Monday 26 October 2009

More Developments I talk about the paintings I am going to do just 8 weeks after Steve died for donations to St Barnabas House Hospice who are supporting this exhibition. St Barnabas House was where Steve died. is my other blog about my life as an artist and mother etc

Today - today I am taking everything a step further. I want the exhibition A Graceful Death to travel and tour wherever there is a space for it, and for it to grow with other peoples' experiences. This will take form in books which I will have available and encourage you to leave an account of, and your thoughts on, your own experiences. There will be pens and coloured pencils too if you wants to draw what happened. This is so exciting and I can't wait to see what comes of it. I am humbled by emails and stories I have received on the loss of a loved one. We are all carrying this experience with us as part of our lives. How exactly do we carry on? And yet we do. We do.

In order for the exhibition to travel I must apply for some kind of funding. The Arts Council is the first step. The road, they say, of a thousand miles begins with a single step. I am looking for a way to pay for the Graceful Death Tour to go wherever it is needed.

Here for the record is a painting of Steve well and healthy. This is shocking if compared with the frail, jaundiced and emaciated paintings of him I have from just before his death.

At the top I have written "I am not going anywhere" which is what Steve always said. Death is bigger than all of us. One of Steve's doctors said to me that when it is our time to go, then it is our time to go. There is nothing we can do about it. At the time, that struck me as very sensible. Everyone was doing all they could for Steve but his disease was greater than all of them. It could not be stopped.

The invites are ready. It will be time to send them out soon. I am nervous of this exhibition. What if I don't succeed and no one likes or understands the paintings? What if I can't finish in time? I think one can't guaruntee the outcome of anything, but one can both influence it and take the journey. I am taking the journey and hoping to influence the outcome. I am taking a risk, and I think I am putting on the best show of my life so far.

Friday 23 October 2009

Preparation Preparation Preparation

I have been away for the last few days, and am back in the studio with a mountain of Things To Do. Before I can get to the exhibition preparation, it seems there is a huge amount of clutter to clear away on my desk.

I am doing this exhibition about the process of death of one man. One human, one person, just the one. It is an attempt to make some progress for my mind, my body and my soul to come to some terms with it. I have had one experience. I received an email from a lady who had lost two husbands to cancer, and she wrote with a simplicity and faith that made me feel she should be heard. There are so many like her, who have losses to deal with, and no exhibition to help her along her path.

Last night my 19 Year Old Daughter, doing her training as a nurse, laid out her first body. A 90 year old lady died on her ward, and Daughter was asked to wash and dress her. Daughter was taken with how small and frail the lady was. It was like washing and dressing a six year old, she said. The old lady's family had been with her and so she was not alone but Daughter felt the enormity of being the last person to care for this old lady, on this earth, though she had not known her. How is it, said Daughter, that her granddaughter was in the room and the same age as Daughter, and yet she, a stranger (comparitably) should do such an important final act of respect and love, and wash the Grandmother's body and put on her best nightie. How is it, that after 90 years of life, Daughter should be the one to do this final ritual for her. Daughter was moved by the passing of a life, someone who had loved, had children, had grandchildren, had a place on this earth and now it was all over. And Daughter was the last person to do anything for her.

I would like to expand the exhibition and make A Graceful Death about your story too. Come and write it down at the exhibition in the Graceful Death books provided. The exhibition is travelling and with each place it shows, there will be more stories and experiences to add to it.

Friday 16 October 2009

Invites, Masses Of Paper, Dreams And Silence

I am designing the invites today. I have the Press Release, the paintings, the venue, the interest, the ideas. I now have to start putting them together.

I have put on hold all my commissions in order to do this exhibition. The aim is to highlight life as it ends, to tell my story and to raise awareness and funds for St Barnabas House Hospice where Steve died. I have been doing this for love. It was something I had to and wanted to do, and I am compelled to explore the subject of end of life. It did happen to me via someone I knew and loved, it happens to all of us. But I have painted and written my experience. I have painted what I saw, and painted how I felt. Goodness I have so much more to do with this subject.

The idea is that this exhibition tours. I want to take it to anywhere that will show it. I want the exhibition to grow with each showing. This will include all (or any) of the written contributions from the first exhibition in Chichester. I am including a Graceful Death book for all those who have a story to tell to write it or draw it. I would include any other images I may be allowed to paint, of other people at the end of their lives. I would love to include more paintings, which I would paint, of loved ones at the end of their days here, whether at home, in a hospice, a hospital, a home - this exhibition starts with my story and should continue with yours.

I have had interest from both Germany (yes!) and Birmingham. If you can host this exhibition in your area, or know somewhere that can, please contact me. .

The Dream. Last night I dreamt of the back of Steve's head as he slept. It is interesting that I have never had a dream, except on the day he died, of his face. I knew it was the back of Steve's head and watched in my dream how his hair had not changed, and how the colour was the same. In the dream I felt tender, as if he were a sleeping child.

