watercolor and pastel painting of briones park by emily weil

daily painting | briones

Well. (This exclamation makes me remember my mom exhaling this word, usually to voice disapproval — funny thought to photo-bomb my brain). This is kind of today’s pause to reflect on my life situation. Lots going on — changes and hope and healing and surprises and absorption of the reality of my world in this present moment. That my brother is no longer on the earth. That my heart is healing and is open. That I get to paint every day. That I’m sometimes a reluctant grownup having to deal with things in my house that break.

Thought I’d post this recent painting which is part of the series of commissioned paintings of Briones Park as a partial trade for my new roof. I’m happy and excited to be an artist — this series is boosting my confidence as a painter. Three done, two to go.

Life is a crazy rocket-ride! I miss my brother every day and the tears sometimes ambush me and I’m OK with that. We loved each other deeply and this grief is part of that love. I often think about our time spent together while he was sick, so grateful for the sweet connection we shared. And today I’m also thankful that I can now call my brother’s friends mine too. So cool. Life is rich. I’m very fortunate.

24″ x 48″ ink, watercolor, pastel on paper

 

 

 

watercolor of poppy by emily weil

daily painting | briones poppy

“Grieving is a full time job.” So says my wise and wonderful therapist who is herself grieving her dad who died recently. This helps me relax a little. Oh that I could be that fictitious genteel Victorian woman who would be sent off to a year-long tour of Europe to recover from her loss. What a wonderful dream.

But no. We live in modern times and very few of us can take twelve months away from daily living to work through painful losses. Which is why I’m absorbing the reality that I have things that break in my house and they need to be fixed despite how I feel. Life problems present themselves (broken water heater) and it feels like the end of the world! Which of course it isn’t. And yes these are first-world problems. Which wipe me off the road in a messy mudslide.

So? And now? Well, practicing self-compassion. As I’ve ranted about before, our culture gives us about three weeks to get over a death. Move on, people say. Don’t live in the past. (SO helpful.) Which makes one withdraw more deeply into the grief process, which can be horribly lonely. But, you know what? I have compassion for those who have had painful losses. It can take years — YEARS — to work through grief. Which is a sign of a big heart  — if we didn’t love deeply, we wouldn’t feel the pain of loss. Yay for us.

So I’m deeply grateful that what’s in front of me is creating art. I’m working on a series of commissions, and I completed this one today. I’m doing large paintings from photos of Briones, as a partial trade for my new roof that was installed last year. The client has been exceedingly patient with me, as I took time for brother-care and then did some traveling late last year. And now as I work daily on this project, I’m grateful to experience the joy of being an artist. Once again I am thankful to Leigh Hyams and for her Esalen art workshop I stumbled into in 2008. She gave me a whole new life direction. And it’s good.

32″ x 32″ ink, watercolor, pastel on paper

 

 

 

watercolor and pastel painting of red tail hawk by emily weil

daily painting | red tail

Well, hell. That’s kind of my response to most things these days. But really I can’t complain — I’m safe, and now dry, in my home, my brother’s demise from brain cancer is slow, which creates room for lots of sweet and moving and healing conversations about family, and I’m getting a bit more rest which is leading to more energy for painting. Life is weird and strange and brilliant and wondrous and crazy and stormy and wrenching. All of that. I just want to soak it all up and experience everything, you know? Grief turns you inside and out and shakes you upside down, and the damn bitch has her own timetable. Which is frustrating. And today this is my life, and I embrace it. Often with resentment. But I’m learning acceptance. 

This carnival ride can be lonely. I love the response I heard recently from a counselor who several years ago lost her husband in a tragic kayaking accident; a year later her brother suddenly died. She gave me great comfort, as we talked about how our western world is deeply uncomfortable with the raw emotions that come with loss — you’re supposed to take a pill and chill out, as strong feelings make people squirm. She spoke of her experiences with some people in her orbit who lacked “emotional courage.” Someone told her that she should just “get over it; it’s been long enough.” And, “I’m sorry I didn’t call, I just didn’t know what to say.” Her reply to that was, “Google it! Takes 5 minutes!” which made me howl with laughter.

