03
Jan
13

Sketching at the Bedside

ellen1

charcoal pencil on w/c paper pad

About a month before my mother made her final crossing (on 12/27/12) I took her to get a haircut.  She wanted to try a short cut of the sort that didn’t need to be curled.  A 20 something year old girl gave her a “cute” if boyish cut.  I thought this would be a disaster for her self image, coming as she did from the generation of perms and rollers.  But Mom adjusted to the new look.

“I looked around me (at the Assisted Living residence)” she said, ” and saw so many girls (translate to old ladies) with the same haircut.  Old ladies have short hair so that you can tell them apart from the young girls. (giggle!)”

So what do you do while spending hours by the bedside in a vigil while your mother lies mostly quietly, in the phase that Hospice workers refer to as “transitioning”?  I found myself on this day, Dec. 22nd, with none of my art supplies handy.  So I rummaged around in Mom’s closet and found a block of w/c paper and a charcoal pencil.  She was after all, my first art teacher.  And as I sketched I wrote down some of her mutterings, which seemed to offer a window into what she was experiencing.  Things like, “Are you ready to go yet?” and more, which I have cropped out in this image.  Heard as metaphor from a mind freed from conventional language, her speech was somehow understandable and had a particular power.

ellen3

Next day more sketching, feeling slightly guilty, like taking advantage.  But I’d sketched her so many times before and she’d never complained.  In truth I never had a more encouraging supporter of my art than my mom.  In fact one of the last things she said to me, in metaphoric language after one of her almost continual dreams was, “I visited the Louvre and they had a special section there.  Can you believe, the paintings were identical to yours!”

ellen2

On Christmas Eve she had ceased speaking and there was a quality of transparency in her.  She seemed most comfortable in this position and would stop breathing for what seemed like long periods of time. This sketch captured a return to childlike innocence.

And so I will leave you there, although I continued to sketch while taking in the sensory experience of flesh becoming spirit, identifying with each step of the process as one must unavoidably do with ones own mother.  And I became a new member of the exclusive club of those women who have outlived their mothers.

On the day before her final day I whispered into Mom’s ear, “Is your mother with you?”  She always said her mother would be waiting for her.  Her response was an imperceptible nod.

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11 Responses to “Sketching at the Bedside”


  1. January 3, 2013 at 8:38 pm

    This is the most beautiful blog post I have ever read. Your sketches are exquisite. All heart.

    That’s all I can muster to say.

  2. 3 Patricia Marina-Stewart
    January 3, 2013 at 9:23 pm

    Dear Susan: How wonderful you got to be there for your Mom, and for yourself, and for sharing yourself and your experience with us in your very special way. I love you dearly. Patricia Marina

    Sent from my iPhone

  3. January 4, 2013 at 4:24 am

    What an honor for me to witness your real relationship with your mom during her last days. Very moving.

  4. January 4, 2013 at 5:52 am

    I find these sketches to be enormously moving, Susan. They are exquisitely tender; your love shows. Thank you for allowing us in on such private moments. Blessings.

  5. 7 Cathy
    January 4, 2013 at 8:53 am

    Thank you Susan for sharing your mother with us.

  6. January 4, 2013 at 11:26 am

    All of the above. I am deeply moved and encouraged. Thank you so much!!!
    Barbara

  7. January 4, 2013 at 2:57 pm

    I find this post so very moving Susan. It sings with the love you have for your Mother. It went straight to my heart.

  8. January 20, 2013 at 2:14 pm

    Dear, dear Susan,
    My heart goes out to you in the loss of your mother. What a wonderful way to remember her passing in these sketches, every line a tribute of love. You must be broken-hearted to loose her and I am broken-hearted that you are. You have my love and my sympathy. Many blessings and peace to you. <3 Paula


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In conversations with the Muse I mix paint with vision, collage with story, word with meditation and prayer. And out of the mixture comes a release of energy and healing and a lightening of the load of everyday living. You'll find most of it here, where I've been showing up for the past few years, along with collectible paintings, travel sketchbooks, figure studies and an invitation to join me in art play and discovery!

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All images and text are the original copyrighted work of Susan Cornelis unless otherwise attributed.

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