“I always imagined I’d be with my mom when she died. That I’d help her and hold her hand.”
Wendy and her sister went up to the hospital for the evening the night before their mom passed away, and Wendy was almost ready to spent the night there with her.
“But she was sleeping peacefully, so we told her we were leaving, kissed her goodnight, and told her we’d see her in the morning. I was up at 6:00 the next morning and the hospital called to say that she’d gone into cardiac arrest. I grabbed clothes and I went to hospital, but she’d already passed away. I felt guilty about not being there when she died.”
Wendy’s mom was 95 years old when she passed away, and her health had been slowly declining over the last years of her life. Wendy moved back to Connecticut for 7 years to care for her mom, and when her mom moved in with Wendy’s sister, Wendy moved back to Ohio, returning to Connecticut regularly to visit her mom.
“When someone’s that old you expect that death is coming someday, and you kind of dread it. It’s always there in the back of your mind. I was always trying to prepare myself that it would happen. It wasn’t tragic. But it was just such a shock,” explains Wendy. “A loss is a loss. You expect it but you don’t.”
Wendy returned to her home in Ohio following her mom's funeral. A painter by profession, it’s Wendy’s routine to spend the workday painting. There was a blank canvas waiting her when she got home.
Wendy had captured in a photograph the clouds and shades of the sunset from her mom’s hospital room the day before she passed away and knew that she’d somehow want to use that in her artwork, someday. When she sat down to paint for the first time upon returning home, she just started painting those clouds.
She started working through her grief about her mom’s death too.
She imagined what her mom would have liked, and thought about where she had lived. The painting is an imaginary landscape that represents many facets of her mom’s life. Her mom always loved the ocean, and the hillsides paid homage to the hillsides of Wendy’s childhood in New York and the later years of her mom’s life amidst the rolling hills of Connecticut.
Wendy continued to sit down each day, thinking of her mom’s life and painting various representations of her memories. Wendy included a rendering of the Museum of Modern Art because she and her mom visited that together many times – even though her mom never loved modern art.
Wendy worked this way for several weeks, returning each day to her oil paints and canvas and memories.
“Painting took a long time. You kind of need time to get through and process stuff. Time does heal some wounds and some others may never heal, but either way time does help you work through stuff. For me, it put distance between her death, and the present.”
“I can really get out of myself when I paint. It’s almost like when I paint I’m not thinking about the painting; I’m thinking about other things. Working on this painting helped me to almost not think about mom’s death -- or maybe it was to think about it in a different way. To just deal with and live with her death a bit.”
Wendy noted that grief isn’t something that ever really goes away.
“When you lose someone you love, the grief stays with you but in some ways that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because when the grief is with you the person you loved is with you too.”
This is Wendy’s first time participating in Art Prize, and she feels humbled to display this particular painting in her inaugural trip to the event.
“I don’t know how mom would have felt about it – she was a very private person – but hopefully she would have liked that I painted to honor her.”
Reflecting on her work, Wendy observed, “The clouds belong to the painting now.”
How about you? Have you found comfort while grieving a loss through artistic or other forms of expression? How has it helped you?
This is the second in a 3-part "The Art of Grieving" series. You can read of Art Prize 9 Artist Lisa Nawocki's experience here and subscribe to our blog, below, to have the next story in the series delivered to your inbox.