The ultimate creative act

46

Dear Artist,

Yesterday afternoon, a group of old friends carefully gathered to celebrate my Mum, Carol’s life. We were perched upon a hill in a light-filled space, while late summer’s Scotch-mist dabbled at the landscape outside. Among those who spoke were my Mum’s oldest friends. While each relationship possessed its own unique intimacy, a central theme emerged: “She took pleasure in my triumphs.” “She shared in my heartaches.” “There were so many hilarious moments.” Here, in part, is what I added:

Two Figures in a Dory, 1937 watercolor by Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009)

Two Figures in a Dory, 1937
watercolor
by Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009)

A hobby painter my Dad used to tell me about by the name of Winston Churchill, said, “When I die and go to heaven, I want to spend the first million years painting – so I can get to the bottom of the subject.” Ideally, we need about the same amount of time to get to the bottom of the similarly mysterious and magical subject of motherhood. As a woman, as an artist, and as the child of a very good mother, it has long been a central question. Where does it begin? Where does it end? What is it, exactly? Like art, it comes from a primal drive. Like art, it takes over your life. Like art, it seems to morph quickly into a kind of extremely effective emotional hostage situation. And while it’s a slow-burn, it appears to claim its all-emcompassing role by way of destiny. It’s the kind of dream that requires a one-way embarkation into heartache and ineffable devotion.

Airborne, 1996 Tempera 40 x 48 inches by Andrew Wyeth

Airborne, 1996
Tempera
40 x 48 inches
by Andrew Wyeth

In British English, the beginning of motherhood is signified with the word, “falling,” as in, “she ‘fell’ pregnant.” It is, of course, the same word we use to signify the beginning of love. For both, at the threshold and thereafter, there is work. Motherhood is, quite literally, and most often by necessity, labour. But regardless of how one arrives within it, it is most certainly willed into being by way of love, by way of surrender, of suffering and heroic grit. Through all of this, it is the choice of joy. Like painting, many do it, but to do it well, requires something very special.

And the thing about motherhood is that it is never the beginning of the story. The story begins with a person. It just becomes everything, because by doing it, this person becomes someone else’s everything. Much later, if we are lucky to have our mothers for long enough, and if we are curious enough to inquire and participate, their roles as mothers become intertwined with a wider and longer adventure of existence and human expression.

Apples on a Bough, Study Before Picking, 1942 by Andrew Wyeth

Apples on a Bough, Study Before Picking, 1942
by Andrew Wyeth

David and James and I grew up in a house where Dad worked in his studio from 5am until 8pm with a snooze at 5:40 and dinner at 6. Mum did everything else. That everything else, while life-defining and family defining, now softens into an embodiment of character and values, and lingers, drenched in gratitude, as simply a part of her enduring gifts. Every detail of her allegiance to us is, indeed, an important stone in the cathedral that is our family. But we are all, and she is, more than just a million music lessons. Than a million trips down the King George Highway in the rain, or her wet and muddy shoes on the sideline of the Crescent Park soccer field, or her ears, her eyes, her care and witnessing in recital, adjudication, prize-giving; the middle of the night, bad news, good news; a winter coat, swimming lessons, the doctor’s office, tears. More than a million bacon and eggs and packed lunches and late nights at the sewing machine.

Indeed, I’ve long believed that every family has a culture, and is therefore, a kind of mini-cult. Some families fracture, or at least part of the orthodoxy is rejected and new allegiances or systems are formed. Most often, one parent may more strongly define the culture and everyone orbits their sun. Our Dad was easy and inspiring to follow. But it was our Mum who engaged with her own humanity by engaging with the world; who hopped into her ‘66 Austin Healey Sprite, her babies in cuddle seats, and drove down to the community tennis court. There, she modelled what it means to flesh out a life of participation, community, friendship and sportsmanship. My Dad would often tell me, when describing my Mum’s superior intelligence and grace, that she never dropped the ball. “Not once,” he said. I knew this to be true. I had never seen her drop it, either.

