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Archive for the ‘grief’ Category

what i learned on my late summer vacation…

Thursday, September 29th, 2022

my samples from “Line Matters” stitching class with Paula Kovarik

Last week I drove 1281 miles to San Diego (from No. California) and back for a 3 day art conference. Hubs rode along as extra set of eyes, as he no longer drives. It might seem silly to some to drive 4 days to stay 3, but I counted on all 7 days being an adventure! And indeed, it was.

For months beforehand, I spent many a night, between 3-4 am obsessing about driving through the LA Basin, notorious for the worst traffic in the US! I messaged old friends and new, who all live in that area, asking for their wisdom on the best times to drive it; or even the best routes. I asked a local friend who takes their RV to SD annually to rest and refresh, which way they go? Most of the responses were about timing; try to avoid commutes! So I took all that advice and filtered it down to go between 10 am-1 pm!

Although we hit heavy traffic late Wednesday morning where 101 meets 405 near the Getty, I soon discovered the HOV lane which jetted us through the area with no problem. On the return, we again chose the 405 at 10 am on a Sunday but bowed out in Santa Monica to drive the Pacific Coast Highway to Oxnard. It was brilliant! I felt so proud of myself for tackling this huge fear. Granted I had a little help from Chinese herbs, but I did it! What I really learned from that experience was that old adage of doing what scares you. Granted it had been 40 years since we drove through LA, and it might be 40 years before I repeat, if I am still driving at 114! But I faced down something that scared me no end and just did it. And really it was not so hard!

Another thing I learned was in a wonderful stitching class with Paula Kovarik. As witness to young women having incredible imaginations for designing stitching shapes, my brain seemed to lean on my old familiar shapes, the curving line or the pointed peaks. My inability to come up with any new shapes reminded me that I need to put down the nightly mah-jong and block puzzles on the iPad and sketch instead. I need to stretch my drawing muscles! I remember thinking a nightly sketch was a great idea nearly 20 years ago when I shared a room at Asilomar with my good friend Martha Grant from TX. Every evening she pulled out a (paper) notebook full of drawn circles, the size of CDs. Every night she filled in a circle with lines and shapes, just a random sketch. So now I have learned this lesson at least twice in 20 years, maybe I can actually do it!

I took Paula’s class because 1) I am mad for her work and 2) I wanted to stretch my stitching portfolio. As much as I free-motion stitch, and that is essentially all I do to “quilt” my work, I tend to do the same design all the time, the curving line, or the flame shape. Maybe one could say it is my trademark?! In free-motion stitching, I stitch forward and backwards all the time. Yet when I tried new shapes I struggled to stitch backwards. My brain just could not compute. I was reminded of another old adage about keeping one’s mind young and active by learning a new skill…square dancing, a foreign language, a musical instrument, etc.  So I learned I need to practice by drawing, sketching and stitching new shapes; learning a new skill is good for the aging brain.

Initially I had planned to drive it alone but later came to my senses, and asked my mostly home-bound husband if he would like to accompany me. I knew having him along would limit some of my activities, as his stage 4 Parkinsons restricts most of a normal lifestyle. He can barely walk, cannot taste, smell, or digest most foods, has trouble enunciating and swallowing, frequently choking in restaurants. I knew going in that having him along while comforting to me would also place limitations on my personal participation while there.  His challenges weighed heavily on me on this trip, but I persevered, often putting his needs before my own. Most everything we did together took 4x as long, but I kept my cool ever patient, caring and compassionate the whole time. What I learned from this was two-fold: how much strength I have to push a 167# man seated on a walker (because he refuses to use a wheelchair) and to come home and immediately cancel a short December trip I had planned for us to take together!

I had reserved a historic hotel in Silicon Valley to go celebrate my 75th birthday. What I learned on my late summer vacation was I do not want to work that hard on my big day!!! It is I who should be pampered, not anyone else. So I cancelled that reservation and instead am planning a spa day locally, just for me!

I also re-learned that time spent with those of like minds, is always good; but especially in this most challenging time of caregiving, was for me salve on my wounds. It filled my well to spend 3 days with like-minded souls; even without any one-on-one time. I have fought hard to maintain my autonomy throughout this Parkinson’s journey. I  have heard of far too many people, women mostly, who lose themselves in caregiving.  And when the ‘journey’ is over, they are lost, don’t know who they are or where they left off. I fight valiantly every day to maintain my sanity by making art, going to exhibits, visiting museums, seeing friends, having tea with my elder beloved aunt, etc. All of this is to maintain my autonomy.