And the silence. Well. In the studio I can be very silent. Only the wind blowing outside and all my ideas blowing inside. I love this silence. Everyone is out, at work or school, the phone may ring, but silence falls again after each conversation. I can stop typing and the clicking of the keys is gone and I can chose to be utterly without noise

Invites coming soon. They will be up on the websites too. Be prepared to come.

Thursday 15 October 2009

Excitement And Progress

I have much to report today. I am very grateful and impressed by the response this exhibition is getting, and feel heartened about the whole venture. I do worry that I am showing paintings that are not easy to look at, and that may distress some. But on the other hand this is real, this is really how someone can look with advanced cancer. This is about the end of a life, and that in itself is a very uncomfortable topic. I may remind some of their own experience which is too hard for them. I may shock some who find all this disease and death too frightening to think about, I may make some angry because this seems so much indulgence.

Underneath all this is the respect and admiration I have for those who take on the task of easing the end of our lives. The Hospice Movement, Palliative Care Teams, all those who make it their business to make the process of dying and death as best as it can be. There are countless individuals who have nursed and cared for someone as they died. Goodness, this is such a big part of our lives.

And so. I want to take this exhibition around the country. I thought last night how good it would be for it to grow and include others who had stories to tell. I am inspired to paint the end of lives of other people for this exhibition, and to include written stories of experiences . My cousin Maddy had a very moving experience and is an expressive writer. My friend in London lost her father and took wonderful photos of their last time together at the hospital. Two other friends have stories to tell, one in a dvd video form as a play, and the other as a written story. There is so much scope for sharing this and honouring our dead.

A lovely friend in Germany has asked if the paintings can go there. The answer is Yes, if you can have them, Yes and Thank you. Another wonderful friend in Birmingham has suggested they may go there, and again Yes. Thank you. I have sent a few words and some images to the Palliative Care Conference for March 2010, that would be good.

And of course, the support and help and kindness of St Barnabas House Hospice ( for donations to this wonderful place attached to this exhibition) who have opened wide so many possibilities for me. And I hope to meet with the equally wonderful St Wilfrids Hospice in Chichester, to see what we can do there.

On the 6 December I will be talking on the Faith Programme on BBC Radio Sussex about this exhibition. At about 8.40 am. Please listen, and please come to the exhibition and if you have a story to tell, please bring it.

Tuesday 13 October 2009

A New Image

Here is an image of the last bath we gave Steve. We had a joke about plastic ducks, which is why they are in here.

I wanted to show the wasted body, the way the cancer had eaten him up and left him like this, skin and bone. And yet he kept breathing. He kept going, his life wasn't over yet. I wanted to show the bones showing through his shoulders and chest, the tendons in his neck and how the shape of his head was so perfect. In this picture, Steve had stopped being able to communicate and was confused and uncomfortable. This was the last bath he had, it had stopped giving him relief.

Today I am doing so much paper work. I am writing articles for this exhibition, writing emails and sending off all sorts of ideas to people.

A very very good development is that St Barnabas House, the hospice that took care of Steve and helped us all as he died, is backing this exhibition. I have set up a donations page for you all to donate to the hospice - . Please help another Steve and Antonia find their way through the end of a life.

More tomorrow. I am going now to visit some doctors and try and interest them in this exhibition.

Friday 9 October 2009

A Few Thoughts On God

This is difficult. My first thought is that I have not got one. A thought, I mean. On this subject at least I have a paradox - I have no thoughts at all, and I have nothing but thoughts. Perhaps it is not Thoughts of which I have none, it is Conclusions. Maybe that is not right either, I have conclusions. I think what I have not got is An Answer.

Before Steve died, I accepted that there was a God. I thought that there was probably a parallel universe of angels and God-ness, and that I had access to it. It made sense that there was a greater plan and all of us were loved by A God Like Thing, and love really did make the world go round. Secretly I thought that God could talk to us and communicate with us; it was exciting working out how it would happen and whether positive coincidences were God at work or just happy accidents. I tended to believe the God At Work theory. My life had not been too difficult to cope with, I had not really been tested and dreadful things had not happened to me. Not really.

I had a wonderful comfortable and vague feeling that I was on the right path, miracles could happen, that we had huge untapped potential in our brains, consiousness and The Mind were the answer to most things. I think what I had was an untested leaning towards the intellectual, the fuzzy and the comforting. This is fine, it worked. There was no reason to be otherwise and there was no obvious challenge to make me change my mind. I really did feel I had a spiritual understanding and a link with the Divine.

When Steve first told me that a shadow had appeared on his liver I knew at once what it was. I came into my studio to be on my own and screamed and cried and could not find any way to lessen the anguish. On the internet I saw that he had about 3 months to live. I simply could not understand why Steve should have anything that made our happiness impossible. What on earth was this thing that was going to happen but couldn't really because I knew Steve and we loved each other and so we were immune to things that we couldn't control. I could touch Steve, I could look into his eyes and he mine, he was alive and so having this thing I knew was cancer was simply impossible. Steve would manage we would find out it was a mistake and somehow Steve would be with me for ever. We had a house to build. We had stuff to do, it was all very impossible.

