Loss of a loved one
Reba Lillian Laney-October 24, 1917-May 31, 2014
This was the last picture I have of us, taken just eight days before she passed away.
When I started this project it was initially the desire to have that conversation and relationship back that I had lost when my own grandmother passed in 2012. I searched for five individuals (that came down to four) whom I spent a summer with to not only ultimately create a project that told their biography and corresponding artistic images but again, to find a lasting relationship that I could treasure.
Upon arriving at the convalescent home I was introduced to Reba Laney, who was the ideal image of my late grandmother-resting in her recliner, her bible opened on her lap, and a warm smile to greet me for the first time. I knew she was special the first time I laid eyes on her. There was also a lady who had been her roommate for at least seven years named Zella O'Dell who was also a kind and loving woman. Mrs. O'Dell passed away this year on March 22. (To read her obituary click the link below:)
Over the summer we all talked and laughed and shared stories of our life- good and bad- I remember one time specifically I had been having a rough day and I felt there was no one to cry to. I went to Reba and as soon as I sat down she asked what was the matter and as I cried on her lap she cried with me and stroked my head. She was the kind of person that would love everyone and hold anyone that needed to cry.
She shared her love for our Lord and talked about how much she loved and missed her late husband and two boys that passed away. She spoke so kindly and tender about her family and loved ones that came to visit. Her love and kindness was not only in her, but in her family too- her daughter "Tooter," her daughter in law, Judy- Reba's sister Dean ("Deano") Selena, James, Tommy- they all took me in and always treated me like I was part of the family. This family is one of the sweetest I have met and value family and traditions. The bible says in Revelation , "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them."
When my grandmother passed away- there was an inconsolable sadness and emptiness that dwelt within; but through time and prayer- God was able to not only give me peace and fill that void back in my heart- but he showed me that because my Granny was faithful to Him- Me and my family- my grandchildren will experience the effect of my Granny's good works here on Earth.
It is comparable to a drop of water- her actions will be echoed or rippled through our blessings and it is our responsibility to hold their name up. So I hope and pray there will be peace among this family- as well as others who have to go through losing a loved one. To read 1 Thessalonians 4:17 "Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord."
One day there will be a beautiful reunion for all those that believe and died in Christ, that we will reunite with our family and loved ones FOREVER. "And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away." -Revelation 21:4
To read Reba Laney's Obituary click the link below:
September 23, 2013
I thought this was the sweetest picture, a couple of weeks ago I asked Reba why she never had her nails painted like Zella. She said she didn't have anyone to paint them for her so "Wa-La!" I brought her the blue but she didn't want blue she likes red! Every time I walk through the door she goes, "There she is!" and says, "Love you," when I leave. I have to say that out of all the people I met with this summer, Reba is the most influential. It's amazing how different people have reservations and how long they hold them for for instance Reba and I really began to know each other about the second or third week. She opened up and we laughed and talked together but Frank on the other hand is still a bit shy and reserved. He will talk but you have to initiate conversation or ask questions. Thelma began to get sick about a week after I arrived at the home so although she has an amazing story, she wasn't available most times to talk about it. Floyd and I talk about as much as Reba and I do, and he was the same way- open, honest, and willing to share stories and had little reservation as far as shyness goes.
Saturday was the Fall Festival at the home and they asked me to paint faces from 10am-2pm but all it did was pour rain! The Friday before I went to visit and Floyd's mother, Frida and step-father, Hubert were there and we talked for about thirty minutes before they had to go. She told about how Floyd was always an easy-going boy growing up and "that's why I love him so much." Hubert was talking about why people ask why he looks younger than his son and if I recall, he said he was the same age as Floyd. I said, "You go girl, Frida!" It was a good visit and they are all such good people. It was so funny, while Floyd and I were sitting outside looking in the door, we saw one of the residents coming toward us. Floyd said, "Here comes your boyfriend, Amber." I said, "You are the one who caught him in your bed!" I think we bonded that day, ha!
