When You Are a Caregiver, Where Does the Art Fit In?

Holy GroundHoly Ground

It doesn’t.
It doesn’t.

And if you’re someone like me, who needs a good amount of mental spaciousness and a place free of clutter, so your mind and imagination can soar, then it never fits in.

It doesn’t.

But you dutifully try until you wonder if you even care about art anymore or anything at all.

You paw the ground in search of a small place on earth to squat so you can create undisturbed.
Not possible.
Life is one long disturbance.

My mother was an artist and she nurtured that in me all of my life, as did my dad. But now I am the one nurturing her. There is the laundry and the food and the shopping and the pills and the bills and the reminders of what day it is, sometimes five times an hour, and I have become her calendar and her time management system, often enough her memory. And then as you try to unburden yourself of a little bit of clutter, she says, “Why get rid of that when it is so pretty?” Or she leafs through your bags on their way to Good Will, finding something she still wants that she hasn’t seen in years. And you want to scream. There is so much clutter, lifetimes worth.

Or she comes home and has soiled herself but is too tired to get in the shower until you insist. Caregiving isn’t always pretty or easy. Neither is art. But if we made it pretty or easy we wouldn’t have Picasso’s Guernica or Edvard Munch’s The Scream. I feel like screaming a lot these days. And I’m often at war with myself between wanting to be there for mom and wanting to be there for me. Staying up way too late in the night squeezing out a spot of quiet time – usually ending up numbing out in front of TV, until your siblings wonder why you’re tired all the time or sleep late again. You don’t even tell them most of the details because, while they’ll offer you unsolicited advice, they won’t get in the trenches with you, won’t lend a hand. So why bother. And then your sweet mom forgets that she soiled herself and life goes on.

You’re alone.

You want to scream.

Where did the art go?

When my dad was ill in the last months of his life, I overheard him on the phone. He said, “My daughter is a tower of strength. She takes care of me all day and works on her book at night.” Little did he know I was journaling at night, all about him, about his illness, recording every small nuance of our days, our conversations, the dreams I had, and that he had that he wouldn’t get to see. Then even later in the night, I would finally work on the book. He was fiercely proud. And I can, with tears in my eyes, almost hear him say again, “That daughter of mine, she’s a tower of strength. Look at her taking care of her mom and now squatting in the driveway writing as the sun sets when her mom thinks she has gone to the chiropractor, but instead has returned to write. She is a tower of strength. And with no one to share her burden with, she is a tower of strength. That’s my daughter. And I see her. I see her. I see.”

And I wipe my eyes under an almost full moon, blurry tired eyes made even blurrier by sniffles and tears. And the to do list of being an artist becomes a haze and why did I come to this life anyway?

You wonder and try to find the reason. Thoughts blacken. The sun has set. But in the darkness you remember. After the tears and after the blur, you remember to scratch out the time even when it is not there. To honor the tears and the sadness and the fear and the wretched anger and rage.

You remember that you are a tower of strength and you remember that your creative life is the only thing worth anything. It is the only thing saving your life when you feel like you’re drowning again, screaming again, feeling guilty again for screaming again.

Art and creativity were here before you were born. They will be here after your mother dies. When your father was sick, you remember a great mentor, and your words to her and her words back to you.

You said back then, “I don’t know how I can possibly be creating when my father is so sick soon to leave this world.” And she said back to you, “I don’t know how you could possibly not be creating.”

You knew then as you know now that you had to, and have to, create, no matter what.
You document through words on a page or art on a canvas to remind you the beauty of life.
You remember and make the time.

No matter how small.
You create, your legacy.

It is the only thing that matters.

Even your mother says, “Do your writing. Finish your book.”

She wants to see it done.
Mom is wise. Dad in his Spirit-body is wise.
Knowing creator, you are wise.

That is what inspires.
Inspires others.
Inspires your mother.

When you are a caregiver, where does the art fit in?

It doesn’t.

You make it fit in.

Or you forget making anything.
You don’t force.
Because it lies outside of time.

You create a small container and breathe life into it.
Or collapse into it.
Sitting in the dark in a driveway, you melt into it.
Art doesn’t fit in.

Outside the confines of what society finds acceptable or normal.
It is whole and profane and perfectly sacred and sad and beautiful.
And it scares me shitless that I feel so scared sometimes and so alone.

And it is what makes the world go round.
Even if the world doesn’t know it.
It’s the only thing that makes sense.
You take your container up from the pavement, up from the ground.
You clutch it to your heart, take a deep breath, and walk back into the house.

In blessed fragmentation, you are holy.
Your mother is holy.
Even her shit is holy.
And you walk on holy ground.

Elizabeth Welles
I wrote this a while ago. It has taken me a long time to want to publish it.
October 27, 2015

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