a thank you card…

along the Seine

Twenty years ago today my longtime employer died of brain cancer. For the previous 20 months I had been his primary caregiver, mostly I believe now because I had restored my battle-weary self worth working for him for 16 years. He was like the brother I never had and how could I abandon him in his time of need? Plus as the mother of a teen and wife of an independent thinker, I truly needed to feel important to someone. I also did not know what to do with my days without my addiction to work and serving others.

Many gifts came to me out of my sense of obligation to his care. Most were intangible. Slowly I shifted my focus to what really mattered. I noticed the little things in life, those which continue to capture my attention today as I walk. The lichen on the tree branches in the fog, the hundreds of varieties of roses that bloom many months of the year, not just in summer. The cracks in the sidewalk. None of the things that had  monopolized my days prior to his illness seemed to matter anymore. I always say cancer is the great prioritizer as one quickly learns what is important and what is not. Nothing to me was as important as accompanying my friend through his journey with cancer. It was my personal grieving process unfolding before my eyes.

I pretty much wore myself out taking care of him. People kept telling me to take care of myself, and I truly thought I was. I stopped going to the gym. I lost strength in my own aging body, put on 30 lbs, and grew my hair long. By the time he died, I was an exhausted, aging haggard woman. And how surprised I was to learn it would take me just as long as his illness, to recover from the experience.

I decided to take six months off to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Two months in, as I lay on the floor doing my morning stretches (where I often do my best thinking) it occurred to me that there was nothing I wanted badly enough to go back to work. In that moment I began on the path that has led me to where I am today. My father who had just retired himself, did not congratulate me on this spontaneous decision to retire at 50 but instead warned me that I better make sure I did not outlive my money.

As a seamstress since youth, and having spent my adult years as weaver, knitter, needle-pointer it only seemed natural to take classes in various forms of textile art and design. So I jumped in with both feet. One year I took eight classes at various retreats, which also sparked a love of travel. I never really considered being a professional artist. I was just dabbling and I just loved getting lost in my world of color and ‘play.’

I spent a few years distilling all I had learned until 2004 when I finally found my own voice and began the five year autobiographical project that became the Tall Girl Series.  At that point my work began to evolve from ‘pretty’ abstract work to narrative. The rest as they say is history.

Here I sit today paying homage. I have been ‘retired’ twenty years already! That is longer than I worked for the good doctor. I have felt many times in those 20 years immense gratitude to this man whose premature death enabled me to reinvent myself as an artist. Otherwise I would have likely sat in that front office chair, managing his practice, being his parking lot therapist, West Coast mother and surrogate sister, up until he retired which would probably have been when I was 60. For so many years I had longed to bail out of that job, but was enticed by the kid’s tuition paying salary and benefits.

The biggest benefit was unforeseen. The benefit of time. The benefit of finding and reinventing myself through right brain activity, not so much the left in which I had been programmed to function since childhood.

So I say today, of all days, thank you David. Thank you for allowing me the freedom to grow into the woman and artist I was destined to be. I am sorry that you had to die at 56 but I feel nothing but gratitude for the privilege of retirement at 50.



16 Responses to “a thank you card…”

  1. Diane Block says:

    “I also did not know what to do with my days without my addiction to work and serving others.” This morning, your blog post was meant specifically for me (yes, I do know it’s for everyone, technically) After a career as a teacher, I, too retired when my younger sister was diagnosed with cancer in late 2017. I was going to go back after taking time off to help and assist with her but I have not, and don’t want to. She passed two months ago and for those two months, I have been thinking what do I do now? I read your blog this morning, and I realized I can do exactly what I want to do to feed my heart and my soul – just as you did. I continue to be amazed by your artistic talent – both in your projects and in your writing.

    • Carol says:

      Diane, Thank you so much for your comment. I am so glad that my words found you at just the right moment. I am so sorry for the loss of your sister. I know from my four additional losses since retirement that it never gets easier. We are the lucky ones who are able to channel that grief into something as magical as art, or whatever it is that feeds our soul. You go, girl! Blessings…

  2. Cindy Kelleher says:

    What a powerful tribute to David, and that creative awesome mind of yours! Happy anniversary of finding “self”.

  3. Pat Bishop says:

    Quite the tribute, so well said, thank you for reminding me of the important things in life and how giving was your greatest gift.

  4. Carol says:

    Truer words have never been spoken. A wonderful tribute to him and to yourself. You go girl!

  5. Liz Nelson says:

    Hi Carol
    Thanks for those wise thoughts about the meaning of how we spend our time. I am an artist, And i have to constantly reassess why make art that has no “tangible” worth; that is: it does not feed or clothe anyone, cure an illness or make much money. Your realization that your life was to be now spent first exploring for and then finding your purpose in life making art via quilts is a profound reaffirmation to me. Thank you!

  6. Linda Chase says:

    Hi Carol, Although we have not met formally and your work and wonderful writing are new to me, I want to congratulate you for reaching the present moment with the spirit of discovery and revelation. I too continue to explore and find my calling revealed to me in unexpected ways. It will be my pleasure and joyful discovery to curate your show at Visions Art Museum next year. Your story is a lesson and a model for many women of an age ready to rediscover what really matters to them.
    Thank you
    Linda chase

    • Carol says:

      Thank you Linda for your comment. I especially find your last line poignant and timely, as I now delve into new work about aging and insight. I also look forward to your curating our ‘Defining Moments’ exhibit at Visions Art Museum. Be well.

  7. Amy Meissner says:

    Hey Lady,

    You da best, bestest.


Leave a Reply