Five years ago today my mother died. The offending event, a massive stroke, came quite unexpectedly. Her death was one of a handful of seminal events in my life and bookended her period of mourning following the death of my father in 2001. I believe that her grief could only be relieved by the companionship of someone she loved, lived with, raised a family with and battled for more than fifty years. I do believe that they are together today.
Time alone in my studio facilitates reflection, and I have been thinking about her a lot lately. I think about the night before she died, and how I had planned to stay with her at the hospital. She was in hospice care, and with the decline of her brain function, her breathing became a loud, labored rasp followed by a wailing inhalation kicked into action by oxygen and CO2 levels. It’s called Cheyne-Stokes respiration. She was unconscious and in no pain, but the sound was unbearable and at about midnight, I had to go home. She died very early the following morning. This is a deep regret. I’m sorry I left you alone Mama.
What little there is that is remarkable about me is at least fifty percent due to my mother. As a young woman, and throughout her life, she was a great beauty. (My sister looks so much like her!) She had wanted to be a cartographer or stage set designer, but as with so many young women of her generation, the opportunities presented to her were nursing or teaching and she chose the former. She never lost her interest in the Arts and in her fifties returned to college to get her degree in the Humanities.
Though much of her adult life was afflicted by the same demon that is a constant companion to myself and several family members, she passed on her visual acumen, her sense of style, and the understanding of color, line, shape and proportion that affords me attendance at one of the finest art institutions in the United States. In addition, thanks to her, my sister and I are both excellent cooks.
Now nearly fifty myself, almost three quarters of the way through Graduate School and with the 20/20 vision of hindsight, I recognize all that I inherited from her. In May, when (God willing) I walk across the stage at Radio City Music Hall and collect my Master’s Degree, I can celebrate that this is indeed the stage set she designed. Please take a bow Carol Jean. With all my love and thanks.