For the last several years, my mother's dementia has stirred many complicated feelings in me. In working through those feelings, I decided to create a piece of art about her. So, I knew a lot would emerge, but was unprepared for how much would leap from my soul so quickly.
For starters, I pulled out an old photo of my mom at about age 17. She was rowing in a boat with the sweetest smile on her face. It was hard to believe. My mom—hugely afraid of the water, not very athletic and not much for lightness—looked serene—angelic even. She was being playful and happy—I didn’t know this part of her well.
The photo was a “before”. A “before,” as in taken before her life changed. A few short years after this photo, my mom’s life took a downward spiral—her sister/her best friend died tragically and my mom felt forever responsible. She could never forgive herself for encouraging her sister to visit the place where tragedy struck.
In her “after,” my mom’s serenity ceased, as did her friendships and her sense for any sustained joy. Her sister’s name was unspeakable. So, I learned to protect my mom, to cheer her and to mother her. I mothered her for most of her life and learned to raise myself. I grew to be a very strong, independent woman.
So beginning this painting was no lighthearted task. The first day of my work, I started shaping my mother’s eyes. My works are not realistic, so I was trying to recreate the innocence in the photo rather than work that resembled my mother—yet when the eyes took shape and I looked into them—tears poured out of mine. The emotional connection was shocking. It was as though I was looking into my mothers eyes—her soul—and I felt her innocence. And yet, I knew of the impending loss and sad life she would choose to live—I felt this all from looking into rather primitive eyes that I created on canvas.
I have never created a work that has made me cry. I have felt joy and wonder, but never pain. The tears flooded me for a good 40 minutes as I worked.
I felt the 80 wasted years of my mother’s guilt-filled life and the mired mess she created. When the tears stopped, it was as though I had let go.
With this art, it was time to make it stop.
The end of my protecting her and instead, the beginning of my forgiving her-- I can’t change how my mother did her life. It sucked being her kid—that is past.
And the truth is, I am a happy person today both in spite of and because of what occurred in my past. And, how I have decided to do my life. Perhaps I am more full of feeling, a better mother, a more compassionate being, a better artist? Who could ever know.
Yes, I forgive. And I can also counsel. I have seen how secrets and guilt destroy—don’t. Don’t hold them in---especially if they are not yours. Someone else’s choices are not yours and you cannot be responsible. Set yourself free and choose your own path.
And if you live with guilt, regret…don’t. It has done enough—you have served your time. You cannot change what has passed, but you can change what you do from this moment forward. It is that easy. Forgive—yourself or others. Whether they are alive or not. Just let it go.
Because letting go is a gift for yourself. It doesn’t mean to be stupid and to let people close that will hurt you—it just means don’t keep letting yourself hurt for things that have passed. Gain strength from it—grow—create art or music about it. Write. Use it to be the best partner or parent or boss you can be.
I am reminded of Mary Oliver’s words:
“Someone I once loved gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.”
We don’t always get want we want, but we can always learn from what we get and grow to be our best—that is truly all we can control. Namaste.’