My apologies for being MIA the past couple months. After the medical issues I experienced in spring, friends and family were also dealing with personal crises. Dad is winding down and getting harder and harder to understand. Mike’s uncle had two strokes. A friend has been in and out of the hospital with no answers as to what might be the issue. In fact, I got a text to update me on her situation as I sit and compose this. One thing after another and after a while I’ve just lost heart for writing.
But I have been working on painting and photography. Images work when words fail. At least they do for me. The painting is mostly abstract work. On Mondays I volunteer at an urban coffee house where coffee and bagels are free and the cafe is a safe place for people in the neighborhood to create community. I was talking with one of the guys over coffee asking me what my paintings were about. I told him it was about the mystery of prayer. That the paintings were black on black with metallics thrown in to represent what prayer is like - a spiritual quest to represent prayer in paint. Up to that point the conversation had been pretty superficial. He stopped eating and looked me in the eye. “That’s really powerful,” he said. “I like the way you think.” That took me by surprise. Can’t say I’ve heard that very often.
Images work when words fail. I find in prayer I am often at a loss for words, but that’s where I can trust that God can read my heart. My tears are my prayers. My anguish and feelings are my prayers. My paintings are my prayers. And God, being good and gracious, hears and understands those prayers.
I’ll leave you with this triptych. It’s called Mystery, Questions, Wonder.
In August, I shared that I was finally coming to grips with the fact that life as I had known it has changed forever. There is no going back, nor picking up where I had left off. While at some level I already knew that, it was time to just face it squarely and plot a new course.
This doesn’t mean ignoring the needs of Mom and Dad. We’re committed to being there for them come what may. However, I had made my schedule so flexible and so available to accommodate whatever might happen, that I’ve failed to care for relationships or myself. I’ve failed to refill my reservoir for far too long.
This has required some thinking and soul searching. One area in need of change seemed to be my job situation. I need to work at least part time to pay my studio rent and the small business I work for had laid me off for eight months. It seemed it was time to look for employment that would work around my caregiving needs and art schedule With those things in mind, I began searching. Of course, as soon as I applied for a position I was called back to my job. Since it has very flexible hours and works around my caregiving needs, I’m staying there. At least for the time being.
Another area that needed to be addressed was being connected with community. To that end, after much prayer I’ve started a twice monthly gathering of artists of faith. People who use art as worship and prayer and are looking for a community that will join together in fellowship, and prayer. Not only inquiring of God, but listening for an answer. It has been far better than any of us had hoped and we all look forward to each meeting knowing that God will show up in prayer and in art. I’ve also started attending a church that is closer to my home which connects me to my own neighborhood.
Another effort to expand community has been to join Bible Study Fellowship, studying the gospel of John. While it’s a good spiritual discipline, I can already see it’s not a good fit. While I will complete the 30 weeks, I doubt I will do it again next year. But that’s the whole point - to try new things and see where it will lead. We're also considering raising a puppy for Paws for a Cause. Expanding our interests and connections.
Mike and I have been trying to be more intentional about spending time together with mixed results. A couple weeks ago we took a vacation day and went to the state capitol to be tourists. It was a fun change of pace, walking around Lansing on a lovely autumn day.
However, the next day Mom went into the ER for breathing issues associated with congestive heart disease. The next few days after that were spent trying to get her and Dad back on an even keel. We were back to our old ways in an instant. Mike was going one way, and I was going another. Cancelled appointments, and meeting with support staff.
Life is a work in progress.
When I stopped everything to care for my mother, I assumed life would pick up where I had left off once she was gone. I don’t know why I thought that, but it did help me get through some of the trying times of that journey.
However, after she died it was difficult to find my footing. For one thing, I needed to to recover from the exhaustion and the weight gain of over thirty pounds from stress eating. For another, I was walking with a cane from an injury I’d had the year before. Physically, I was a wreck.
But most of my inability to move forward was due to emotional fallout, so I decided to be kind to myself and do whatever might be necessary to heal, recover and just breathe for awhile before taking on any big projects.
It was a good plan, but we quickly realized Mike’s parent’s were beginning to need far more support than we could provide from across the state. The process of moving them closer began and my role of caregiver evolved into something new.
At this writing, I’ve been an elder caregiver in one way or another for over a dozen years. Looking toward the future, there will be others who will also need me to be in their life for some sort of caregiving support. I’ve come to the realization that I’m going to be in this role for the rest of my life. That is a sobering thought.
Flipping through an old undated notebook I found something I wrote that expresses my thoughts right now.
“God is always at work…eventually, there will be a crisis of belief. Major life
adjustments are needed.”
Caregiving is not going to end.
Life is never going to be the way it used to be.
Major adjustments ahead.
Donna Kemper put aside her art career to care for a mother she hadn't seen in over a decade. For seven years she followed her mother's journey into dementia, caring for her and putting forgiveness into action.