Giggling is good. Sometimes I seek out a comedy show, as I know laughing will make me feel better. Other times I watch a movie I know will make me weep. Both are healing. And necessary.

[This is a painting done for the president of the roofing company that replaced my roof; I bartered artwork for partial payment for the costs. This juvenile red-tailed hawk likes to hang out on the railing outside his window, hunting ground squirrels.]

30″ x 22″ watercolor, pencil, ink, pastel on paper

 

 

 

watercolor and ink painting of peruvian lilies

daily painting | peruvian lilies

Over the last weeks I’ve gotten my paints out to poke around at being an artist pretty regularly, but without uploadable results. Today after a blast of a morning playing at my new passion, paddling in a dragon boat in the alameda estuary, I came home to draw and paint, doing my best to be heedless of results. Good thing, too — I photographed some lovely sunflowers in Seattle two weeks ago as I wandered through my sister’s old neighborhood (we scattered her ashes in her favorite park), wanting SO badly to produce a good sunflower watercolor. Nope (they were OK, just not up to par). So I decided to do a wet, sloppy painting of these lovely purple Peruvian lilies from Trader Joe’s. 

It’s an excellent October afternoon — a few breezes (not as bad as forecast), slightly overcast skies, comfortable temps, smoke-free air. Enough sun to dry the paints when I prop the painting in the window.

And again I lean hard into the things that keep me right-side up. As my brother fades from brain cancer (fatigue, wobbliness but thankfully no headaches or seizures; he’s mostly still lucid) I find myself feeling skinless and vulnerable and out-to-sea most of the time. I’m learning to accept this state of my mind and heart. It’s exceedingly painful and uncomfortable but I certainly have no control over my desperate, excruciating emotions (and a pox on those who blow “toxic positivity” in my direction — do look that one up). And so be it, dammit. I’m here. I’m showing up. I’m trying really hard not to be an asshole (with splotches of success). Getting outdoors in nature (Tomales Bay was a treat last week) and getting out my watercolors and bending the ears of my compassionate pals are my mainstays. I don’t know where I am on any map. Can’t tell where I’m going; I am without a horizon. But as I write this my guinea pig Buster Posey is foraging in his cage for small-animal hay and making cute noises, I’m roasting some veggies in the oven (the thyme smells deliciously fragrant), the view outside my window of the marina is beautiful and calming, and I wave to my neighbors walking by on the docks. Life is awful. Life is hard. Life is wonderful. Life is amazing. 

10″ x 10″ ink, watercolor on paper = $130

 

 

 

water-soluble graphite painting of sweetgum tree by emily weil

daily painting | sweetgum tree

On the lovely Aldersly grounds in San Rafael, the skilled nursing facility where my brother now resides, there is a large, lovely shade tree on a lawn near a bench where Jim likes to rest after he does a few laps on the pathways in his walker to stretch his daddylonglegs (he’s 6’5”). Yesterday I rode my bike down to an Alameda nursery to ask for help in IDing the tree; with their help my best guess is American Sweetgum (Jim and I are curious).

Jim (or James or Jamey depending on my mood) thinks it would be nice to die under that tree. I agree. We have lots of deep talks about his ending as the galloping brain cancer takes over, and he may decide to use the MAID (“Medical Aid In Dying”) drugs to end things sooner rather than later so he can fulfill his desire to die outside. Lots of ongoing discussions on that topic. 

Yesterday was a rest day. I was knackered; a recent talk with bro was emotional and intense as we hashed out my concerns he is married to someone who emotionally batters him (there have been many conversations along those lines in recent years). I’ve long been concerned for him, as have been his closest friends who adore him. But the bashing has been so effective he adapts rather than confronts. I am nervous about explicitly writing about this family drama, but the model of abused/abuser is classic — denial, obfuscation, excuses — and I believe in being open about these painful topics as it’s something we don’t talk about. And we need to talk about it. I’d worry a bit if I was alone in my view, but his considerable group of supporters all share the same opinion.  

And I am powerless. Except to support and love him as he gets ready to leave this world and I am glad for him. No more brain cancer, no more Parkinson’s, no more spousal assaults. He’ll be done. The thought of being left behind makes me double over with stabbing stomach pains. But here I am. Armed with my pink pepto-bismol. I’ll be OK. 

