Palliative Art

Can she hear us? We all want to believe that the sense of hearing is the last thing to go, so we stand around her bed talking just a bit louder than normal. Telling stories of her life. Discussing the vaccine and the emerging variants. Talking about Vivaldi and Poe and Verhas.

I am there, watching my two grown children as they look down at their aunt in her bed. Beyond them on the wall is a framed reproduction of Verhas’ painting of two small children, looking down at a broken flower pot.

Just over a week ago, when Kathleen was still somewhat responsive, I sat by her bed and babbled on. Rattling off yes and no questions. Hoping for an answer. Are you hungry? Do you want a sip of water? Are you in any physical pain? …She responded to a few of them with gentle, almost unnoticeable nods or eyebrow furrows.

After a long stretch of silence, I stood up next to the bed and looked at the painting across from me. ‘Tell me about this painting Kath, the one of the two kids with the flower pot.’ I saw some recognition in her face, some movement. She raised her eyebrows and gently opened her eyes. ‘It’s a metaphor about life isn’t it?’ I posited. And just as I said it, she began to nod her head up and down emphatically. Three times. It was the biggest reaction I had gotten out of her in days. ‘It really is’ I said, as I squeezed her hand.

I stood next to her in silence for some time, contemplating the painting. We are each, at some point in our lives, the playful, mischievous, scheming children of that time just before this moment was captured. We are each, at some point, the surprised, regretful, guilty, worried, hopeful children awaiting the consequences of our actions. We are each the grownup in the next room, about to stumble upon the scene and decide how we will react. We are the display that was once planted and arranged with care. We are the broken pot lying on the floor.

And at every moment, at every single moment, we also have the opportunity to simultaneously be the artful executor, paintbrush in hand, and the open, receptive, appreciative observer of it all.

So, I thoughtfully commit this moment to memory. An original painting in my mind. I will reproduce it and reframe it, again and again. For years to come.

A photograph of a reproduction of the painting ‘The Broken Flower Pot’ by Jan C Verhas 1876

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