Red was Dorothy’s favorite color. I thought of this as I read her obituary last week. She passed away peacefully in her sleep at the age of 102. Loving wife, devoted mother, proud grandmother. Loved by nieces, nephews other relatives and friends. Raised a lovely family, graduated from college, began her career as a chemist, later a director and trainer of workshops, and then… “Late in life Dorothy discovered her love of art and became an accomplished painter of watercolors.”
We met at the end of her life’s road when she had nothing left but a little time. I would set a table of paper and paints and scooch her chair closer so she could reach to swish her brush in a tub of water, dip it into the pans of color and swipe it over absorbent, archival watercolor paper. We worked together at this table most Friday afternoons for nearly five years. The sense of design and choice of color that was evident in her compositions mimicked the way she put herself together – hairdo, clothing, earrings – stylish and smart.
This happened at a senior living community not far from my home. I volunteer in a program they call Artful Expressions. My job is to help the residents use the art supplies at their disposal. Some have physical or mental limitations, and I figure out ways to allow them to create anyway. It’s the highlight of my week. I learn from each individual that I spend time with; we all benefit as we share ideas around the table.
In Dorothy’s case her hearing ability was quite impaired. She couldn’t participate easily with the other painters or hear my guiding voice. So I began writing to her on a pad of paper to help her avoid frustration and isolation. She would read my notes, nod, and be energized now that she understood! She was always grateful. This interaction allowed a sort of intimacy between us. It enabled me to imagine the loneliness of her silent world.
Gradually over time it seemed that the way Dorothy chose to dress mattered less to her. For example, she might not bother wearing earrings. And she was tired. She might nod off, but then wake up to paint a flurry of brush strokes. The last time we were together, she fell asleep in her chair during most of the session. Her painting style had become more minimalist, but her color of choice was always red.