In place of death there was light.

I am preparing myself to draw my mother’s “death mask” from the photo my son took after she passed on November 8, 2008.

I have been preparing for awhile.

I know the process will be an important and necessary one for me personally.  I think about it often.  It’s not about needing to work on something unfinished.  It’s about not shying away from the processes of life.  I don’t want to shy away!


I have just needed to feel the time was right.  I have had to gain some space and maturity and to heal in order to be able to revisit my mother’s “death mask.”  To explore, in full truth, my profound relationship with her.

Our final year together was the “start” of a deeper more authentic connection.  We had always been so close, but there had always been a layer of deference and fear on my part, and fragility and depression and loss on her part that did not allow us to speak deeply with words.  But that final year was different.  We spoke of our love of each other, our love of family and homemaking and caregiving, our love of history and crime stories and our mutual love of hibernation and desire for autonomy and adventure.

There is a lot I want to write about my relationship with my mother.  I want to explore my old diaries and I want to view it all with these new mature eyes.  But I pick up a journal and read an excerpt and there is such pain there.

With time and healing, I am slowly able to open the pages more gently without being thrown into an existential crisis.

Grief is work!

Exploring the journals is an essential piece in my work on Molly as my story and her story intertwines.  But words aren’t flowing just yet around the relationship with Mom.  There have been starts and stops.  I suppose Mom is not ready.  But I KNOW she wants me to tell it.  We “talk” about it often.

Whatever the truth is, to speak it is a great adventure. – Louise Glück

As I explore and prep to draw Mom’s “death mask,” I am inspired by the work of Sue Coe:

The Last 11 Days is a group of charcoal drawings Sue Coe created from July 20 to 31, 1995 depicting her mother as she lay dying with cancer. The drawings reveal Coe’s private struggle with her mother’s illness and eventual death. [source]



Unlike her other work, The Last 11 Days were created without the intention of being shown and reveal Coe’s private struggle with her mother’s illness and eventual death. Sue Coe is inspiring in every form, supporting issues that plague the world and refusing to sit quietly in their wake. She continues to be a magnetic force in the complex world of contemporary women artists.



On a visit to SFMOMA in 2011, my daughter stated that sees her “Mormor” in this portrait by Matisse .  We often talk about how Mormor flew right down to Anna in San Francisco when she left her body.

The Girl with Green Eyes, 1908
Henri Matisse

And so, today I will dig through my files and try to find the photo I hid away deep in my computer in an obscure file.  Once found, I will sit with paper in place and china marker in hand wait to see if mom lets me know if it is time.

In place of death there was light. – Leo Tolstoy

And in place of death there is love.  And mom’s laugh.  And more and more love.

Mom’s parrot, Asterix, lives with me now. I love when he does her GIGANTIC belly laugh and answers the phone in her Swedish accent.

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