I remember many years ago when I was very young, perhaps 20, meeting an artist that I looked up to at a convention. He lamented that no one really did pen and ink work anymore and that it was a dying art. I made it my business to learn pen and ink after that. I’ve never gotten any jobs for it, so I’ve come to the conclusion it’s not that artists don’t want to make it, it’s that publishers are looking for color art instead. But I did discover I really enjoy it.

I think around that same time InkTober, the monthlong challenge for October to produce one ink drawing every day, came about. I wonder if Jake heard a similar complaint, or had one of his own? At any rate, now the internet is flooded each October with pen and ink work that publishers mostly don’t even want anymore.

But if you love an art form then you just keep doing it anyway, don’t you? And that’s where I’m at. Every October, because that’s when people are looking for it, I dust off my little storage bag of Tombow and Rapidograph pens and I get to work on what I have carefully plotted out sometimes for the whole year in advance. I tell myself I am going to finish one drawing every single day, and then…

Life just lifes all over the place.

This year was much worse than any other year. October so far is a blur. I don’t really remember when we put my grandmother on hospice. In June, actually on her birthday of June 10th, she slipped getting out of her power recliner and she landed on her butt right in front of the chair. She had osteoporosis and her spine was surgically fused, so she broke her back that morning and it simply never healed. If you’ve ever lived with a broken back for a normal amount of time you know she was in a lot of pain, but in her case she wasn’t a candidate for surgical repair either because last year she had a heart attack and she still had a big clot in her heart and a lot of other concerns. So instead of living with a broken back for a normal amount of time, she lived with it for 4 months.

Right around that time dementia set in and we couldn’t get her to push her little call button for help. We tried and tried but one day she fell again trying to get herself, broken back and all, to the bathroom. On that day she scored a broken ankle to go with the broken back. The ankle never healed either.

It was obvious to me her body was just giving up. Other family members had a harder time coming around to the same conclusion. Her body was out of energy to heal itself and even though she was stubborn as an ox and tough as nails, the flesh was very weak. Eventually, after months of trying to get her to heal, the decision was finally agreed upon to put her on hospice.

Things took a sharp turn around the beginning of October. She barely spoke and was less and less helpful when we had to get her out of bed. She rang her call button all the time for the weirdest things, because like I said, dementia had set in, and the Roomba making its way to her bedroom was a national security breach. Sometimes she didn’t know who we were anymore. All-in-all it pretty much sucked for everyone.

For me it was hard to settle into work. I knew all the time that the buzzer could go off because she needed help, or because she wanted to watch a TV show that hasn’t been on in 20 years, or my grandpa was laughing too loud, or because she wanted to “go upstairs” which genuinely puzzled us all – the only thing upstairs is a dusty attic full of holiday decorations.

It’s funny how something like the anticipation of a bell ringing can stop an artist from getting settled into work. If it wasn’t the bell ringing it was all the healthcare workers coming and going to check on grandma, and my desire to clean the house at least enough that it didn’t look like we had a poltergeist infestation. This and that added up and for a while now I haven’t really done much painting at all and I definitely didn’t manage an ink drawing every day.

On October 11th I had some appointments and errands to run, so my son and I left the house (my uncle was here). When we came back that afternoon something had happened while we were gone but no one apparently noticed. It looked like grandma was sleeping but as the day went on she just slept and never rang the bell. Eventually we realized she’d had a stroke and couldn’t really open her eyes anymore, and that started a whole new flurry of activity in the house as hospice workers brought oxygen and came more frequently to check on us.

Over the next two days she deteriorated pretty rapidly and left us on the morning of Friday the 13th.

My grandma loved Halloween, scary movies, and witchy stuff, so I am certain she would be amused she died on Friday the 13th if she had any awareness at that point. It was pretty clear she wasn’t aware anymore, though, thankfully. It was clear that she was in a lot of pain until then, and when she still had a few words she told us all the time it hurt. To be honest, in the weeks leading up to her death I spent a lot of my time praying that she would be released from her suffering. There was no light at the end of the tunnel. Her bones would never repair themselves and no surgeon would ever agree to work on her frail body. She wanted to be alive but her body disagreed. It was all around just a shitty situation.

She’s finally out of pain now and a sense of peace that I haven’t felt in a very long time has come over me. A couple days after she died the last healthcare worker came into the house to collect the hospital equipment we had collected during her short time on hospice, and that was it. The door shut behind him and the house felt quiet. I heard the muse whispering again, a voice I couldn’t hear above the hubbub of medical chaos, and I went back to the studio.

I only have two ink drawings this time around, and I don’t know if I will even plan on doing this next year. It seems like an invitation for mischief and perhaps I’ll just sneakily work on these things all year and release them in October instead. Hopefully you’ll play along with my little trick.

The first drawing is “Poison” – obviously the whole wicked witch with apples trope – and the second is “Spiders” – a cute little witch in stripey socks trying to shoo the spiders out of her old-fashioned under garments. Huge thanks to Howard Lyon for the wonderful Gibson Girl reference photos I have been using in my figure drawing practice lately, which led to these two drawings.

You can get both of them on eBay, Poison and Spiders.

GoFundMe

Obviously my grandmother received a lot of medical attention during the last year and a half. My mom and I both missed work to take care of her and my mom actually ended up taking a job that doesn’t pay as much as she’s used to making because she thought it would give her more time at home (spoiler alert: Don’t do this, it won’t work out). Every time my grandmother needed medical attention she had to be taken in an ambulance because of the broken back, and because of her dementia-related falling she was getting a lot of medical attention over the summer (we really tried, y’all). She depleted her savings and my grandfather is still alive and living with us, so we still have to take care of him and try to save what we can in case he needs medical attention and when the time comes, yunno, another funeral to pay for.

Times are pretty tough for my mom right now as the cremation turned out to be more expensive than any of us thought it would be. My grandma requested no services and wanted the cheapest option for her final expenses, but even then it wasn’t that cheap.

If you can and you want to help my mom, she has a GoFundMe to pay for my grandmother’s final expenses. And if you can’t right now but you want to do something in memory of my witchy grandmother, please remember to donate to Toys for Tots this year and every year. She often organized Toys for Tots drives (and scholarships, fire victim relief, and a whole lot of other stuff I don’t even recall) and it would mean a lot to her if people donated toys in her memory.

GoFundMe Link

 

If you take anything away from this lengthy post at all, I hope it’s this: Please make your final arrangements for yourself. Pre-pay for anything you can, get a will, and talk to an estate planner to legally protect your family and your money from predatory nursing homes. If the system were better here in the United States, my grandmother could have been taken care of in a nice rest home and her family could have visited her lots and continued to lead productive lives. Instead the system is trash, so she would have spent her final days in a hole in the wall that bilked us for thousands of dollars until her estate was depleted and then they would have dumped her into an even worse hole in the wall that would cost the taxpayers almost as much.

And that’s scarier than any Halloween InkTober thing ever.

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