Self Portrait, Snow Hill, 1989 by Andrew Wyeth

Self Portrait, Snow Hill, 1989
by Andrew Wyeth

Sincerely,

Sara

PS: “Motherhood is the biggest gamble in the world. It is the glorious life force. It’s huge and scary — it’s an act of infinite optimism.” (Gilda Radner)

Esoterica: Art, it is said, is a good path to immortality. But it is motherhood that is eternal, that lives forever, glimmering within the humanity of a courageous and devoted person, and sparkling in the lucky beneficiaries of such a profound love. This spring, ours found a lump in her armpit. Early on the morning of July 31st, I held her in my arms. “You are the light of my life,” she’d whispered to me. “You are my purpose and meaning,” I wept into her. “I’m going to miss you so much.” At her highest expression of the grace, practicality, beauty and elegance that she lived every day of her life, her eyes replied, “You can do it.”

“One’s art goes as far and as deep as one’s love goes.” (Andrew Wyeth


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46 Comments

    • Dear Sara,
      I love how you describe your lovely and loving mom so beautifully. I also want to say that the photograph of your mom on the beach shows her elegance, which you also bring out in your memories of her.
      My mom passed away of cancer when I was 31. I am now a grandma. She got to see my boys for the first five years of their lives and relished every minute with them. Every visit with her was like a birthday party. My sons adored her.
      I feel for you and your brothers. From the time I somehow discovered your dad on line, I had such a strong sense of what an amazing person he was and that he must have a wonderful family. In his writing, his wholesome
      persona was so captivating. I have a volume of his letters which is an absolute treasure. So are you Sara. I wish you and your brothers good health and long happy lives.
      I thought my mother would live forever.
      Thank you for sharing the grace of your family.

      F. Richland

  1. Dear Sara – Thank you for your beautiful letter about motherhood and your mother. I found it very moving . Our mother’s were so similar as they did absolutely everything on the home front while the men went to work. My mother was, and still is at 90, the glue that keeps our multigenerational family together.

  2. My mom passed away from pancreatic cancer a month before my tenth birthday.

    Our family dynamic was forever changed.

    Your memories and her friends memories
    of her make me long for what could have been.

  3. Your family’s history is so beautiful. Your posts make me have faith in humanity even though this degree of love was not my experience. You cannot imagine the anticipation and pleasure I receive in reading them and the help you have been for my art. I love your little corner of the world.

  4. Dear Sara, David, and James and family

    Twas very moving tribute to a classy and dedicated woman yesterday- may she be with you always in your hearts AND in ALL you do

    Sincerely, Brenda Mickleburgh

  5. Bless your heart, a beautiful tribute. It is wonderful that you truly appreciated your Mum. Sorrow is a difficult path but you are walking it with grace. Peace be with you.

  6. Once again Sara dear you leave me breathless. This beautiful letter is so powerful and filled with so much love and wisdom. Your mum lives on with you and your brothers and the grands. Sending you our love. Joan and Mike

  7. Very touching and beautifully written tribute to your mother Sara. I just had a conversation with my 29 year old daughter about her childhood and my regrets as I was a working mother, the main bread winner. Without provocation, she reassured me that she had the best childhood and she wouldn’t change a thing. Motherhood is hard, a very big challenge, but the most rewarding endeavour. I’m sure your mother gave it her all because it made her happy and fulfilled to do so.

  8. Lynn Haygood Lee on

    Thank you, and was so moved by your beautiful testament to an incredible mother. The ultimate creativity, indeed.

  9. An only child, I lost my mother to “a lump” at 21 soon after my first child was born. I felt her spirit hovering for about ten years, as long as I needed. Now at 92 being loved by my four children, the memory of her lives in my art. Thank you, Sara.

  10. Your words were from the heart and it was obvious to all of us who read them. You painted the love your mother gave each of you on paper and it showed that she was the masterpiece of motherhood, the kind of mother many would have liked to have had. Not everyone is so fortunate to have such loving and caring parents. I was fortunate to have a loving caring mother, but she became ill with cancer when I was in high school and it drained her away she fought it for 25 years and died at only 62. Still miss her smile and caring. You will miss Carol all your life but you have so many good fond memories to make you smile. Her love was eternal and will always be with you. Prayers for comfort and for her light to kindle your creativity in your art through those loving memories. Keep painting Sara and live and enjoy every day!

    All the best

    Paul

  11. A heartfelt and thoughtful tribute to your mum. Thanks for sharing it with all of us. I love it that you see a family as a mini cult…..that gives me a cosy feeling, so true.

  12. A loving tribute from a loving daughter.

    As someone who chose to be child-free, and chose to not experience motherhood in any form, do I now have no chance at “the ultimate creative act”? Or do I define that act in another manner?

