The Final Journal

My mother kept written journals off and on for most of her adult life. At first, they were straightforward records of day-to-day happenings, holidays, and milestones. Later, she kept a journal she called The Joy Book, with entries about things for which she was grateful.

Last year, after decades of suffering from debilitating rheumatoid arthritis, my mother moved to a nursing home. Weighing a mere 70 pounds and with joints so deformed that she could no longer walk or hold a pen well enough to write, she surprised me one day by asking for a journal. Her plan was to keep it on her dresser so that visitors could sign it or leave a note about their visit. My sister bought her a hardbound Italian-made Fabriano Venezia Art Book with heavy weight creamy paper and paired it with a plastic Bic four-color pen. With these incongruous materials, the final journal began.

The entries are mostly brief and primarily from my six siblings and me, my mother’s sisters, and a few dear friends. Day after day, week after week, the entries are almost entirely mundane– a stroll outside, the status of her comfort, notes on the weather, things brought or taken, and references to lots of chocolate milkshakes. Occasionally, I’d take a minute to add a touch of artwork to enliven the pages.

My mother died this week at the age of 81. And as I read the pages of this nearly full book, I see that we wrote for her what she could not write herself. We wrote her final journal. It is a painful reflection on how terribly diminished and boring her days were, but likewise, it is a powerful reflection on caring, compassion, simple joys and pleasures, and the love and support of family…the very things that mattered most to her.

There are lessons here: about gratitude and determination, about the things we leave behind, and about saying what needs to be said long before final words are spoken or written. I’m grateful to have all that captured here, and a lot more, to carry forward.

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The Sun is Rising Yet

Today, I don’t know how to assuage grief; stem loss; draw hope. What color do you use when a new day dawns gray and stark and you no longer know your country?

So I walk streets littered with leaves, and wander through the graveyard looking for answers among stones. Here– a veteran, there– a mother, a child. Lives engraved in names and dates. On one of my favorites, these words: Change upon change, the sun is rising yet.

And then I come home to begin again, and start with the simple act of filling the bird feeders.

whitbeck-beech-quote

Sweet Sorrow

Ripe red strawberries, delicately patterned china cups, and a spread of sweets and small sandwiches fit for a queen. The table could not have been better set for a meeting of sketchers eager for camaraderie and a few hours of painting.

Out of the winter…out of my life…these hours spent in focused creativity stand starkly against the backdrop of my mother’s move this week to a nursing home. She—no longer able to hang on in her home in New York; me—sketching tea in Connecticut. Inexcusably incongruous…but there it is: a daughter’s respite and sadness contained in a few strokes of paint and bitter lemon. Sweet sorrow.SketchersTea_013116

My Mother’s Essentials

M&Ms, Diet Coke, butter, and a pharmacy of prescription drugs keep my mother going these days. But after drawing her kitchen table while doing an overnight shift to care for her this week, I quickly realized that my drawing would be incomplete without the addition of the other essentials that keep her alive. In spite of physical decline and hardship, her 70-pound, arthritis-riddled body is no match for her indomitable spirit and force of will.

My Mothers Essentials

Drawn with Micron 02 and 005 black pens, watercolor in Stillman & Birn “Beta” sketch journal. Click to view larger

Admittedly, it’s strange to share a page like this one. But it’s also the honest reflection of my life at the moment, which is what I like to capture in my journal. And hopefully, my mom won’t mind too much…

Things Worth Noting

It’s been quiet on my blog and in my journal lately– these pages explain why. Big changes are in store as my husband and I not only become empty nesters, but give up the nest altogether and move from upstate New York to Connecticut. Amidst all the big things going on, I wanted to capture a few smaller things, too. Comings and goings; things that seem lasting, but, in the end, are ephemeral.

Things Worth Noting
Expect some turbulence in the months ahead, along with new adventures and new places to explore. Thanks for being along for the ride.

Grief and Glory

Sugar Maple, Oakwood Cemetery
The last blaze of autumn’s glory is upon us in upstate New York. Gold, crimson, bronze, and green hang on, even after several days of wind and rain. Among the best places to see the show, I knew, would be in one of my area’s oldest and grandest rural cemeteries – Oakwood Cemetery in Troy, New York. Established in early 1848, Oakwood’s monuments are dwarfed by towering oaks, maples, beech, and hickories. How fitting, then, to paint there just two days after a longtime family friend died of cancer. In retrospect, I suppose it was no accident. It was the perfect place to contemplate a life now gone and to take solace in the radiant glory of fall’s last days.

Resilient

Cottonwood-ResilientI love the sheer mass of this old cottonwood, towering above younger trees in my neighbor’s abandoned field. Less than a year ago, its hollow trunk still supported most of its aging, weighty limbs. But summer storms recently brought a good portion of the giant to the ground.

At first sight, I was struck by its brokenness in the late day sunlight. Only later, I realized my shortsightedness. Trees, like people, can weather many storms—their character often enhanced by years and trials. Sending greenery skyward, they go on living—aged and scarred, but resilient.

Sketched on location in ink; watercolor wash and text added later.