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.

I drew tired self-portraits and my narrow beam of focus.

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

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.

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  • 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!