Your Paintbrush - February 2021
by Dawn Phelps, RN/LMSW
James W. Moore wrote a book entitled Attitude Is Your Paintbrush—It Colors Every Situation. His book made me aware of my blessings, the bright colors in my life, during my darkest February. Here’s my story.
I grew up in Tennessee where our family lived in a rambling, 13-room farmhouse with few heat sources. There was a large fireplace in my parents’ bedroom and a smaller fireplace in the front bedroom where my sister Joy and I slept, but our bedroom fireplace was rarely lit. The cookstove in the kitchen also provided some warmth during meal-cooking times. Due to limited heat, I was usually cold during the winter months when I was a young child. I especially did not like February because, by then, it seemed like winter would never end and spring would never arrive.
One repeated memory of being cold stands out in my mind. My oldest sister Joy and I wore long flannel gowns during the winter. Before going to bed, she and I would go in our parents’ bedroom, get on our gowns, and stand in front of the fireplace. We would “toast” on one side, then the other until we felt warm. Then we would run down a long hall to an unheated bedroom, jump into bed, and sink into a cold, fluffed-up feather mattress. We tucked our feet in our gown tails, and we shivered until we finally warmed up! I hated the cold, and if I had to assign a color to the Februarys of my childhood, I would say they were grey.”
Fast-forward to my older years when my husband Ralph was diagnosed with kidney cancer. February rolled around. By then my husband had been bedfast for six months, and his kidney cancer had spread into his lower spine, pelvis, and left hip. In retrospect, that February was filled with both sad memories and blessed ones.
On the morning of February 4, Ralph felt a pop in his right hip, and his leg immediately turned outward. We both knew the cancer must have invaded his hip, and he told me, “I want to go Home,” meaning he wanted to go to Heaven. We both cried together that day, knowing life was just too hard for him and that it would probably not be long.
On February 13, my sixty-fourth birthday, I fixed a light supper including some fresh strawberries. I hoped to entice him to eat something. He nibbled on one strawberry to try to please me. From then on, he slept more and refused to eat. My daughter Misty and her four children came each day, and Misty homeschooled the kids at our large kitchen table. My sister Joy and her husband Richard from Kentucky came and stayed during the day and returned to a motel to sleep. During the daytime, they were quiet, unobtrusive. I hardly remember eating or how those around were fed, but we survived.
On the morning of February 28, my husband died. About an hour later my grandson found my husband’s dog Daisy in a coma behind the house. Our veterinarian came and eased Daisy from this earth. I still believe Daisy sensed my husband had died earlier that day.
If asked to choose a color for the February that my husband died, I would choose black. Since his death, the black of Februarys has slowly faded into a dark grey which is now a lighter grey. Looking back, I can see the golds, the blessings during my husband’s last February.
Our kids, grandchildren, sister, and brother-in-law were near during the final days—their quiet presence was such a gift. Richard prayed with my husband every day—a real comfort. My boss brought my husband’s meds on the morning he died—such kindness. When my husband died, the grandkids were outside playing. When they came inside, they faced his death calmly, unafraid, still taking care of Grandpa even after he passed. Livi, 6 years, put on latex gloves that dangled off the ends of her fingers, took a Kleenex, and dabbed at a tiny drop of blood on her grandpa’s ear. The irritation on his ear was from his kidney failure.
My boss gave me time off work to care for my husband, and my husband and I had some precious time together. We planned the funeral as he wanted, and I searched for photos for his service. I sat and slept close to his bed—he would tell me to “stay close.” We had time to say our “I love yous” and reminisce about our life together.
As I look back through my “attitude” lens, I realize that my darkest February was not just one color, but a mixture of dark colors with some golds and brighter colors blended in, and I was blessed. You may have a different “unfavorite” month. For example, my mother did not like Decembers because her daddy died that month. But hopefully you too can find some blessings sprinkled in with your memories. If you cannot find any bright colors in your loss, get out your “attitude paintbrush” and dabble in some new colors.
Dab a bit of red on your February canvas for Valentine’s Day. A bit of blue for the brokenness and sadness in your heart. Pink and purple for your memories, a touch of green for your future, and a yellow sunshine for hope. Dabble, mix, swirl, and dream about how to put some joy into your February. I am still working on my February attitude, but Februarys are not as grey as they used to be. I still do not like being cold, but I will snuggle up in a fleecy blanket, work on my attitude, and search for the gold, and you can too.
Call about the next "Living Life after Loss" Group at:
709 Liberty, Clay Center, Kansas
Dawn Phelps, RN/LMSW, Group Facilitator