And finally I learned I need to keep doing this.  After my week’s respite in April, I decided I should take a respite at least twice a year. Then I recanted deciding I would not leave hubs behind by taking solo “vacations” as his health declines. Our daughter is willing to come anytime to stay with him, so I learned to reframe this. I will still take sorely needed respite rather than take a “vacation” I would instead go where the folks of like minds are…take an art class, or a Road Scholar program. Go forth and learn something!

Between my nightly sketching and my caregiving, I am now looking at where I can go next!

heavy decisions…

Saturday, August 20th, 2022

hubs glorious garden

Coming out from under a month of making hard decisions, plus two new works about heavy-duty subjects; the clouds feel as if they are parting a bit. There is always a sense of OMG, what’s next when work is finished. It is not for lack of inspiration! I have several hand-work projects in utero. I have cloth downstairs awaiting paint. Yet I think I will cleanse my palette a bit with another piece of the Wisdom Gatherers series. I have finished three with three more to go. Two are of twin sisters and I would like to design them in tandem. Even though they are fraternal twins, there is something about having someone shadow throughout one’s life that encourages me to design them simultaneously.

This month I also had the unpleasant task of taking my husband’s car keys and selling his car. His Parkinson’s is advanced enough that I felt he should no longer be driving. Anyone who has had to stop an elder parent from driving, knows this option is no picnic. There is so much to consider, not the least of which is the driver’s independence, dignity and pride of over 60 years behind the wheel. Also factor in that he drove the crash truck on a major interstate for the last decade of his firefighter career. The man knows impaired driving all too well, but clearly did not see it in himself. We sold his car to his caregiver who badly needed one having lost hers in a wildfire a couple years ago. So it felt like a total win-win.

After researching drought tolerant landscapes in books, online and in field trips to nurseries, I interviewed two landscaping companies and hired one to re-landscape our spacious backyard to a drought tolerant oasis. That is currently underway and I anticipate fabulous color and texture coming our way. Hubs still works his front garden which is respondent in flowering pollinators this summer. He has nurtured all the gallardia from dead-heading last year’s abundance. He is now collecting seeds for next year’s crop.

I have also been asked to include 2 pieces from the Defining Moments series into two exhibits this fall. DM 25: Homage is returning to Lubbock, TX for the LHUCA 25th anniversary show.  And DM 21: Loss will be on display at Petaluma Art Center’s Dias de las Muertas autumn exhibit. In addition to the usual altars and luminarias, select member artists have been invited to include work about grief and loss. This piece addresses “Those whose absence from my life have defined my journey. Seven died, two left due to a difference of opinion and one has dementia”. This piece was made before Marion died.

I hope you are enjoying these dog days of summer!

art making in the time of Parkinson’s…

Tuesday, July 19th, 2022

seeing red, both in life and in headlines

I continue to be both amazed and amused that I am able to make art while living through one of the most difficult time periods of my adult life. As I bear witness to my husband’s steep decline into Parkinson’s; as he loses more and more of his independence and thus becomes more dependent on me; as my workload increases; as I assume responsibility for the myriad of tasks he has always done for me, our home, our family and community; as each day of my life is filled with more and more time consuming tasks; I make art. In fact this week I have two pieces running concurrently. Both are mostly red, which is a great metaphor for my current mood.

As a ‘recovering’ workaholic, I know I am up for the task. Actually I don’t think about it much, I just do. And do and do and do. My multitasking abilities are still on point, halfway into my seventh decade, which I find very reassuring, as dementia runs in my family. I mostly sleep well, without any medicinal help, but often wake up at 5 or 6 for the day, which is very strange for me; having never been much of a morning person. And yet I am very aware how important it is that I be present in my body, as it is when we are so distracted that accidents happen. And breathe…

Yesterday was a milestone day in that I took away his car fob. I have been concerned for a while that his neurologist said it was still ok for him to drive when he can barely stand up, hardly walk, and falls constantly. I kept saying we needed him to stop driving before an accident and not after. And yet he still drove; often too slowly and too close to parked cars, but he was ok he assured me. I was just overly cautious. It was ok, until it wasn’t.

