I created this painting, inspired by the death of my father this past year. My Dad was diagnosed with Leukemia in September of 2018. Prior to that, he was a fit 70 year old, who was very active. His passion was taking his jeep up into the mountains in his home in CO and climbing what seemed impossible trails. No one ever suspected that he might not be well. I had just seen him that summer in June, and he took me for a ride in the jeep with him up there in the mountains. The road he took to "Miller Rock" was very narrow, rocky, and steep (I was nervous) and he operated his jeep with control and ease over every slippery boulder. When we reached the top, we exited the jeep, and he told me, we were going to climb this incredible Rock. When we first began, I was full of adrenaline, because, I'm terrified of heights, but I looked at my 70 year old father, ahead of me, and thought, I can do this! Wow my Dad really pushes me and I love him for that! When we reached the top, it was a 360 degree view of the Colorado Rockies. My breath was taken away at the beauty and there was something so special in that moment I shared with him. The word, Grace is all I can use to describe it. After we climbed back down the rock and back into the jeep, the trail began a decent, and we ended up in the most beautiful meadow, I've ever seen. There were wild columbines growing everywhere and a vibrant river, flowing through it. We spent some time there, just walking around, talking, and taking it all in. On the ride back home, I felt so much gratitude in my heart, that I could experience something so beautiful with my father. I felt it was a gift for us.
Just two months later, is when my Dad started not feeling well, and tests were done, and it was what you don't want to hear; Cancer. My Dad underwent chemo therapy immediately. I flew back home to CO, and hadn't seen him since I left him well, in the summer. Before entering the hospital room, it was shocking because we had to gown up and wear a protective mask so we wouldn't expose him to any outside germs which could threaten his almost non existent immune system. When we entered the room, I couldn't believe the sickly man, laying in this hospital bed was my father. He looked so sick; like he had gotten into a fight and was on the losing end. He looked up at me and asked, "well how do I look, Heather?". I said, "not too good, Dad". He thanked me for being honest. So many people don't know what to say or do in this situation and he hated the lies; "oh you look good!; you got this!'. He knew deep down, I think that his chances of beating this were slim.
He hardly spoke or moved the first few days I was there, but on the fourth day, he perked up and even got his appetite back. I was wondering if perhaps all of our prayers were beginning to work. He told the nurse, I'm ready to go for a walk. We were all amazed. The walk he took, with all of us around him, was just a walk around the cancer ward in a loop. When we reached his room again he said he wanted to go for one more lap. When we returned the second time, back to his room, he made it to his bed and was thoroughly exhausted. When he sat on the edge of his bed, still trying to catch his breath, a card someone had given him, that sat with many others on the ledge of a window sill, inexplicably fell and landed on the floor. It's like someone had flicked it with their fingers, and it caught the sunlight when it fell. We all turned to see it was a holy card of Padre Pio, a Catholic saint. When my mom bent down to pick it up, she read what it said:
"Walk cheerfully and with a sincere and open heart as much as you can, and when you cannot always maintain this holy joy, at least do not lose heart or your trust in God."
We took it that day as a sign that maybe, he would be healed, but for sure that our prayers were heard and he was not alone.