  13. You definitely painted an accurate picture of what motherhood can be. The power that keeps my exhausted soul going is the love of my husband and family. Not easy to be the glue that keeps things all seeming okay around here, but what a gift it is to have that quality. I miss your Mum, too, after reading this, Sara. I never met her, but I see how much she was a part of all those beautiful masterpieces I enjoyed admiring over the decades done by your Dad. Thank you for your words. So beautiful!

  14. Thank you, Sara, for sharing your heart with all of us. Your parents were very special people and you have suffered great loss in a short time. I pray that the God of all comfort will comfort you and your brothers in the days ahead. Ecclesiastes tells us there is a time to be born and a time to die. In between God has a plan for each one of us. He has put into us gifts and abilities to use for His glory. Your parents knew that plan for themselves and lived it using those gifts and talents. Lean into Him during this time of grieving the loss of your mom. He loves you and will be your burden bearer. I pray you will know His comfort.

  15. Thank you for writing such a beautiful tribute to your mother, one that reminds me of my own mother, my wife who is the mother to my daughter, who is herself the mother to two young sons. Your words are always an inspiration. My condolences to you and your family.

  16. Angelika Ouellette on

    My mom just turned 90. She’s on her third computer and has had iPhones, Androids and Blackberry. Her loving presence and interest in life spills all over us that love her. I cannot imagine life without her. Sending you warm thoughts and lots of love and a huge Spirit hug to your mom.

  17. WILFRIDA CHAPPELLE on

    It was a pleasure, Sara, to witness and hear the tributes to your dear Mom. She was a special lady and may the wonderful memories of you mother’s love comfort you & your brothers at this time.

    Willie Chappelle

  18. I too, was touched by your tribute to your Mother. I admire your bravery and eloquence at this difficult time. May God bless and keep you and your family, Sincerely, Alice

  19. Being a mother is a supremely creative act. As an artist myself, I never thought I would have the time or the money to be able to afford the stability to have a family with children but life is funny that way. At forty-six my own mother was still alive and able to comment about my own newborn and although we grew closer in the passing years, she never approved of my parenting choices. Still, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. If I had the choice to have painted Guernica or had my son? I’d pick motherhood any day. But then, my son is perfect. To be a mother is a blessed experience, and an art in itself.

  20. Such a beautiful, loving tribute to your Mum. Very poetic. You not only create art with paints, but you create art with your lovely and inspiring words. How blessed you are to have had a Mother like this. I hope my children will see me in this light one day. I hope I can be half the Mother to my sons as yours was to you. God bless!

  21. My condolences to you Sarah and your family….the posts about your Mother’s family, her passing and gratitude and happiness and Motherhood, have all touched me on a very deep level…..thank you and God Bless you.

  22. Sara, what a wonder you are—the creation of two incredible humans you are privileged to call your parents. This letter is a brilliant tribute to your mother. I can only imagine how proud of you she was. I hope knowing you carry her essence within you, gives you the comfort and strength to continue to shine the way you do. My most sincere condolences to you and your family on your loss.

  23. Terry Zoeller on

    Tears in my eyes. My mother, also an artist shared a similar fate to yours. She was simply everything to me. I am also an artist and find your words and sought quotations pertinent, moving and wonderful.
    Love to you and your family.

  24. Sheilah Wilcynski on

    Dear Sara, thank you for your beautiful words. They have touched me in so many ways. My deepest condolences on the loss of your dear mother, and so soon after your father. They both are still with you and live on in the gifts you share. Bless you and wishing you peace.

  25. Dear Sara, I am receiving and enjoying your letters since a few years now and did not often react… This time however, I have to… I am so sorry for your loss… Your mom must have been wonderful! I lost my wonderful mother when I was only 15… Although she lives on in me and in my children, I regret the fact I so seldom can meet with people who also knew her. It is so important… Covid times, during which so often friends are not allowed to come to funerals, are showing us how important saying good bye really is…

    I admire the fact that you are making time to meat with your mom’s friends to talk about her with them, allowing them to also say goodbye to her… Your writings about your mom and family touch the heart of the matter… You make us all relive our own family happiness and losses…

    Besides, you really are an excellent very talented writer!

    Thank you, Myriam

  26. Thank you for this beautiful letter, Sara. Your family is a stellar example of the best kind of family culture. I feel honored and graced by having known your parents. You and your brothers spread their love further along. All the best to you and yours.

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