Sunday, May 19, 2019

loss and creativity

My mother in law, Hendrina van Schoonhoven Rodenburg, died in December of 2018. She was 88 years old, just two days short of her 89th birthday.

When she passed, I lost a person I have known  for 50 years. In that time, our relationship not only covered a half-century of days, it covered a lot of dynamics and transformations.

At the end of her life, she was truly one of my best friends.

Hendrina always loved nature. She discovered hiking later in life, but once she did, she pursued it with a passion. She loved plants and flowers and living creatures. She and I watched many nature programs together. I even took her to my favorite Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge so that she could enjoy nature in the first person. We saw turtles and egrets, herons and ducks, songbirds and deer. She loved it.

In the last years of her life, she lived just a couple of miles away from us. Even as her health declined, we were able to figure out fun things to do together. We played cards and Mexican Train, consulted on knitting patterns, planted flowers, talked a lot, and listened to music.  She and I shared a love of listening to, and playing music.

Hendrina at the organ

My time became her time. At first, I resented the loss of my own creative time, but I could see how much her spirits lifted when I was around. She relaxed when she knew I was in charge. I stopped measuring my personal time and stayed focused on her quality of life. I believed that I could get back to my artwork and music eventually. My creativity showed up in finding new recipes Hendrina might enjoy, or new card games we could play, or a new plant for her to care for and water. We found ways to joke about doctor appointments and hospital stays.

Five months after her death, I am only now digging out from overwhelming grief. It clings to me, trips me and holds me down with my air knocked out. I have moments of happiness, too, and fewer days of tears.

Still, getting back to my creative life is hard. Much harder than I expected. Progress is slow, but it is still moving in the direction I desire. Just yesterday, I went to my beloved Refuge and watched the birds and other wildlife. I sketched the tree trunk below, and while I did, I saw small blue birds pop out of their little home. I felt the healing power of nature in that moment.

When she knew her days were numbered, Hendrina hugged me told me to not be sad. Her death, she explained, was just a part of nature. She urged me to enjoy my life, to hug my kids and grandkids and love every minute of my life. And she told me how much she loved me.

Tree Swallow, Ridgefield NWR
I miss her more than words can say. I know that my life has been enriched by having her in it. What the head knows, the heart takes longer to accept. I guess that is the truth of life and death, for all of us.

Hendrina van Schoonhoven Rodenburg 1929 -- 2018

One of her favorites, Andrea Bocelli with Sarah Brightman, "Time to Say Goodbye."

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