Sketches of Mom – July 2011

Mom at Western Medical Center, Santa Ana 22 July 2011 - ink on paper in sketchbook, approximately 8.5"x11"

After a little over a week in the hospital, after a fall, my mother died. Here are some sketches I did of her while she lay unconscious in the hospital. You can click on each image for a somewhat higher resolution version.

Sorry, some of these might be a little gruesome… though all this stuff was what needed to save and sustain her life… and I am very grateful to the nurses and physicians and other hospital folks who did their heroic best for her. They actually saw me sketching and would take photos of my drawings and tell other workers to check them out.

I’ve selected four of the most finished ones, and arranged them in chronological order. The sketch above was the first one I did, the first afternoon I saw her during this hospital stay. Her head was shaved. Her eye sockets were swollen. Her neck was in a brace that looked a little like some sort of fierce science fiction movie exo-skeleton. An appurtenance stuck out of her head – which I found was monitoring “inter-cranial pressure.” She had tubes through mouth and nose, and some sort of apparatus that braces itself on her cheeks and moors the tubes in front of her face.

I think that this one is my favorite image of the ones I did in this series:

Mom at Western Medical Center C.C.U. 24 July 2011 - ink on paper in sketchbook, about 8.5"x11"

The above one I drew standing up, which got a slightly better angle; the others I drew white sitting down. I think because I was standing up, my back and knee can get tired, so I didn’t bother with all the extraneous background detail that the top drawing has. Leaving out the extra stuff ended up with what I think is a good triangular composition, including  interesting diagonals that draw one’s eyes across the image. This sketch has a more full view of the stitches on her head; she bled into her brain, so they actually removed a piece of the skull to reduce the pressure on the brain to save her life.

Here’s the first drawing I did after her brace came off:

Mom 29 July 2011 - ink on paper in sketchbook, about 5"x5"

This one was after her brain swelling went down, and the hospital took her off drugs that were keeping her in a coma. She didn’t respond at all… never regaining consciousness. I think that once they had her brain stuff in a more-or-less steady state, they could remove the inter-cranial pressure monitor… then the could check to make sure she didn’t have any spinal injuries… and once they confirmed that, they could remove the neck brace thing. I remember thinking that she seemed a lot more peaceful at that point… though, at points, her heart raced and she appeared to struggle to breath. The image above conveys some of the peaceful moments, though.

And here’s the image I did late in the afternoon the day before we took her off life support:

Mom at Western Medical Center 30 July 2011 4:50pm, ink on paper in sketchbook, about 8.5"x11"

She was also pretty peaceful at that time… and would go quietly the next day. There was a big sort of napkin thing that I was tempted to remove (the entire left foreground of the image), so I could draw more of her… but I tend to, when drawing from life, not alter too many scenes too deliberately (I do make mistakes, though – but that’s another story) – and just draw what I see. I think that the napkin ended up creating an interesting diagonal… and perhaps conveys an image a drowning person – almost entirely covered by the sea – taking what might be a final breath… but I am kind of reading that into it, too.

Feels odd to describe these in terms of artwork… but, hey, this is the blog where I post my art and write about it… For more of the stories behind these images, and my mom, check out this and this at my other blog The Periodic Fable.

I did a few other drawings of her, her hands, feet, etc. but the four posted here were the ones I think were most successful, most complete. Often I would start to draw her or part of her, and then hospital staff would perform needed tasks and alter the composition somewhat… which I was totally fine with… but I do have quite a few half-finished sketches from this series. Truth be told, I have a lot more half-finished sketches for all kinds of reasons… and it’s all good. Sketches are sketches and I try not to be too precious about them.


8 responses to “Sketches of Mom – July 2011

  1. Very beautiful and thank you for sharing a piece of your soul, in both your grief and with your work.

  2. Those are very moving photos Joe. You capture in yr images and words the love and sadness that often gets obscured in our doctor world. I wish all hospital staff could see this to remind us of our collective humanity.

  3. Joe,

    I don’t know what to say exactly, hmm, except that these are beautiful, and that it was a very lovely, intimate thing to do, being with her and seeing her so closely. It’s wonderful, you are wonderful, I think of you and am looking forward to seeing your self in LA soon, with my pals Jane and Marisha.

    Love for always,
    Marky L

  4. I’m really touched – and beyond that, speechless – with your capacity to be with your Mom and yourself and all who discover your heartfelt expressions.

  5. Martha Fellows

    So intense and gentle!

  6. Joe, these are very moving and very brave. You really SAW your mother and faced her suffering and your hand (and your heart) do not waver. I am really touched that you shared these.

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