After spending weeks in the hospital, his treatment and chemo regimen was moved to out patient which made him happier. He was feeling better, despite being poked and prodded and given endless bags of blood, since his own blood he was making, was poison to his body. I flew back and forth to CO as much as I could, since I live in Fl. I decided I needed to be there with him for his birthday on Nov 12th. Of all days to receive the much dreaded news, he was told, the treatment was not working and there would be no hope of beating this disease. We sang happy birthday to him on his 71st birthday,back in the hospital, knowing he had about two weeks. His care then turned to hospice and just making him comfortable until the inevitable. I prayed he would still be alive by Thanksgiving, when I could fly back out again. Thankfully, he was able to enjoy his last Thanksgiving surrounded by his three girls, his wife, sister and granddaughter, in his home. Soon after thanksgiving he was ready to go into hospice at a very nice facility where his family could be present as well as the 24 hour care he needed by a caring staff. After entering hospice, his condition deteriorated rapidly. Within, days, he completely stopped eating and drinking. He slipped gently into a coma. They said he was at that point, caught between two worlds. His soul was in and out of his body, flying around. He would mumble, like he was talking to someone, He called out "Momma!" like he could see her, and "Grandma"! He also said something peculiar. He said "follow the girl. She knows what to do". His final words were "I love you" to my sister, which he seemed to gain consciousness in that moment. After that he never spoke again. On the eve of his passing, my mom, sister and I were at his bedside. I decided to step out for a moment, and call my family back home in FL to give an update and check in with everyone. After hanging up, I looked up at the night sky, and asked God to just please take him. He had been holding on in this coma and I just wanted him to finally have peace. When I went back inside and entered the lobby, I saw the black grand piano they had in a little sitting room. I've played the piano all my life, and I had wished to play for my Dad, just one last time, but that time never came. I decided to just sit down and play one classical piece from my childhood. One song, turned to two, and inspiration took over, and I played like I never have before. I ended with my Dad's favorite piece, "Pachelbel Cannon" , George Winston arrangement from his December album. When I played the last chord, emotion filled my heart. I felt a rush of tremendous love, and I knew that somehow, even though my Dad was in a coma down the hall, that he had heard me. When I got up to go back to the room, a nurse had been listening close by, and she approached me and said that she has always loved classical piano and that what I had just played was touchingly beautiful. I broke down and said, that it was for my Dad. She said, "I know. I felt it too", and gave me a hug. I went back into the room, and hugged my Dad and told him thank you for inspiring me to play the piano and sharing so much of his music with us. Around 10:30, we all decided to go back home after being there since morning. We all said our goodbyes and headed out. When I got back into the car, I said to my Mom, it looks like I left my hat inside the room. I thought, maybe, I'll just leave it; but it was my good hat! My mom said, "just go get it!". I went back into the room, and there it was on a chair. I picked it up, and walked over to my Dad. I looked at him in the eyes, although I don't know if he could see me. I said, "Dad! I forgot my hat!". Somehow, I think he knew and had a hand in making that happen. We had a moment together, just me and him. I told him again that I loved him and see you later. When I left finally, I walked down the hall and spied the nurse that hugged me earlier and gave her a wink and smile. My Dad died just a few hours later in the early morning hours on a Saturday of December 1st. I was the last person to see him alive, I believe it was a gift for me. There are many more gifts like this surrounding his death like the surprise that when we received his clothes back from hospice, that he had passed in, that he was actually wearing my white t shirt as an undershirt. It somehow was mixed up in his clothes from a previous trip to CO! Also at his wake, something went screwy with his video slide show right at the end when everyone shared their stories, and it was stuck on his face with a weird blank square that said "error". I think that was his sense of humor coming through, to let us all know, he was there and had heard the funny stories. My sister and I looked at each other and just laughed. At his funeral, the single, little carnation that fell from his beautiful bouquet, and when I went back to retrieve it, the good friend of his that I'd heard about for years, and he of me, that I finally got to meet. My dad wanted that to happen.
I have to say, that his death was a spiritual experience for us , that brought us all together. I am grateful that we all could have time to say goodbye or as I like to say instead, "see you later".
About the painting: I originally began the painting while he was still in treatment, that was going to be for him of Padre Pio. As I progressed the painting, after he died, I saw that the figure actually began to look like my father, himself walking down a path. I decided to add "the girl" in the form of an angel, leading him down a lighted path, in a heavenly forest. I then decided to instead, make the figure to be a heavenly figure, that could be anyone, even male or female. The red on the hand, could be the stigmata that saint Padre Pio, experienced in his life, but also represents the human struggle in our earthly lives.
This painting was months in the creation and the end result of my entire experience of my Dad's transition to the other side. Like the majority of my paintings, I believe that I create for others and not for me alone. I hope that this image will mean something for someone else and somehow bring healing, and love.
Thank you for reading my story. It has been healing for me to share. Blessings
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