August 15th, 2013
Last night around 8:40 Reba called me and asked where I had been all week and I told her that I was working on three paintings and one large drawing of her family- she said, "Well I have been wondering where you have been," and I said "Well, I will be there tomorrow! Would you like me to bring you some lunch," as I named a few things she said she wanted some okra that I had canned. I got off the phone with her after we exchanged "Good nights," and "Love yous," I told Lance all the anxiety about getting work finished on time and everything comes out worth it when things like that happen.
So when I got there, she tried the okra and made the funniest faces! "It's sour!" she said- I got it all on video because she had never tried pickled okra before- and I don't think she will again, haha!
Floyd was in a great mood today as you can tell by the picture. I got some things on video of him as well just talking about nurses he yells at and such, but there was a glimmer in his eye today! Finally I found out what it was too, because mid-conversation he asks if he can call his "friend," Trish. The conversation was personal, asking how her mother was and when he got off he said, "I'll catch ya later, babe." My mouth dropped! I said, "Floyd was that your woman?" He told me not really, that he cared for her but he hasn't brought up how she feels yet. He told me that he met her up north long ago and she came down here and he didn't even know it. He went on and on about his woman, which I thought was really sweet. He even introduced one of the CNAs as his "favorite!" He told me, "Everyone here thinks I am so mean." I said, "Naa, they just haven't got to know you." Which is true. Floyd has a big heart and a wild spirit. He wants to go out and walk around, ride his motorcycle, or at least go up the hill and get some coffee, but he can't. He sees all these obstacles and it makes him frustrated to be bound by rules and boundaries. But who wouldn't be?
Frank shaved his beard off and looks completely different! I asked him where the puzzle was I gave to him and he said one of the nurses took it with her to finish and bring back framed. So I don't know if he thought it was too hard and she is actually doing the work, or if he finished the puzzle and gave it to her to get framed. I told him that if he finished it, I wanted to frame it and put it in the show... so there is specific frames I get, but ... we will just have to see what happened and go from there. Besides that, Frank is always content and satisfied.
I went to see Thelma last. She is still doing much better than she has been, and was even eating on her own when I got there! She talked to me about a lot of things including some of which I got on video talking about her husband that she saw in Heaven, and all the hats she has crocheted. She got a little confused today when I was asking her generic questions like "What is your parents names and your grandparent?" She couldn't tell me if they were her parents or grandparents, and she could remember her birthday but not the year or how old she was. Other than that, she is sitting up, making eye contact, and talking- so big improvements! She let me borrow her green bag-full of hats to take pictures of. When I told her I would take care of them and bring them back she said, "No you just keep them, don't worry about it I have hundreds." She is always so sweet and giving.... but I am not falling for it like the first time I met her and she said that people just take what they want and never pay her for them! Haha! She is so little and frail, it's hard to see her that way...
August 1, 2013
Today I went to the post office and Franks 48 piece portrait puzzle arrived. When I got to the home, like always he is sitting on the porch enjoying the weather and I knew he would be excited, but when I gave it to him he said that 48 pieces is easy! I told him next time I'll just make them cut it into 1000 pieces! He really liked the painting and as much as he loves to work on things, I think this will end up being good for the both of us. When I left I went to wave and he had already jumped up and was inside showing a nurse! My plans are to have at least three collaborative pieces for the show in October. I mean, I will paint him, or something memorable to him and turn it into a puzzle so that he can work on it-then I will spray and frame it! He is always eager to work on things- mostly FINISH things. For instance, when I made the ten-page questionnaire he was the only one who had finished the whole thing in less than a week! When he gave it back to me he said, "Do you have anything else I can work on," as I looked around his room at the numerous already framed puzzles (more than 48 pieces).
