Jan working at the Julie Quinn workshop in 2012
I was on the chiropractic table a week or so ago, letting my spine relax and waiting for an adjustment. It was the first time in quite awhile that I had a quiet moment. I was surprised by a welling up of tears that flowed down my cheekbones and into my ears.
That turned my thoughts to a dear friend of mine named Jan. I'd met Jan in college and we'd been friends for over 30 years. There was a 20 plus year age difference, but that didn't matter. Our friendship was rare and a treasure. She was like an older sister to me. We spent a summer in London together, went on painting trips together, shared the ups and downs of life together.
When I stepped away from art to care for my mother, I stepped away from friendships as well. Not intentionally, but there wasn't enough time to do everything that needed to be done. While my heart still treasured Jan and other friends, I was no longer present in her life. There was the occasional card and phone call, but I rarely got a chance to spend time with her, and I missed it.
When Mom passed away, I was exhausted. I'd gained weight, broken a leg, had surgery and was worn out. Instead of picking up and reconnecting with life, I turned inward. After about a year, I was slowly re-emerging, but Jan was starting to have serious health issues. She was so sick and weak that I could only call. She couldn't have visitors.
Then, the doctors changed her treatment and that seemed to make a difference. Slowly, she was gaining strength. I could visit, although sometimes had to wear a mask. We'd sit together, have tea together, chat, do Zentangles or jigsaw puzzles. Later in the summer, she was strong enough that we took an art workshop together. We were happy and hopeful of doing more art projects together.
But our joy was short lived. She was gone by mid September.
The last few months we had together were sweet. She made sure to tell me I had been a good friend, and I made sure she knew I loved her.
But now she's gone, and I'm laying on a table with tears in my ears. Shortly after she died, I called her husband to see how he was doing. We talked about Jan and our grief. He told me he'd been lying in bed, thinking of her when tears came and rolled down his cheek, landing in his ears. It reminded him of a song, “I've Got Tears in My Ears from Lying on My Back in Bed Crying Over You.” This made him laugh and think, “Donna would know that song.” We laughed when he related this to me and I laughed on the chiropractor's table.
Laughter and tears. Grief is such a strange thing.
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.