December 03, 2012


The idea for my latest print comes from a number of sources.  First, there’s an ornamental stone urn on the grounds of a small baroque castle in Prague where we were twelve years ago on holiday.  I loved the face adorning the urn…my mind is quick to create fairy tales about the stone faces decorating so much of the architecture of European cities…and I imagined all kinds of possibilities for this one, including the idea of a spirit trapped inside somehow

Building from that is the theme of being and/or feeling trapped in my own life: my parents trapped in a reality where they only repeat old habits and routines as their mental competence dwindles; Roland and I feeling trapped, not only by our sense of responsibility to “do the right thing” for my parents (and not being really sure just what that “right thing” is), but by the increasing burden of those responsibilities.  Last, there’s the sense of gloom I’ve been struggling to shake off over the last several weeks.  So not a particularly sunny back story for a print but there it is.

We moved my parents into a care home two weeks ago.  The call from a place with two available beds, a call we were told might take months to come, came on a Thursday morning not two weeks after we submitted the paperwork.  I was given until the next morning to accept but, really, declining the offer wasn’t an option.  Not unless I wanted to have to go through the whole assessment process all over again.  And, given that my father’s latest thing was to try unscrew light bulbs by turning them backwards and breaking them off in their sockets, we couldn’t chance a delay.  So we drove out to the place to have a look around and, having assured ourselves that it was as nice as any such place could ever be, we accepted the placement.  We had until the Monday to move my parents in. 

There’s no possible way, in a life where every day is like Groundhog Day (the movie, not the actual day), to prepare someone for being ripped out of the cocoon they’ve felt safe in for as long as they remember and then planted in a radically alien environment.  And there's no way of not feeling guilt for doing that to them. We did our best to talk to my parents about where they were going and why.  My father, the more rational one of the two, accepted it and then immediately forgot all about it.  My mother just laughed. To make it all worse, although the home had two beds free, those beds weren’t in the same room and my parents had to be separated; my father went into a room with three other men and my mother into a semi-private with another womanWe were promised this was only temporary and that they’d get a room together within a couple of weeks but try to explain that to someone with dementia. 

Yes, it’s been a heart-rending two weeks and hands down the most difficult thing Roland and I’ve had to face in our whole life together.  Nevermind how necessary this move was for both my parents’ and our safety; emotions and logic rarely move in tandem.  Now, with two horrible weeks behind us, the worst is behind us too (I hope).  My father had such a hard time with the transition, and with being separated from my mother, that the care home director put most of her energies into getting them into a room together three days after they moved in.  Things got better after that and now they’ve settled.  

They have a few favourite pieces of their own furniture and bedding, their TV, and my dad’s artwork on the walls of their room to trigger memories of home and they have a team of kind people to care for them.  They’re delighted to see us each time we visit and seem to think they (and Roland and I as well) are all living in the Czech Republic somewhere.  Yesterday the nurses told me my mother laughs all the time and my father is a very interesting and pleasant man.  He’s playing bingo (never in a million years would I have expected that), has had his hair cut and styled into something resembling one of Elton John’s wigs, and allowed the nurse (“he was VERY cooperative”) to shave off his beard.  And really, seeing my parents there only confirms how much they really need to be there.    

Here, at home, my parents have become my phantom limb.  My life was so wrapped up in caring for them for the last couple of years I feel as if their shadows still move around downstairs like they themselves did for the twelve years we've lived in this house together; I still look to see if they're sitting at their kitchen table when I get home from workAnd, at 10 each night I get up to go give my mother her medication before I remember I don't have to do that anymore.  Now the thing Roland and I need to do is to work up the balls to go downstairs and sort through all their things.  But we’re dragging our heels.  It's too hard.   

But I am working on a print.  A dark-themed print to fit my melancholy mood but a print nonetheless.  It's a very simple, only three layers, but that's enough for now. 

The first two colours are here:

Hopefully I'll get a chance to finish it next weekend.  



Libby Fife said...

I am so sorry. That is such a heartbreaking series of events and feelings. I just can't imagine how difficult every aspect of this must be for both of you. And even though you did the best thing that you could given what you had to work with, the whole thing still sucks.

I know it will get better eventually and in the meantime you've got a great start on a print. He does look a little bewildered which is maybe very fitting right now.

Take care of yourself and of Roland. Feel better.

Elizabeth Busey said...

Your image captures so accurately the difficulties of helping the ones you love in heartbreaking situations. I hope in time you will find peace, and renewal.

Annie B said...

Oh Kate! Heartbreaking is the right word. And yet, the picture of your parents seemingly thriving in their new home "in the Czech Republic" is achingly beautiful. What a strange mixture of relief and guilt you must be feeling.
I like your new print. And you're a great writer, by the way. I could really feel this post. Take good care.

Katka said...

Thank you so very much, again, to all of you for your compassion.

I know this too shall pass and R and I will settle into a new (and freer) routine. And yes, it is most definitely a mixture of relief and guilt I move between, for so many reasons.

Yet, in the end, it's all "soul making"...for us and for my parents.