Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Mother Tree (1999)

In late 1999, I had a dream which I developed into one of the two paintings I did that year. In the dream, there was a room with a ladder leading to an entryway in the ceiling. There were people in the room, but I was not sure what they were doing. Maybe they were painting. Maybe they were reaching toward trees. I didn't know for sure. When I tried to draw what I had seen in the dream, this image was created of a young woman and a middle-aged woman. For a long time, I didn't have a title for it, but then I settled on "The Mother Tree."

I had resigned from my secure and well-paying hospital job as a medical transcriptionist in the spring of 1998 and cashed out my retirement fund with the intention of changing careers and spending more time doing art work. What happened instead was that I went into a situational depression, feeling overwhelmed by my responsibilities as the only family member living close to my father, finding myself less and less able to accomplish anything. Coming out of that depression to some degree, I was rehired as a medical transcriptionist in January of 1999 and took the option of working at home, thinking that that would be less stressful. However, my father began to have more and more health problems and needed more help from me. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to help him during those months.

On December 8, 1999, I learned from his mother, that the boyfriend I had met when I was 17 years old, who had gone to Vietnam in 1970 and with whom I had lived during the first five months of his return from the war, had throat cancer and was living with her and his father. We had a good talk on the phone at that time. He was quite honest about himself, letting me know that he still had drug and alcohol problems as well as extensive legal problems that would make it a bad idea to become involved with him again. He appeared to be confident that he would survive the cancer. It seemed good that our long silence had been broken, but it was unsettling to talk with him again because I still felt love for him and missed him even though I knew that getting involved with him would be a disaster for both of us.

On the day after Christmas in 1999, my father had a heart attack. My youngest sister and I were told in the emergency room that he was going to die. The nurses drew the curtains around his bed. My sister and I stood on either side of the bed holding his hands as he lay unconscious. He was breathing with difficulty but not appearing to be in pain. My sister began reciting in his ear what sounded like prayers she had learned from her study of Meher Baba's teachings, although my father was a Christian who would have clearly preferred Christian prayers. After about 15 minutes, my father opened his eyes and looked up at my sister with much love and then smiled and said, "Hello." Then he slowly turned to me, looked into my eyes and snarled, "WHO ARE YOU?" The medical staff and emergency medical technicians were astounded that my father didn't die. I was relieved that those weren't his last words to me.

He lived for three more years in relative good health, living independently and moving to Seattle to live near my youngest sister, brother-in-law and nephew in the last year of his life, after I developed shingles as a result of severe emotional distress from the many strains to our father-daughter relationship.

Thank God for a local caregiver support group, which helped me see how many other people with elderly and chronically ill loved ones had shared my painful experiences. Thank God that my sister and brother-in-law offered to take over the caregiver role in that last year.

1 comment:

burning silo said...

What a difficult time that must have been. I too had some strange experiences during the final weeks caring for my dad. It's good when we can separate the effects of illness from the person -- unfortunately, not always such an easy thing to do.