Monday, February 24, 2014

Broad Strokes


My friend Theresa asked if I'd paint some furniture to sell in her charming store in downtown Falls Church, VA. As you may know, I haven't painted furniture since the week of Jack's accident. It has just seemed so empty and meaningless to me.

I wrote toward the end of my book about noticing Margaret get excited last summer just seeing me carry old paint cans up the stairs at the old house. She was hoping I was up to my old tricks, most likely because that would somehow take us back to at least SOMETHING being the way it was before.

I wasn't sure if Theresa's appeal for "help" was along the lines of the Dowager Countess of Grantham and Mrs. Hughes constantly digging up causes and people for Isobel Crawley to assist as a means of getting her interested in something other than the blackness of her grief, or whether she genuinely was backlogged with painting projects.

Either way, with her encouragement, I stepped away from the computer for a few weeks and picked up the paintbrushes. It felt awkward. My brushes had grown stiff, so I had to buy new ones. It was a different kind of paint, not what I'd used before, and I didn't know if I'd find a rhythm with it.

Margaret sat on the leather couch as I spread flattened moving boxes out on the family room floor to protect it from spatters. We watched American Idol and Downton Abbey as I opened a few cans and started testing the paint. I talked about how it was different, how I didn't know if this was going to work out at all. After a while, she asked if she could try her hand at painting a little too, so I gave her some pointers and let her pick the color for the next piece. We sat on either side of a tiny doll cradle, painting it together, talking about our TV shows.



My pushing through fear to write a memoir did not impress her one bit. Blog conferences and the new business cards I bought (but am too wimpy to hand out) that proclaim, "Anna Whiston-Donaldson, Writer" don't merit a second glance.

But the back and forth of our brushes, and seeing me do something that links us both to an earlier time-- a time when we were yet unscathed by a level of pain and longing so profound that despite my best efforts still rarely forms words between us-- felt good to her.

And to me.

 
 

47 comments:

Wendi said...

Lovely, Anna.

Jen said...

Beautiful. Love it! Glad you two did it together. :) Blessings Sweet Friend.

Jen said...

Beautiful. Love it! Glad you two did it together. :) Blessings Sweet Friend.

Penny said...

Anna, I'm so glad you and Margaret shared this together. And of course, your words made me cry. You have a gift of being able to put so much meaning and emotion into simple words and small stories.

Geri said...

Can't describe how happy I was to read this post Anna.

Bryahnn said...

My father, a long-time woodworker, died this summer. My brother and I, who both grew up working "in the shop" with my dad and now are woodworkers in our own right, have been staring at our tools for nine months, both wanting to build to enjoy our hobby and to honor Dad, and not wanting to build, because it seems wrong without Dad here with us. I am crying at my computer reading your post today. Yes. I know.

Salvimom said...

Dearest Anna,

So proud of you. Not only in being able to pick something back up that was sort of lost during your tragedy, but also in seeing how that draws you and your baby closer. Doing what you love will ensure that it will always be close to your heart. As moms, we lose sight of those unique hobbies or loves due to all sorts of life happenings, but it is a blessing to see that you are not letting them go. Congrats on your book as well. God bless and bless and bless you!!!

Ury
West Coast mommy

Kerstin Auer said...

I'm so glad you and Margaret got to share this! Hopefully you'll get to paint many more pieces together :)

Laura said...

Love, love, LOVE.

Ellen aka Ellie said...

I know your words are deep, but mine is simple: YAY!!!

Mandy said...

Happy Tears!
So happy for your and Margaret and this special moment you were able to share!

Sybil@PeaceitallTogether said...

How wonderful! I love that you are not only trying this again, but that you are able to include Margaret in it. It's just one more step toward a new normal...

Cassie @ Primitive & Proper said...

good for you!!!! and how special for you and margaret. i love those side tables! :)

Greta @gfunkified said...

I love the furniture colors and I love that bond between you while you paint.

Laura at Ms. Smartie Pants said...

I'm sitting here trying to think of what to say, that's just so huge! It makes me hopeful to look for the times when I am back to what I loved. I have sat with my craft room in total chaos for 1 1/2 years now. I have a big new beautiful room I'm going to move into and lots of time to create but I don't. You just helped me realize why! PS when my daughter was small I used to paint murals at the church, she was by my side many of those days and she used to say I want to be a painter just like you when I grow up :) thank you Anna!

Anonymous said...

I know Theresa and the store! I'll have to walk over and check out your pieces. So glad it was so comforting to you both.

A Speckled Trout said...

There is something so soothing when you get a chance to work with your hands. The mind wanders while the hands stay busy. It is lacking of late in my own life but I felt it when I read this piece. Loved it.

Alison said...

I just love everything about this, Anna. xo

Rach said...

I used to scrapbook with Hannah.

I've not made another one since the day she died and our books were still out on the dining room table with paper and photos and stickers strewn everywhere.

I can't do it.

I'm so happy you were able to paint furniture and to do so with your girl. Beautiful. :o)

Elaine Alguire said...

I have an old cedar chest that you could paint for me! ;)
You girls are good!

Glad you were able to enjoy this again, and with your girl too.

xo

Lady Jennie said...

This made me cry - picturing this moment with Margaret that is both so sad and so . . . good because you're doing something you love. I wish you were here with me because I have a piece of furniture in the bathroom that needs work and I don't know how to restore stuff. The paint is peeling on top and it needs some sort of tile? Or glass? Because the water from the sink splashes on it. And it needs a paint job and the handles replaced. There's so much in our house that needs work and I just don't know how to do it - it intimidates me.

