Saturday, May 8, 2010

Mother's Day

Where Should I Put My Head?, oil pastel, 16x12

My mother suffered from Alzheimer's, which began in her late seventies. I brought her to live with us in our small, then vacation, house. (Since remodeling it's now our permanent home.) After Dad's death, Mom never slept in a bed but was comfortable on a sofa. Each night I'd set up the sofa with sheets and pillows; she'd ask, "Where should I put my head?" I'd pat the pillow; she'd lie down the opposite way and complain about the light in her eyes. Then she'd switch ends. She tried so hard to do things the right way--even laid sheets of typing paper down to mark a path to the bathroom; yet she couldn't find it without help. There were times, though, when her humor returned and there was laughter in the house. Restaurants were fun, too, but she insisted that we be in the house when darkness arrived--nighttime porch-sitting was not allowed. No one in the house got much sleep.

This was my first oil pastel (drugstore variety) on drawing paper; done after Mom moved to an assisted living facility--it was completed in one all-night session; it still makes me cry. I tried to make a large painting of this--it was a failure; all the feeling went into this one.

My mother died in a nursing home seven years ago at age 82. I think of her almost every day, not just on Mother's Day.


  1. I have been blessed with the gift of my mother's longevity. She has just celebrated her 95th birthday. I know her days are numbered and I am thankful for everyday she is here. I can't imagine life without her. I would miss her just as you miss your mother.

    It's something we all eventually confront.

  2. what a beautiful and touching painting. I can see why you would only be able to do that painting just once. It is perfection. It is like a poem without words, a song without a melody, a mother without who she used to be. It is exquisite.

  3. This is an evocative painting Hallie. Even without your tribute to your mother, I sensed all the emotions and support that caring brings. Father's Day is my day to remember in a similar fashion.

  4. Oh, Hallie, I'm moved by your story and painting. I can't think of a better way to express in paint the story you related than how you did express it already. Trying to paint it again would never measure up, and that's what makes this painting truly great. Melancholy, love, trust, confusion ... it's all there. I'm sad to learn that your mother suffered from this cruel disease and the impact it must have had on all of you. And yet, you handled it with understanding and compassion. Your mother was very lucky to have you as her daughter, and it was because she was your mother that you became that daughter. Thank you for posting this. I'll never forget it.

  5. This painting is so emotive- alone, loss, confusion, hope. I can see that you put all of your feeling here. I saw this before in your gallery of images- and even before I knew it's history- I was strongly drawn to it. The strong composition and color story- which come so natural to you- are secondary to the emotion and feeling. A master work. I'm sorry about your Mother- she was so fortunate to have you.

  6. For now (as I read this at 9:30 am)just a sigh... your words..image touch my heart

  7. thank you for sharing the oil pastel and about your mother. my mother is 83 and has lived with me for nearly 4 years now. Alzheimer's entered mom's life at about the same time it did your mother's, in her late 70's. There is such power in your pastel that I didn't even need to read your post in order to know what it is about.

  8. Davida, thank you. Parts of our parents are always with us.

    Celeste, I don't know how you do it. "A mother without who she used to be" is exactly what the figure with attached shadow is about.

    Margaret, I promised my father when he was dying that I'd make sure Mom was okay. At times, I regretted making that promise. Welcome back.

    Hi Kathy. This is a cruel disease. I thought the saddest time was the beginning--when Mom would ask what she had done to deserve such punishment. I feel it would be kinder if all memory were erased in one big swipe. To watch her desperately try to hold onto names and memories was heart-breaking. She never forgot her hymns, though.

    Pam. After sculpting for 35 years, I believe this was my first drawing/painting. Interesting things happen when you feel you're making a simple sketch--no worries about mistakes; I left pencil marks at the bottom. I can't explain the black vertical but I felt Mom and I were separated by thick glass.

    Indigomar, thank you. Your blog about your mother several weeks ago was very touching.

    Gail P. I have followed your blog from afar and know about your mother and your husband's stroke. I admire you; four years with Alzheimer's is a long time; occasionally, there are bright times.

  9. Hallie, Everything about this post is beautiful - the painting, your words, the comments and your responses. I am in awe of your talent, your vision, your heart, your spirit and your tenacity. Bless you.

    I hope YOU had a good Mother's Day. You deserve it.


  10. Don, thanks for your comment. Occasionally, my serious side appears. Mostly I remember Mom's humor. I didn't really grieve over her death; I grieved when I watched her self being erased--line by line.

  11. I agree with Don 1000% the painting is incredibly awesome. Thank you so much for sharing.

  12. Thank you, ARTticulation. I'll have to visit your blog--you have three?

  13. And I echo Don as well...the image stopped me and the title too and then the story pressed in on my heart.
    Laying the path of paper to find her way and still needing help. Oh life. Oh fragility. And oh humor.
    I am very moved by you and what you share Hallie. Thanks so much.

  14. Merci, you know life and how to find the good in it. Thank you.

  15. Wonderful

  16. Thank you, Skizo. ILLUMINATION from your March 16 blog entry still glows.

  17. Hallie, i was instantly arrested by this painting and after reading your story find my eyes filled with tears - for you, for your mother, for my own mother. I too made the same loving promise, i too discovered the limits that circumstance and human finiteness impose on even the best of intentions.

    the black vertical line that rules out a pillow of peace, draws those limits. That blood-redness of the couch speaks of a rack of torture rather than a place of rest. Mum on her good days, the mum who was, sits beside the mere shadow she has become, the darkness that is robbing her, and you, of the fullness of her life. The shadow's head is bowed in grief, confusion, defeat. The feet are too long to walk with. A comfort blanket covers hands unable any more to rest in repose in her lap.

    THIS is what art is about. Not just coloring in, not merely the decorative, but to paint with one's life-blood. Hallie, this is one of the most powerful works i've seen in any blog.

    As a footnote, i can't help thinking what a success your mother was. She gave us you.

  18. And i look some more, and maybe see some more. That is also you sitting beside your mum, you in your nightie, you feeling the blue chill, you with troubled hands wrestling in your lap.

    And it's also thousands of other daughters, thousands of other mums-that-were. Which is also why this important art - it takes the intensely personal and utters a cry that is universal.

    Take care, Hallie.

    warm regards, harry

  19. Harry, thank you. Only someone who has been there could read this painting so well--such loss; and no rest--no solutions.

    I think I might have painted this with my life blood; I was totally exhausted but had a real need to make these marks. When I took Mom to Assisted Living, I felt that I'd left a small child with strangers. You're right, the painting felt like a cry or a scream.

    You take care.

  20. I was moved by your painting and mother died one and a half year ago,...I think of her every day. Love your blog.

  21. Hi Jane. Thank you. Whenever I see this oil pastel, all the sadness comes back. I like to remember the good times, but I think it's important to acknowledge all of life.