How does one continue to create art when a big part of your life is unraveling? I know some people find that art helps them work through their grief, but I can’t seem to make it work that way for me.
As many of you who read my blog know, my mother has Alzheimer’s. Two weeks ago, she took a dramatic turn for the worse, refusing to eat or drink for four days, until my father was finally forced to admit her into the hospital. I spent five days in the hospital with her, holding her hand, talking to her, talking to doctors, nurses, dieticians, physical therapists, coaxing her to eat and drink. It was exhausting. In the middle of three art projects, I have been unable to pick up where I left off since I returned home. My mind constantly goes back to her, weak and wasting away with no desire to eat or drink. Sleeping most of the day. Falling asleep as I try to get her to eat another bite of vanilla pudding. Everytime she reluctantly takes a bite, she makes a terrible face, as though I had just fed her the most horrible tasting medicine in the world. And then she closes her mouth and shakes her head no; I try again later and the process repeats.
The doctor says that this is a normal progression of her disease. Her brain apparently is not receiving hunger signals from her body and her tastebuds no longer recognize even the foods she once loved. I sit next to her while she’s sleeping, holding her fragile hand. She wakes up and looks at me; I wonder whom she sees. She smiles and says hello and tells me that she loves me. When the nurses come in to take her blood pressure, she accepts their good-natured prodding, then looks at me and winks. She’s humoring them, afterall. That spark of life and wit—I cling to it until it disappears.
Then they discharge her, saying there is nothing more they can do for her in the hospital. As they remove the IV and the foley bag, I feel like I am watching them remove her life blood, and I suddenly long for the soothing beeping and light from the LCD screen.
At home, she spends most of her time sitting in her lounge chair by the window, sleeping, while we flutter around her trying to do useful things. I stay at my father’s house for as long as I can, but soon I have to return to my job and my family and my life at home. I kiss her on the forehead and tell her I love her and wonder if I will see her again. I’m glad to be leaving, thinking it will bring some relief from the sadness, and then immediately regret the feeling. When I’m away, I feel as though I’m abandoning her; when I’m there, I feel helpless.
It’s hard to get into a routine at home. My brain is fragmented. I have to be “on” in front of 145 seventh graders each day. I have to grade essays. I have to plant bulbs. I have to wash dishes and pay bills and make sure my son does his homework. There is no time and no inclination to pick up a paintbrush or open a book. Those projects have to wait.