On December 24th my dear father-in-law, Art, was hospitalized. It was not the first time and wouldn’t be the last. It feels significant, however, because that’s the last time I can remember being able to focus completely on being creative.
After December 24th caregiving and support became priorities over creativity and making art. In that time I’ve made artists’ books, I’ve had some lovely successes, and I’ve had to use every ounce of energy – when I had it – to focus on art at all.
I remember in a college seminar class when a student (much younger than me!) stated with conviction that a “real” artist would give up everything before not creating. By his definition, I am not a real artist. At the time I said would give up art in an instant to take care of my husband and our families and, for the past 6 months, that’s pretty much what I’ve done.
Four weeks ago my father-in-law decided to end treatment and come home. We were scared and sad and supportive. Our world shrank ever smaller, from the last six months of caregiving with moments of creativity and normal life in between – to 24 hours of vigilant care, love, support and putting one foot in front of the other.
Greg recently asked me if the experience with his dad has inspired me to make art. I think eventually it might. The two weeks between when he came home and when he completed his earthly journey was an education for all of us. Greg’s dad taught us how to die. Whereas I used to think of death as sad and painful and lonely, I now hope I will have the opportunity to visit with friends, listen to music, tell stories and experience the undivided love of family.
Maybe someday that will be the title of an artists’ book, How to Die. Maybe not. Right now, today, even walking the hundred and fifty feet to the studio feels too difficult. We’ve made the decisions, had the services, hosted far-flung relatives who came to pay their respects. My quiet and private husband even had the courage to give his dad’s eulogy. I have never been prouder than that moment I watched that brave and well-spoken man honor his father. I wish he would let me use the text from the eulogy for an artists’ book, but I know better than to ask.
So this morning I got up and decided to go to the studio. I put on clothes I could make messy, I poured some iced tea to take with me, and I stopped to water the garden. Then I paid bills. Then I did laundry. Then I played with the cat. Now here it is 6 p.m. and I haven’t made it to the studio yet. I finally decided that writing a long overdue blog post was at least a small move in the right direction. So this is it, this is my writing/art/creativity for today. Tomorrow morning I will get up and try again.
Have you made art about death, dying or the loss of a loved one? I’d appreciate it if you would share your stories in the comments section.