The Art of Caregiving

The Art of Caregiving

I often joke about how many hats I wear: data analyst, artist, aikidoist, essayist and Teacher of the Alexander Technique, to name a few. All these activities keep me busy, too busy, but I’ve always been unwilling to let any of them go. After all, they each challenge and fulfill a different part of me: right brain, left brain and cross-brain; physical, visual, verbal and emotional; working solo, partnered and in groups. Everything seemed equally essential.

Then a family member became quite ill earlier this year and spent most of a month in the hospital, and another month recovering at home, with me as primary caretaker. Suddenly, I had an overwhelming primary focus and it wasn’t any of the things I thought I had to do every week.

It was no longer a matter of picking something to let go of – it was a question of whether there was anything else I needed to keep doing at all. I reduced my hours at work and arranged to work remotely, coming in for only the most important meetings. I put my private practice teaching the Alexander Technique on hold and let the Aikido dojo know I wouldn’t be training for awhile. I worked with my editor to get an extension on deadlines.

Only one thing kept going at the same pace: I still drew every day.

Tired of Being TiredI Through a Narrow Windowdrew tired self-portraits and my narrow beam of focus.

Empty Waiting RoomI drew the empty waiting room during urgent surgery on a Sunday.Waiting, and Impatiently Tapping My Foot I drew the hospital room, imagining one of my self-portraits hanging on the wall and casting a protective gaze.

Were Germs in My Nose Responsible for Her Infections?I even drew the germs that might have been responsible for the infection. Every day, no matter what else was going on, I drew my experience.

And while all this was going on for me, it was going on doubly so for a friend and fellow artist who was drawing from hospital rooms a thousand miles away – where she had not one but two ill family members. So when the dust settled and the emergency was over, I also celebrated the caregiving spirit in the image at the top of this post: my Portrait Party portrayal of artist Amy Nelp.

Join the conversation

  • Peter Clothier June 9, 2010 at 7:44 pm

    Love that portrait! Loving and poignant.

  • Mary Martz June 8, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    Lovely article, and portrait of Amy Julia! I have to add that iPhone painting isn’t only for caregivers – it’s a godsend for patients, too! It was what got me thru two knee replacements and 1 shoulder surgery in one year, cheering up fellow patients in the process! And of course, your portrait party has been a fabulous day-brightener, too!
    PS: I used to live almost across the street from the high school of art and design in the 90s! When I was a young Minnesotan, I used to see illustrations by it’s students in Seventeen magazine and long to go there!