A Portrait of the Artist as a 93-Year-Old Man
“When are you coming back?” he asked. I laughed, the laundry from my trip still in the hamper.
Life is getting harder for Papa. Nearing 94, his body is wearing down while his daily pill count is going up, resembling a bag of Skittles. His mind is still sharp, though the edges have softened. Like many elderly, his days are the same, mirror images of the one before. One burden of growing older is feeling like there’s nothing to look forward to, so it’s no surprise many elderly take anti-depressants.
During this last visit, on a whim I placed a piece of white paper and black marker in front of Papa. Then I put a glass vase filled with roses on the table. “Draw this,” I told him.
“What do I know from drawing?” he said. The only thing my grandfather ever drew was a list of which customers at his grocery store owed him money.
“Just try,” I said. He lifted the marker; his arthritic knuckles gripping it gently. Then he rested his head in his left hand and drew. I wasn’t expecting Picasso. I wasn’t expecting anything more than what the exercise might give him. Papa finally put down the marker. It wasn’t Picasso. It was better. Because for those few minutes he forgot about the aches and pains, about his time coming to an end and the horrible memories still struggling for space inside his head.
“Excellent!” I told him, and stuck it to the fridge. The next day he drew a white porcelain figurine of a rooster. Before I left I told him to keep drawing. And he has. Daily pictures and videos are sent to me of the artist in residence. Although Papa draws with his head heavy in his hand, while he creates he forgets about everything else. He now has a new focus.
Having a project can often help us get through whatever struggles we may face, no matter if we’re 19 or 93.