The most affecting experience I’ve had this week has been finding and then going through the artwork and photographs in a resident’s room for her memorial. I was lucky there was such a large cache to go through and I’m disappointed her remaining wants nothing to do with them.
First of all, the artwork is rather nice. It’s not something that will blow anyone away, some hidden Picasso or Chagall, but she had talent and a flair for drawing that comes through nicely. The photos of her sculptures were also impressive: some were horizontal, like a woman looking as if she were coasting through the waves, and were these massive, granite slabs often teetering as if playing with gravity, while others were vertical, like one that resembled a stylized milkweed, and willowy and slim.
But what really affected me was the implication of these photos and artwork that our residents were not always the people in the conditions that they are in now. Intellectually, we all know that. But as I sorted through the work in the interns’ office, sometimes holding something up and saying to anyone there, “look at this,” we were reminded constantly of that fact and commented on it. After her memorial, I showed the display to a nurse who had known her when she was still mobile and somewhat verbal before disassembling it, and she was like a little girl pawing through the work and saying over and over, “she was really, really young once.” I think that’s the takeaway from this experience, that while we’re all aware these folks had previous, maybe extraordinary lives, it’s nonetheless good to be reminded that those lives often didn’t include whatever illness or disability defines them for us now.