His PT caregiver informed me he had run a red light, then stopped dead in the middle of the intersection and nearly hit two people. I immediately scheduled an assessment of his driving, and in the meantime took his car key. So far he has shown no interest in driving my new car, but just in case I hid that spare key as well. It wasn’t an hour later he noticed and complained that the caregiver and I were just paranoid. I know it was the right decision and particularly the right time, before an accident happened.

As I mostly maintain my composure at home, I am releasing tears all over town. In the car on the way to buy groceries, I cry; in a Zoom meeting I weep, in the shower I sob. People worry about me, do I have support, while simultaneously not offering any. Actually the best support I have is available 24/7 and that is the Parkinson’s Caregivers Support Group on Facebook. There I go to learn, show empathy, concern and compassion, vent and weep. What a God-send.

And still I make art…for which I am immensely grateful.

Be well,

musings about the muse…

Friday, May 20th, 2022

detail, of Science Meets Math

The other night when I was awake more than asleep I gave considerable thought to shutting down my blog. My reasons were three-fold: I can’t seem to post on a regular basis anymore, do I really want to share so much of myself online and is it even read it anymore? We all have so much to digest digitally…too much really.

And then today I read a blog post by an artist who diligently posts every Sunday and has hundreds, if not thousands of readers including me now. I re-thought this idea of cutting the cord. The other thing I’ve thought about a lot is sharing personal health issues, on FB, which I honestly try to never do. I avoid it generally primarily because I often don’t want suggestions, but rather to articulate my personal struggle. And yet, from my most recent post came comments that by my being so truthful about my personal struggle, I help others. Who knew? So here goes.

After flying cross the country six weeks ago, I developed a nasty “cold,” later determined to be caused by abundant tree pollens, and motion sickness. I have NEVER gotten motion sickness, other than walking off a cruise ship after a week or more at sea; which always subsided within 24 hours. But no, this bugger is still present in various degrees of debilitation.

On that trip, my caregiving respite, I also moved into anticipatory grief over my husband’s descent further into Parkinson’s. He was diagnosed nearly 11 years ago, and is now in stage 4. It may be as heartbreaking for me to witness, as it is for him to experience.

Something has happened, or better stated not happened with my art because of both the grief and the vertigo. And that is silence. The muse is barely alive. I still do have ideas for new work, mostly inspired by grief and loss; but no motivation to design anything. I spend days doing nothing, which for me, is a foreign and not so happy place; but I am leaning into it. Possibly the best thing to come from this has been tears. For the first time in years I am crying again, and on a semi-regular basis. Before this I was angry, for several years, which sadly, is also a stage of grief.

This image is a detail of a large piece I finished just before my trip and left it blocking on the wall. It is still there, 7 weeks later. I think it is blocked now! I could take it down, but hey, it is color on the wall, so it remains for now.

After weeks and weeks of an unsettled brain, and delving into every holistic modality that has helped me in the past: i.e. chiropractic, Epley maneuver, acupuncture, homeopathy; but with no resolution, I finally went to the doctor this week. Turns out this is all part of the migraine syndrome which I have been dealing with since last fall; which in addition to diet and environment causes, is exacerbated by stress.  The vertigo is a neurological component; so she referred me to neurology.

She also gave me a handout of really great information from UCSF about headaches, migraine and vertigo. In that were recommendations for two books, both written by neurologists. I have dug into “Heal Your Headache, the 1-2-3 Program” by David Buchholz, M.D.;  and learning what I can do to remedy or partially remedy this situation. Of course it involves giving up even more foods, other than those I already have; dairy, wheat, sugar, carbonation, alcohol, red wine, fermented foods, aged foods, and my beloved chocolate. Citrus, avocado, and my other beloved smoked salmon may be next. That old adage may be so true in this case…nothing tastes as good as healthy feels. 

My morning walks have taken a hit, but on the days I am not as dizzy as others, I still do them. They seem to help, at least to lift my spirits. Otherwise, I trudge on, one day at a time, courageously making more changes to regain my health, and in particular my mental health, with art-making taking a back seat for now. It is hard not to get discouraged and yet I know, I have fought other dragons before. I will get through this. And remembering a past life lesson…Grieving is creative work…it’s just done on the inside.