10″ x 10″ ink, artgraf graphite, ink, watercolor on paper = $130

 

 

 

watercolor, ink and acrylic painting of pink flowers by emily weil

daily painting | albany front yard

I took out my phone to photograph a delightful front yard I strolled past in residential Albany last week. Pink flowers, backlit in the morning sun, danced like delicate, tutu-adorned ballerinas. They were lovely. When I got out my paints yesterday, at first I painted from a photo of an enormous magnolia blossom blooming in the tree outside my brother’s skilled nursing facility but the results were flat and dull. So I roamed around my photos and found these cute little pinkies and did painting #2.

I had a whole day at home yesterday and could get my house back into shape a bit and make a nice meal (“lemony pasta”). While waiting for layers of watercolor to dry I did chores, and it felt good to tidy up the lily pad. I’ll head back to San Rafael for brother-time this afternoon, as I miss him on those days I stay home. Precious times, these are. My heart is broken but I am fully, energetically, juicily alive and paying attention as I make this nutty, sad journey. Most days I do not feel like getting out of bed. But I still have to get to the bathroom. And then, hell, I might as well make a cup of tea. After that, yes, there’s always stuff to do.

8″ x 8″ ink, watercolor, pastel on paper = $85

 

 

 

watercolor, ink painting of roses by emily weil

daily painting | roses

Tired, so tired. Friends at times remind me how taxing caregiving is, and how exhausting grieving is. Yes and amen; I’m there. And trying to cut myself some slack as I hear inner voices telling me I’m lazy or I should be more productive. Get back, mean critics who live in my head! Go and bully someone else (happy to share a few suggestions).

I have frequent conversations with myself. Sometimes I am gentle and follow my therapist’s direction to be as loving and compassionate with myself as I am with my dying, vulnerable brother. Sometimes I feel like an utter failure in life, wondering how I got here. Other times I think I am brave and sturdy, getting up every day and moving forward. 

My dear bro is considering end-of-life options, perhaps employing MAID — Medical Assistance in Dying. Either with this choice or letting the cancer take over his brain, he has an abbreviated future. And I support whatever he chooses. It is, after all, completely up to him. Some in the fam disapprove of this possibility and I hope he follows his own truth. He’s so steady — a decent and kind man. The staff in his skilled nursing facility are fond of him as he is not demanding or difficult. But his life is small and getting smaller, and though he is not in pain, it isn’t a happy existence. And he lets me frequently pester him to get up and take a walk outside or ask him to tell me anecdotes from his 79 years on the planet or discuss the dynamics in our family or explore death options. These moments are often sweet and intimate and I will hold them dearly in my heart for the rest of my years. I am deeply grateful. 

10″ x 10″ ink, watercolor, pastel on paper = $130

 

 

 

painting of magnolia seedpod by emily weil

daily painting | seed pod

At my brother’s previous home, Marin Terrace in Mill Valley, a real shithole of a nursing facility (I will be filing complaints), the one saving grace was that there was an outside patio with a huge magnolia tree that provided shade and a pleasant place to sit and chat and visit. After the flowers bloomed (the luscious beauties only lasted a day or two), these seedpods would be left behind and they were so beautifully designed — such a fascinating and sturdy structure. My bro would pick them up and play with them, and so would I — the stem had a kind of velvety feel to it.

So since my bro has now moved to a much nicer facility (Aldersly in San Rafael) I thought I’d draw/paint one of these pods which I’d saved. He needs some fresh artwork for his new room so I’ll bring him this one today.

Death and dying and grief are part of my world, daily. Sorrow joins me every day at the table and takes my hand and I accept those frequent visits. Yesterday I learned that my wonderful new friend Sandy lost her husband suddenly from a heart attack. No warning. Sandy purchased my childhood home in Mill Valley and has lived there for 50 years and through a few crazy-wonderful turns of events we have become connected (sometimes I even stay at the house, thanks to her generosity). Russ was a lovely, kind man. I did not know him well but was very fond of him, and he was very sweet to me. RIP dear Russ. Please look after Sandy. I will try to too.

7″ x 9″ ink, artgraf graphite on paper