Work to do

The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone. – Harriet Beecher-Stowe

Nous en prendrons bien soin (31 May 2020)

On one side of Nous en prendrons bien soin, people of this world. Opposite them, people from another. In the woman’s long legs and the shape of her hair is something of the four-legged being. She comes from him. Someday, she will return. But not today. Today is about the little gray creature. He is not of this world, but he dwelled here once. The clothing tells us so. He doesn’t need this clothing where he is now. Why is he still wearing it? What is preventing him from being free of it?

Nous en prendrons bien soin is dated 31 May 2020, but the story behind it starts four months earlier, in January, in your shaman’s beautiful Upper East Side office. Outside, the city hums, ignorant of the deadly virus that is already killing people in China. Inside, equally ignorant, you are chatting. Happily. Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way has you thinking about synchronicity and art and God; it has you doing the cheesiest things like writing letters to yourself, drawing to music, and making fairy houses in Fort Greene Park. For your mother, for Christmas, you had made a homemade coloring book.

The ten days you have just spent with her during break were simple, calm, and quiet. Your mother has a daily rhythm you find soothing and relaxing, you tell the shaman. She rises early and says her morning prayers. Then, there is breakfast, the washing of the previous day’s dishes, a snack, lunch, a nap, dinner, another snack, and then bed. Between these events, she makes jigsaw puzzles, does search words, and colors in her coloring books. She also talks on the phone, writes letters, makes bread, and cleans different little corners of the house. You love being with her throughout these days. You play cards. You put pieces in the puzzles. You don’t necessarily talk much, but you don’t need to. Being together is enough.

Waterstain for Nous en prendrons bien soin

“You’re in the process of saying goodbye to your mother,” the shaman says. In getting to know her like this, he explains, and in coming to understand her better by virtue of being with her without an agenda, and without trying to impose your rhythm or your topics of conversation on her, you are setting yourself up for a healthy and beautiful goodbye untainted by unresolved issues or frustrations that, ultimately, are yours to deal with. And to be dealing with them now, while she is still alive, he goes on to say, is obviously the best time. Too many people don’t do this work while the people they love are still amongst them; they too often bury these people without having truly said goodbye.

The shaman doesn’t know it, but he is talking about you. You and your father.

He is sitting in a hospital bed the last time you see him. It takes him hours to shave, he tells you; I’m dying, he means. But you don’t understand. You don’t say goodbye. You don’t say anything. And the moment will haunt you for years.

In one recurring dream, your father sits quietly in a chair against a wall. In another, he passes silently through the room. There is the dream where you watch him carry a large flat full of blueberries to the car, but in this one, like in the others, you never go up to him, you don’t exchange any words. The guilt and shame and confusion you feel in these dreams follow you into the waking hours. The bitter tears you do not cry stay stuck in your throat and clog up your heart. The pain is burdensome. You will never be free of it.

But this thinking is that of a flawed human; it is not God’s thinking. Look at the painting. In the sky-blue bird is the promise of freedom. In the four-legged being: God. With God, isn’t even the impossible imaginable? If your father is the little gray creature, then the clothing are the unresolved issues and frustrations you have yet to contend with. But clothing is not a permanent fixture; it can be removed. Your father’s physical body might be dead and buried, but you can still do the work the shaman speaks of. You can still say goodbye. In fact, you have to say goodbye. Your heart will not be free until you do. And God needs your heart to be free, for the child in the teal hat. For your mother.

“We will take good care of her,” the four-legged being says. The words are a promise, but also a call to action. Your mother is still of this world, but her days here are numbered. God is calling her; your father is, too. One day they will come for her, and you will have to say goodbye. If you want to be ready, you have work to do1.

Constance regardant par la fenêtre (11 September 2022)
  1. See Consider the owl. ↩︎

4 thoughts on “Work to do”

  1. I loved reading this article . Work to do is Uplifting . your art is amazing . Thank you for sharing , A time for everything .😊

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  2. There is a story behind every drawing that you produce – It makes it all come together and fully tells your story. So impressed with your work.

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  3. Adele. This reading, though I have no tears to shed of guilt or shame in my relationships, reminds me to take action on what is in front of me before it is too late and becomes behind me. How wonderful to read such a short yet so impactful and meaningful message from someone who is now living the effects of a learning from one moment in life and taken action to not mirror it in another ‘pending’ moment in life. You’ve inspired me to call my mother today, and be sure to call more frequently.

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  4. I enjoy seeing the original design inspiration from the street with your interpretation (both visual and written). This collection is resonating with me, I’m reflecting on my own quiet, companionship with my grandmother in the last few years of her life and with my mother too.

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