Tuesday, January 31, 2012


It was difficult for me to get to work today.  Or yesterday.  I spent a lot of time "getting organized".  And on Facebook.  And writing "important and necessary" emails about business issues.  Admittedly, the emails were important, but I knew them for what they were - diversions from the work I really WANT to be doing.

There are times when it's difficult to paint because I am afraid to be with the feelings that painting brings up.  Painting is like meditation - an opportunity for previously veiled/denied/hidden feelings to arise because nothing else is there to distract me.  Sure, I'm thinking about hue and value and shape and line and form, but there's plenty of room between those thoughts for feelings to arise.

And my feelings lately have been challenging.  My father died about a month ago.  He'd had Alzheimer's disease for a long time - 7 or 8 years perhaps - so he hadn't been "himself" for a very long time - hadn't even known me for a couple of years.  His wife told me he'd go around the house calling me and my sister at times, but he couldn't name who I was for anything.  So I'd been dealing with the loss of him for a long time.  It is surprising to me to have strong feelings about it now that he's actually died.  Perhaps it's because it put a lid on it.  The finality.  The end.  There's no way some miracle drug can bring him back anymore - not that it ever could, but hope springs eternal.

I can hardly imagine a disease worse than Alzheimer's except perhaps for ALS which relentlessly takes the body while the mind is still intact.  Alzheimer's attacks the mind relentlessly, offering a glimpse into the sufferer's mind every so often, but mostly advancing without pause through memories and abilities and words, then it marches directly into the body and shuts it down, finally, thank God, after taking all there is to take of the brain.  I found it horrifying to watch his demise.  Each time I would see him, he had lost more words, more abilities.  Oddly, though, his gestures and tone of voice remained.  So, though he was speaking nonsense words, his tone of voice remained so I could often tell what he was saying anyway.

Exceedingly articulate throughout his life, Dad suffered particularly cruelly with this disease which first took his ability to find just the right word.  For several years he knew it was coming and the anxiety attending its approach was great.  I was grateful for him when he got to the point where he no longer realized what was happening.  He still knew he couldn't say what he wanted to and would get frustrated, but at least he didn't know he was becoming disabled more and more each day.  Instead he'd shrug his shoulders and say, "Oh well, I don't know that word now.  Blah, la-la-la-blah!"

Eventually the disease began taking away his automatic processes like walking and even swallowing.  That was when the end was very near.  He could no longer control his movement and began pounding his hands into his stomach.  His face contorted into a grimace.  Beautifully, though, right before that final step, he saw his wife and knew her one last time.  He was able to get out his last words to her, "I love you."

Who knows where his mind was or his soul?  Yet even with all that he was present enough to let her know he loved her.  What a gift.

My last visit with him I held his hand and sang to him, songs he'd song to me as a child.  His eyes were closed when I got there but eventually he opened them and looked into my eyes intensely, locked into mine completely.  It was clear to me that he knew me.  It was a gift to be able to see him at that point and to say goodbye.  It was painful to see his body so decimated, but oddly, through all that, his soul was still present, and we were able to meet at that level and say what we needed to say.

I miss the man I knew in my childhood, the man who played endlessly with me and my siblings, who sang and danced in plays, who told stories in my classrooms, who made me feel as adorable and loved as a person can feel.  I'm thankful his body is free of its constraints now.  I wish him well on his journey.

I am thankful for painting which allows me to express everything I just did but wordlessly.  It allows me to be with the feelings, to weep as I paint when I need to, to hover in and out of the grief then sway into hue and form and line then back into tears and sadness.  

1 comment:

  1. How beautiful and rich your experience was/is---and how wonderful were able to (and continue to) process it with such presence. Thank you for sharing it through your words and art. You have your father's ability to articulate and I suspect you've taken it a step further through the articulation of your experience through/into art. What a blessing! May your sorrow turn into dancing and your weeping to great joy...