I sit here at my computer, a large portrait of my late husband hangs on the wall, facing me. His warm smile and kind eyes embrace me. I feel his presence as if he was really here. The photo is from the early ’90s, taken at my son’s wedding in San Antonio. Helles is wearing a formal tuxedo with a red rose boutonniere. The tuxedo and background are black, making his face, snow- white beard, and white shirt front and cuffs emerge vividly from the darkness, brightly lit by the camera’s flash. It is a strikingly handsome image.
Many people know the beauty of the words drawn from the Biblical Book of Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3. This ancient poem (in the 1611 King James Bible) begins, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” And then, the second verse continues, “A time to be born, and a time to die.”
The writer is correct, every one born will, someday, die. That we will die is not unexpected, but it is a moment not easily faced. It is not a topic we lift up in polite company. We sense its finality in our souls and are often ill-equipped to face it. Death can feel like the ultimate thief, the ultimate enemy and so we convince ourselves that it is far away and refuse to acknowledge it is a reality for all who ever draw breath.
As I am sure most of you know, Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook and the author of "Lean In," lost her husband in a tragic accident. Since her loss, she has made several online posts including one that talks about Option B, "the stage in which you redefine and reclaim your life after the one you thought you'd have is cruelly
I am an avid reader. For years, I commuted via the train to downtown Chicago so usually had a book to read. When my children were young, my reading selections changed but I still read, even if it was picture books and easy chapter books. When my husband got sick, I had a fair amount of idle time on my hands. Ask anyone who has had to spend time at doctors' offices, hospitals, clinics, etc.: you have to learn to wait. So I started to read even more. Now that I am a widow and live alone, I have the luxury of reading whenever I want. No one is waiting for me to make dinner and I feel little or no pressure to clean (when you live alone, the house doesn't get very messy or dirty), so I can read for hours on end.
My mother endured many ups and downs with her physical ailments the last few years of her life. But mentally, she never gave up―nor did my father. He was her rock.
Upon mom's last admittance to the hospital, after being in there for a few days in a semi-comatose state, she greeted me with a cheerful hello as I entered her room. I recall explaining to her that she was being transferred to hospice. She didn't understand why.
I used to joke that art was my therapy. Today, I no longer joke about it.
In August of 1995 I had a heart attack, cardiac arrest and near death experience. It serves as an inspiration for many of my works, making it clear that art is therapy. Art is also therapeutic to me because it is so different than the way I spend the vast majority of my time as a general internist physician. In that role, I must step outside of myself and relate to the experiences of others, even though my own inner life continues whether or not I am aware of it.