“Art has power that flows beyond mere understanding. It nourishes and sustains…indeed, some call it ‘food for the soul.’”
At For Love & Art’s genesis, I penned these words seemingly out of nowhere. I speak it to people and gauge their reactions. There’s an ancient and profound recognition here. People are inspired and intuitively concur.
I am a hospice volunteer and practitioner of therapeutic art.
One of my hospice patients, “Sammy,” died last night. I knew him a little, but I knew him a lot. On our first meeting (for me, often awkward—so many small-talk visits before a rich relationship arises, from which intimate conversations spring), Sammy was bedridden for two weeks and clutched his bedcovers up around his chin. He seemed so very weak, distant, and frail…I thought he might pass at any moment.
I happened to have a Virtual Museum ArtBook with me and I asked him if he liked art. He said, “sure.” We went to The Met, digitally.
One after another, beautiful images from among the greatest artists in the world emerged: the majestic Matterhorn at dawn; a lush, green meadow graced by budding dogwoods at dusk; a young couple stealing a kiss in a rose garden, and so on.
It was the seventh or eighth image – a rustic painting of a snow-covered red cabin in the woods – during which the magic happened (image below).
Sammy exclaimed, “This reminds me of when I was a little boy and my parents let me visit my grandmother for a couple of weeks every winter in Western Pennsylvania. Boy, the snow was so high, it was taller than the top of my head!”
Sammy went on and on about these trips to Grandma’s house, how much fun he had in this winter wonderland, how scrumptiously she cooked and how very much he loved her. Clearly, this woman was the great love of his life. He shared about her and their relationship so very wholly and generously, almost as if she were standing right beside him.
It was easy for me to listen to him without bias or interruption. What an honor to witness someone profusely sharing such joy! Sammy was in the presence of how very much his Grandmother had loved him, and how very much he loved her. Herein lies the sweetness of life.
Before either of us knew it, two hours flew by, and then Sammy announced, “Mark, I have to go to the bathroom.”
I said, “Okay, Sammy, let me help you up.” And he said, “No bother…”
…and he flung off the bedsheets, hopped out of bed (imagine my surprise), pranced to the bathroom to do his business, pranced back and bounced right back into bed – like he was a kid again. I reckon he was…
I’ve been with Sammy for about 6 hours total…not a very long relationship, one would think. And yet, he was a very dear friend, and his passing so saddens me. You see, I knew him a little, yet I knew him a lot. I’ve been here before – I’m a hospice volunteer, after all – once grief has come and gone, a sense of honor and respect and gratitude settles in: Wasn’t I lucky to have known this great man, even if just for a little while?
Okay, a couple of things here:
1. That conversation about the love of Sammy’s life wasn’t going to happen so quickly without the ‘cabin in the woods’ painting. One’s experience while viewing artwork triggers very important conversations for people, and sharing these elevates the quality of life psychosocially, cognitively, spiritually, and physically for all participants.
2. I walked out of that room in love with that man and he was in love with me. I triumphed as a volunteer. Listening to that conversation without bias bonded us deeply, emotionally, in an instant. One might say we were co-joined spiritually; not as “Mark” and “Sammy” but as Love and Gratitude, expressed.
3. That single conversation altered the context of Sammy’s last days. No longer was he worried about dying, having done life right, existential angst or fear of what’s to come. No, he was basking in the glow of a life well lived. He loved so many great people and they loved him. “Thank you, God, for this great ride!”
“Art has power that flows beyond mere understanding. It nourishes and sustains…indeed, some call it food for the soul”…starting with our own.
For Love & Art is a nonprofit enterprise that partners with fine museums around the world to bring the Art Experience to people with limited mobility. We stimulate art appreciation while empowering caregivers to love people in creative and transformative ways.
Mark Blair W. Lombard
For Love & Art
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