by Judy Westergard
oil on canvas
available as giclee reprint through
It’s Sunday evening. The tree is trimmed, the cards are mailed. The cookies are baked and the gifts are wrapped. Behind me is all the lugging and toting that an open house at the studio entails. I have no more deadlines to meet. But instead of a sense of accomplishment, all day I’ve been fighting the sense of “so what” that inevitably hovers around my edges whenever I finish lengthy preparations. I drag my dispirited self to my computer to check my email one more time and find a note thanking me for a purchase from someone I’ve only recently met. Joe sells vintage toys down the hall from my studio. We met a few weeks ago and probably have not exchanged more than 100 words, and yet I feel a kinship with him that was hard to understand...until now. Yesterday he told me that he’s flying east to spend time with his parents. “They’re in their late 80’s,” he said, “and they’re not well. Conditions have forced them into an assisted living arrangement. They hate it. After all their years together in the same house, they don’t like this small space that doesn’t feel like theirs.” Joe and I chatted for a few minutes about the challenges of helping aging parents. They want our help, but admitting it is akin to admitting that they’re no longer in charge. They’re proud of their (now very adult) children, but verbalizing this pride is akin to admitting that their job is done. And then, of course, there’s that unspoken subject...the approaching end of life. As Joe and I talked, I recalled how difficult were the last 18 months of my mother’s life and how nothing my brother and I and our spouses did seemed to help. For, as I passed on to Joe, what can you do when your very best isn’t good enough...because there IS no good enough? I don’t know if my words helped. I hope they did. But I’m sure that Joe has no idea how much talking to him helped me. Because in those few minutes in which we exchanged the frustrations that come from feeling impotent, he unknowingly reminded me that it’s the act of trying to help that matters more than the result, and in so doing he brought to me a sense of peace I’ve been fighting to achieve in the six years since my mom died. Even at my age, it’s easy to forget that Christmas isn’t all about the tree, the cards, the cookies, the gifts...except in this case, where the real gift is the result of a brief conversation with a caring man.