A cool gel pack on my aching forehead, cough drops on my tray table, I watch my boy smashing Play-Doh with a small plastic steam roller. Even on a day like this, I try to praise the small things. A daffodil, poking its yellow head through our neighbor's chain-link fence, its bloom the only hint of color in their bare wood-chipped lawn. My son pointed out to me some tiny violet blooms, so minuscule the camera could barely focus on them.
Focus on the bits of color, the gems in the dirt.
When your brain can barely function, when everything hurts, when your mind keeps circling the same dark thoughts, look for that burst of yellow. Or violet. Or a glint in the driveway, the way we used to look at gravel sideways, looking for quartz. A flash of light in the gray.
My Mom, the artist, could paint those glints. In watercolor and pastel, she studied the world, then drew what she saw. She loved when I gave her prints of my best photos, especially close-ups of flowers, or natural scenes. She drew them, flaws and all. A white speck on a rose leaf, a browned stem. Everything just as it is.
The way things are, for me and my family, we currently find it hard to spot those moments. How do you look for beauty when your mother dies suddenly, before a major family holiday? How do you notice the sparks of color when everything feels flat gray?
For several days, I've had headaches: partly from the cold I'm living through, and partly from trepidation. In a little more than a week, I will be working my way slowly through my Mom's house, wearing a mask as I search for the precious items she stowed away in dresser drawers and closets, away from the 15 cats who had free reign in her house. My sister has already told me about the glass lamp, now cracked and broken, I once would have wanted. I have already emotionally written off the 1871 upright grand piano I had always planned to claim, because a piano tuner told us years ago its condition was beyond repair without serious refurbishing.
Now that her partner has moved away, that weekend will offer me my first chance to explore the rooms alone. While I gird myself for tragedies of filth and disrepair, I hold out hope for treasures, stowed away in cat-safe nooks. Perhaps more writings, like the yellow notebook we already found, half-filled with poems from 20 years ago. Perhaps hundreds more pastels, watercolors and sketches. I stock up on archival bags and boxes in hope.
This week, my mother reappeared in a dream, after weeks of absence. We were holding a party for her, in a sun-soaked park with a brand-new wooden pavilion. At the center hung a celebratory banner: white ribbons and a purple heart. Mom, without the arthritic pain that crippled her final years, sat at a pic-nic table, the way we saw her do so often, with a pad and pastels laid out around her, taking everything in with her bright blue eyes.
Mom, even amidst the heartache, I will look for those glints, the colors. I will paint what I see.