn from this and keep friends in their lives. I also hope they will learn from me to find the strength within them that my Mom’s death gave me, but to find it now when they are younger.

Finally, reading the story of George Bell on Sunday gave me pause for thought. Instead of running from the produce aisle in tears, I think next time I see what appears to be an elderly person alone, I will engage them in conversation. I’ve done it before, and maybe mentioned it before, but I had an elderly friend. Someone with family, but family that was disinterested at best. Her name was Hattie Klipp, she died at 104. My kids remember her from when they were much, much younger. Hattie was very dear to me, a substitute grandmother in many ways. I met her when I worked in a grocery store. Lesson three, this one comes from me. You never know what gift you will find when you reach out to someone else. I highly recommend it.

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Stepping Away

It has been two months since I last wrote on these pages. I considered labeling this post as “Running Out Of Words”, but the truth is I haven’t. I think maybe I was too sad to share, or that what I felt was far too personal. As I mentioned in a previous blog this was never intended to be such a personal and revealing account of my life. I began it in a search for self fulfillment, a way of forcing myself to tend to my own needs after a lifetime of being everything for everyone else. It has also had unintended consequences, one of those being that some people who read what I write think they know me. Yes, there have been very deep heartfelt thoughts on these pages, and a very personal glimpse into my life, but there is much more to me than what you might read and assume. I also discovered that there are two people “looking” for me on a website that reveals people who are searching for you. I have no way of knowing if it is as I suspect a sales pitch to get me to purchase “Protection”, or if someone has garnered enough information from the web to decide to look further. Either way it creeps me out. One of the names is of a woman, the other a man. I looked them up. The male exists, has a Facebook page, and I have no idea who he is or why he would look me up. Like I said, creepy. The female lives in Florida, and until recently I knew no one living there. That one is unnerving for me, especially in these days of identity theft.

As for my sadness, four months have passed since my Dad passed. There is still an aching hole that will take some time to heal. I think I realize that it never will, because it’s right next to the one that has been there for eight years, the one created by losing my Mom. That post would be titled, “Running Out Of Words”, because sometimes it hurts too much to be crafted into a coherent sentence.

People say, “Life moves on.” and it does. I’m going to be a grandmother. The immense joy that the news brought to my heart is again difficult to put into words. I will of course unfortunately have to be a grandma from the other side of the country, but these days of social media make that a much easier pill to swallow, and I can guarantee that my daughter and son in law will get to know the postman very personally.

Finally there is this, the much promised return to what this was all meant to be about…art. Our dear friends and former Chicago neighbors are themselves relatively new grandparents. Their new joy lives even further than mine, he resides in New Zealand. Our daughters grew up together, and will now be moms within a year of each other. Life does move on. While looking at Facebook I came across a photo on Nicole’s page that stirred something in me that hasn’t been there in some time. It is a photo of her baby and his father. The baby is beyond adorable, the word (as weird as it is) that comes to my mind is “scrumptious”. He is so damn cute I could eat him up, but it was John, and the look of love and tenderness that really spoke to me. I’ve never met John, but that photo speaks volumes, and it gave me something I needed, a reason to paint. Congratulations to Nicole and to John, and thank you for giving me the inspiration I so desperately needed. (It will FINALLY make its way to you. Promised weeks ago, but I found myself hearing the call of “not good enough” yet again. Having to remind myself that it’s not meant to be a Xerox copy, but a piece of art. I’m sending it today in order to shut off the voice in my head before I ruin it!)

In full disclosure I need the art police here to demand that I put down the brush. I’ve retouched this painting six times since I started photographing it…sick, just sick…

So, a return to art, and a return to writing. The first hurdle is behind me. I know it won’t be the only one, but it feels good to begin again. My life moving on.

for nicky

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OK, I admit it. I took the photo of the painting no less than a dozen times. Why? Because I started finding fault with it and “fixing” it. Memo to the voice in my head…SHUT UP! Oh no, I hearing it again….I need to fill in John’s beard a little, fix the baby’s hairline, darken the ear on one side, ….help!

Finding Solace And A Lifeline In Art

I had intended today to return to the full figure painting of my daughter, but as usual I got side tracked. Nothing horrible, but something I had intended to follow through on years ago.  Six years ago on  July 22, my Mother died. In the horrific three weeks that she spent in ICU, I passed the time by painting and drawing. I did a series of small, 5×7 paintings that I hung around her hospital bed. All of them painted with her in mind, two of them depicted the area in Southern California where I live, both inviting her to visit when she recovered, which of course she never did. There were two others, a get well card signed by all of us, my Dad, my three sisters, all of our husbands and her eight grandchildren. The other was a vase of sunflowers. I wanted something pretty for her to see when she woke. She did wake, but had sustained a brain injury, so our Mother, as we knew her, was gone. When she passed away and we were taking her things from the hospital, my Aunt Rita asked me if she could have the painting of the sunflowers. I said I would send it to her, I never did. I had intended to mail it as soon as I got home to California from Chicago, but I couldn’t send it. It was one of the last things I did for Mom, and I hoped that on some level she knew about it. I was recently messaging with my cousin Lorna. She has been wonderfully supportive of this artistic and self-searching journey I am on, she is also Rita’s daughter. It reminded me of that painting and I told Lorna I would send it to her Mother.  Two of the other paintings are hanging in my studio, the get well card is framed at my Dad’s house. I have looked for the last several days for the sunflowers and I can’t find it. I know it was there, it has been for six years. Dan said that maybe I’m not supposed to give it away. So today instead of working on Jessica’s portrait I worked on something to send my Aunt Rita. Something pretty, something I hope she will like.

All of the above got me thinking about how often in my life I have taken refuge in my art. As I have pointed out in my earlier writing, in all the years I neglected myself I always did something creative. It has always been my lifeline. As a painfully shy child it was my companion. When my Dad has had surgery, and there have been a few open heart surgeries, I am at the hospital with my pad of paper, pencils and watercolors. I take those same items with me whenever I travel. I don’t sleep well away from home, and I will sit on the floor of a hotel bathroom, drawing in the middle of the night. When I had my last five knee surgeries (I know…you don’t have to say anything), I prepared for them by organizing my “art cart”.  A three drawer plastic cart on wheels, each drawer filled with pencils, markers, paper, paints, and whatever else I can think of, all to fill my recovery time. Propped up on the couch, painkillers and ice close at hand, I ask my family to wheel over my supplies. I am never bored when I have something to create with, and I can create with just about anything.  When my Mother died I came back to California and made a small piece of art dedicated to her. For me art is so much more than what you see on the paper, on the canvas, in the photo, or the sculpture. It is my lifesaver, my friend, my rock, my comfort. I am only sorry that it has taken me so long to appreciate the gift I have been given. And sorry too that it has taken me six years to fulfill a promise.

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