Love you lots

julia said...

Bravest woman I know. Person I know....
What a gift for your daughter. I love you Anna.

Was Living Down Under said...

This post was beautifully written - brought tears to my eyes. I'm glad you and Margaret shared this together.

Anonymous said...

Ohh--that reminds me of my mom. She was always painting some piece of furniture and transforming it into something beautiful. I don't want to repaint the fresh spring green dresser she painted for one of my kids...and updated the knobs. I love the pieces! Good work:). I also love your kelly green Target purse. All the best, NoVa Mom Jen

Lisa C said...

Love the colors. And what a grand thing for Margaret to find something with you. Whether it reminds her of a prior time or just gives her a new closeness with you, it was a success either way.

I so appreciate doing projects with my kids. Working closely even if you don't speak is a different and wonderful kind of intimacy.

However..it still brought tears to me eyes.

Anonymous said...

I shudder horribly when I think about either my or my brother departing to the next world when I was young, and NOT for the obvious reasons. The reason it makes me shudder it the horribly HORRIBLY inadequate way my parents would have handled it. I love them and care for them to this day, but they were SO BAD at basic life functions like grief. Grief visits us all eventually and I SO admire the way you move through it Anna. Please believe what a great example you are in this way, even though I know you don't feel it.Your example is a template for me because in my own parents I had no such template (BTW, you and I are only about a year different in age). And anyone who says "I don't do tragedy" is a real dope. Because he certainly DOES do it, even if not right at this moment. We all do it. But some people really screw it up and others -- like yourself -- make it deeply meaningful -- not that you don't retreat from the world for days/weeks/months at a time, but you get up eventually and do the work of grief. My family didn't have a community of any kind to support us, as I grew up. We were isolated. And now, through you, I see what an imperative it is to have a community. It's unsurvivable otherwise -- and maybe unsurvivable anyway, but at LEAST it's rich with meaning and connection. I don't ask to survive grief, myself. I just ask for it to be meaningful and connected. The way Anna does it. Love.

Joyce said...

Beautiful job Anna and Margaret. Anna, you are a writer and a gifted one at that! Your words flow onto to paper into the hearts of others! xo

Hillary said...

Have been catching up on your last several wonderful posts. I always get a lump in my throat when I come here to read, but I agree with you, writing is an answer, and we all appreciate being the audience for your words.
So tell people about your book with courage, because I am sure that your story will contine to do a great amount of good for many people.

And I'm so glad you and Margaret painted together. That gave me a lump in my throat, too.

Ashley DeStephano said...

A step through grief, we are always taking steps. Some feel small and some feel much bigger. This sounds like a lovely moment together.

Sara Utley said...

....So heart wrenchingly beautiful that I scarcely can exhale.

Sara Utley said...

....So heart wrenchingly beautiful that I scarcely can exhale.

Kristin Shaw said...

I love your reflections so very much, Anna. xo

Jennifer said...

I love that you two were able to bond over something you once loved so much. Isn't it strange how different things make us feel at home.

Heidi Cave said...

Beautiful. I'm so glad for you and Margaret.

IrishRN07 said...

Love this post Anna! Good for you!
xoxo -Maureen

Mrs. E said...

Referring to "Downton Abbey" melted my heart (it's my all time favorite show). Yes, I'm sure others are trying to keep your mind occupied in the kindest way. Your ever constant positive attitude is incredibly inspiring as always. Your forever need to find the "good" and savor the needed moments should be bottled and sold. I check every single day to see if you have written. p.s. I started a book club and "The Glass Castle" is our first book.

Dina Ochs said...

Just beautiful and made me smile, that you have found a little bit of healing in this. Maybe Jack was holding that brush with you. Hugs from Florida, Dina

Anonymous said...

I'm so happy for both of you, and I think the colors are well-suited to the pieces, too. Looks beautiful.

Debby@Just Breathe said...

You do beautiful work and I'm glad you said yes!

Noah's Mom said...

I love this, and I love how you intertwine many different elements of emotion, life lessons, and real stories all together, and share them with us. I'm so happy you & Margaret could share this together...I can only imagine how good it made her feel, for so many reasons.
Sending love to you and your family.

LisaAR said...

So beautiful...

There is something so soothing about the back and forth of the brush stroke...and then the appreciation of the tangible results. Progress. Love it.

Andrea Mowery said...

Simple tasks can be healing. What a beautiful post.

Kate Coveny Hood said...

I have numerous things in my house that need paint. Let's do projects! Seriously though - I love to see you painting furniture again (no heirloom white this time around?) Miss you!

Bob S said...

You have no idea how much help I need, friend. Xo

tracy@sellabitmum said...

So absolutely beautiful. xo

Denise said...

You are a wonderful writer, and I look forward to reading your book. I happened upon your blog by accident and can't quit reading it. You put your heart and soul into your words, and your reader feels it. I, who have never known Jack, grieve for him. I pray that God will continue to bring you blessings and peace.

Amy Makechnie said...

I love your blog. I love this post and am so glad you painted again. The pieces are beautiful and make me wonder how I can paint my black hutch a eggshell blue. p.s. I was at Target the other day and saw that green purse. This is weird since we don't know each other, but it made me think of you :)