My mother was an artist. She attended the Art Institute of Chicago and graduated from Drake University with a BFA in Art. Art is just who she was.
I don’t remember when she was first diagnosed with macular degeneration, but she lived with it for well over ten years. At the time of her diagnosis, she was doing finely detailed hand-painted cards. As the disease took away her ability to focus on these details, she explored other paint methods and settled on alcohol ink, loving how fluid the medium was, and yet she could manipulate the paint to create finely detailed pieces of art.
Cards were always her way of sharing her talent. I have copies of Christmas cards going back to the 1960s. Cards that she created by cutting her design into a linoleum block, then inking, stamping, and hand painting the detail. Others were in watercolor. My birthday invitation was just a black marker on orange paper. Because of this, I have years of her art, created just for me.
Mom passed away from kidney cancer in February 2021. At the end, she was almost blind. She could no longer pass the day reading books on her iPad. She could no longer spend sunny afternoons painting. Today I decided to tackle a stack of paper that was set on a shelf in her closet. I found this handwritten piece dated 18 Feb 2016. Her handwriting was still good. She wrote of her macular degeneration.
“I understand that everyone who has macular degeneration experiences it differently. This is my experience.
I can see the world around me, but I cannot see the fine detail.
I cannot see to read a book a magazine, a menu, people’s faces are distorted — but I can see geese in the sky migrating in the fall, stars on a clear night (what a thrill!), the beautiful white clean world after a snowfall. My world will never be dark. Not perfect, but not dark. Thank you, God!”
In 2018, I took a photo of a blazing orange sunset that I was watching from my kitchen window. I sent it to Mom, wanting to share its beauty and knowing that she could access it on her large iPad, blowing it up, expanding the image with her fingers so that she could see it. The next day, she painted what could see of our backyard and the blazing sky.
Macular degeneration is a funny thing. Mom could not see the television, and listening to programs irritated her. Yet there were mornings as I sorted our supplements, I would drop a Vitamin D gel tablet. Moving to quickly find it before our dog Lizzy would come to help, I would not see it, yet mom could always see it glisten and know just where it was. My mom’s world was not perfect, sometimes irritating, but never dark. Thank you, God!