I saw Steve shrivel and contract and fade before my eyes over the next few months. He would not accept his prognosis and so I didn't either. Unless I was on my own and then I knew it was not going to work. His body became diseased and emaciated. His eyes and skin turned yellow. He found it hard to think clearly and he could not stop sleeping. I watched this happen to a fellow human being, not just any fellow human being but Steve for goodness sake. It made no sense.

He couldn't eat. He couldn't walk. He was incontinent. He couldn't lift his skinny arms and head. His feet hurt him, his stomach hurt him, his stomach and ankles swelled. He was jaundiced and exhausted. He couldn't think straight. He used to go out fishing, he could build extensions, he could make working model aeroplanes, he could cook and he was very funny. All that potential to be the old Steve again was still here, in this wasted creature on my sofa in the sitting room.

Back to God. God sat with us in the hospice for the last week and made Steve comfortable. God showed me that to die was part of life and just one of those things. God also showed me that death is as much a miracle as life and that the two compliment each other with more power and awe than the human mind can cope with. I had the total absence of hope in watching Steve die. But Steve was also beyond me and beyond my limited experience. He was doing something so raw and incomprehensible that I was left far far behind. God had two jobs to do. To let this physical thing called cancer eat away Steve's lovely human body and let it run its course. And to allow me to watch and glimpse a process so alien to me and so much bigger than me that I could only admire it. So this is where God, if there is a God, was. God was in the process of relieving Steve of his physical body while the breath still breathed from it in spite of the disease. God was the force that made Steve not die sooner, God was there too when Steve eventually stopped breathing and stopped being alive. I can't describe the relief and anguish of watching the stillness and nothingness that was Steve once he had died.

Now, I think there is a God Like Thing somewhere. The miracle of death makes me think that it is too big for life to be just be nothing. I knew Steve, it was not as if the life that ended was an abstract thing belonging to someone else. I knew the man, he was my partner, and it happened to him. If he could have done so, he would have told me all about it. But he couldn't because he was dead and that was just ridiculous.

I am aware of my life now. I am not, at the moment, afraid to die. I think that there is an after life. I think that the word "Life" probably doesn't even come close to describe what happens to us after we die. My big question at the moment is "Where Did He Go?". I don't know.

Monday 5 October 2009

Sometimes All I Have To Do Is Think

Sometimes when the day is hard to take in hand, all I can do is think. Today I showed some friends the paintings so far, and found it difficult to do. I was worried that the power and feeling I have about Death and Dying and Steve's last days, would not be there when someone else saw the pictures. I worry too that I will never get the paintings done, there is no end to the images I want to create. But my friends were kind and honest and thoughtful, their comments were very helpful. It is time I called my artist friend in Middleton, who is also very good at feedback that makes you see what you are doing more clearly.

Tomorrow I go to the Hospice where Steve died to talk to them about fundraising for them and their name being attached to the exhibition. I hope it will go well. I look forward to it, but I haven't been back to there since Steve died. If I can I want to see his bed.

My computer has gone to the PC Doctor today with virus that has messed it up completely. So I am without my documents and pictures; I am writing this on my son's laptop. Soon I will put more pictures up of the progress I am making with images.

And, I will write about God and Faith and what I am thinking of it all. I warn you, it will be a muddle. There is very little I can be sure of there. I will write about it soon. Today, all I could do is think.

Friday 2 October 2009

All Going Well

The paintings are going well. They take over a bit, and have a life of their own. I start with a feeling, an idea, and put paint on the surface and am surprised at what happens. Sometimes the paint seems to lead and I follow. I have done the full length portrait of a healthy Steve, and it stands looking at me in the studio, and is lovely to see. I didn't find it too easy to paint, it was so ridiculous pianting a face I remember so well that simply did not exist any more. Which always leads to Where Did He Go?

The Loneliness Triptych is done, and has turned out differently to my original idea. The images evolved as I was painting it, and I am satisfied that it works.

I am going to speak about this exhibition on the day before it opens, on BBC Radio Sussex. It will be on the Faith Programme at about 8.40am on Sunday 6 December. I look forward to it, this is such an important exhibition and subject.

Next week I am going back to the wonderful Hospice, St Barnabas in Worthing, who helped Steve out of this life. I want to raise funds for St Barnabas, and they are going to help me with ideas and I hope, people to contact. I look forward to it very much, and it doesn't matter if I cry either. That's part of the beauty of a Hospice. They understand the way we who are left are vulnerable to tears and flashbacks. I will go and see Steve's bed if I have the strength. It will be a bit emotional but I want to do it.

I am thinking about where God is in this exhibition. Where Faith is. I want to consider this and will write on it in the next post. It is important and I am frequently asked about it concerning this exhibition and the subject of death and bereavement. Often I can't reply and need to work out what it is that I am thinking and feeling.

More pictures soon .