In the Midst of Spring

Oak and Clove, detail,©2014, 7.5' x 9.5," Monoprint I look out the door of my studio: the redbud is in bloom and small oak saplings are popping up everywhere after our recent rains. I welcome these drops from the heavens.

My challenge is to bring the energy of spring into the hospital.

After admiring the redbud, it's off to work where I'm met with a referral that seems to be at the opposite end of the spectrum from my earlier musings: Help a family with enough children to fill a school classroom to mourn the imminent passing of a beloved family member.

I have just half an hour to come up with an intervention and enough materials to carry it out. I try to remain calm inside and talk out ideas with the palliative care social worker. Each plan has it's drawbacks but finally, we come up with one that might work. She leaves to go back to the family. I assemble the art materials.

When I arrive at the waiting room, the television is on, a laptop game is in session, a baby is crying. Where do I find an entry point?

Go straight to the heart I tell myself. I ask the children to tell me their names, their ages. They're a bit defensive, trying to keep up the barrier--I'm a stranger on their turf.

I tell them why I'm there and that we're going to make something together, something that they can keep for the rest of their lives to remember their family member.

Just to make sure they have an understanding of what is happening in that room across the hall, I ask: "do you know why your relative is here?" Hands shoot up and slowly we zero in on the answers. Like water that swirls slowly around the drain and suddenly forms a vortex, their understanding takes hold.

Both the children and their parents tear up. We talk about the tears; like rain they clean us out.

I pass paper and ink pads and markers and stickers and ribbons--even a hole punch. All of the kids make a print of their hand and draw on the paper; flowers bloom on the page, purple stick people hold hands and hearts. Some of them write messages. Then one by one, they visit their relative to add that person's print to the paper.

Its a sacred and scary thing, this printing. The children hold back at first, but once I help them put their hand on top of the hand that reaches out, they relax into it. The atmosphere builds until the last children are hugging and kissing and giving messages and the grownups want to make their own hand prints.

I'm always surprised that it's the simplest of actions which mean the most at the end of life: one hand on top of another, words whispered into an ear or scribbled across the top of the page.