I went to see Thelma last Thursday and she was sitting up in the bed. The nurse had been feeding her lunch, but she looked and acted so much better. I was and still am surprised how well she acted because for the past month probably her family had been taking turns staying with her and hospice nurses caring for her. She never seemed to look me in the eyes and recognize me that whole time, but really we only spent such a short time together before she got put in hospice- how would she recognize me? Her daughter Barbara talked about when Thelma would get water from the spring and had to walk it all the way back up to the house. She talked about what a great mom and hard-worker she was. I remember one of the first times I met her and we talked in the waiting room while she crocheted a hat for a baby. She said, "Some of these people in here are not right." and she would point and tell me things on the residents around us. She seemed to know everyone and if she didn't she had great stories about them! Right before spitting her chewing tobacco out in a bottle, she'd dig through her green bag she made herself and show me all the little hats she made. I decided that I am going to paint each and every one of these hats. Show her work and care-
June 20, 2013
I am disappointed in myself that I haven't kept up with my blog, but honesty I am figuring out that it takes more than standard questions and recordings of stories to get to know someone, which seems obvious but given the timeline of only a summer to do so- means finding shortcuts (or so I thought). For instance I can tell you that Reba Laney was born in Monroe County Tennessee to parents, John and Francis Ritchey, and she had 10 other siblings. That wouldn't give you much insight into who she really was or what kinds of things she thinks about and her personality traits. I have been struggling with this lately on how I can really get who these people are and there is really only one way to do this. SPEND TIME WITH THAT PERSON. It was naive for me to have thought I can get early pictures and record them answering generic questions such as, "What was your first pet," but like last week, I was telling Reba and her roommate Zella that I got a job in the mornings feeding this lady's cats. When I was leaving she said, "Okay go attend to your cats," and laughed along with Zella, which clearly they were making fun of me. She later told me a story on why she hated cats which was hilarious along with her picking on me because she has been so conservative up to this point, which I learned that sweet little innocent Reba has a sassy and mischievous side.
A lot of things have been going on this month. May 28th was the last time that I spoke with Thelma she was sitting on her bed, fully alert and was showing me more of her crocheting. She told me a short story of a dream she had a long time ago that she had reunited with her husband in Heaven. Ever since then she has been admitted into her own room receiving Hospice while her family rotates day and night staying with her. I have seen her about four times in the past week and every time her daughter Barbara is sitting with her and she tells me stories about Thelma getting water from the spring and one story where the Christmas tree fell over and scared her almost to death. Now the nurses check her and say that her blood pressure is dropping and she is getting weaker. The first time I visited her they had her highly medicated and she wasn't cognitive but today I went in and she was very responsive. The nurse had to turn her and she moaned but I came over and she held my hand and when I told her that I loved her she said she loved me too. It's touching that in a moment of pain or suffering two strangers can be family.
Floyd has been loaning me his albums (if you have noticed in the picture gallery under his name). They are wonderful pictures but I wish I could show you the actual picture. They are Polaroids, small and textured with nostalgic color- it's really neat! I have decided to show Floyd's images through MANY small panels (that I got from Jerry's today!) I was thinking have the large portrait (6'X41/2') beside numerous little protruding panels of different sizes from the old albums, his trips and the people he knew. I was thinking for Frank he loves to do puzzles so if I can choose an image of him to paint, I can get it made into a puzzle to put into the gallery once he completes it! Thelma, I am going to ask the family if I can use all of her crochet hats and things to hang up along with her portrait- Nelley....
Nelley really has given me the most difficulty. It is impossible to build a relationship with her because she has so much trouble remembering short term things, so in order to get answers to questions from her you must out think and out talk her- which proves nearly impossible- if you watch the videos uploaded of her you can see what I mean. So... my biggest challenge, who is Nelley? I have to begin to get in contact with her daughter, so that maybe she can give me a clearer insight.
Marcia, my adviser keeps telling me "remember you are DOCUMENTING" to keep my mind on track and not lose sight of my goal. It is easy to convince myself that what I am doing wont live up to my expectations or those of others.