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Coping with Grief Through Art: How Painting and Drawing Helped Me Process the Loss of My Mother

Mama’s Last Words: A Heartbreaking Phone Call from a Covid-19 Ward

“The most difficult goodbye I ever said was to my mother.”

Photo Ann Sun Art

I love this photo because it was taken by her, and it was the only one of its kind, the only photo of me taken by her. I know it may seem strange to some, especially to parents who probably have hundreds of photos of their children on their phones, in the cloud, and on other devices.

My mother was from a different generation, a generation before the whole technological boom. We had paper photos in an album, not on a smartphone but on ordinary paper, where you flip through the pages. There weren’t many of these photos, especially ones taken by my mother. That’s why this photo is so special to me.

It was taken in the fields behind my family’s house during a beautiful summer. I came to visit my mother with my children. I brought a new Nikon camera with me and asked my mother to take a walk with me and take some pictures to test it out.

Photo by Ann Sun Art

It was a beautiful end to the day. The sun was slowly setting behind the horizon. The last rays filtered through the branches of young pines, and an orange glow reflected in the tall grass. It was starting to get cold. I set up the tripod and the camera, chose the right program, and my mother only had to press the button. We had a great time doing it, and the result speaks for itself.

Loneliness and the Pandemic: My Mother’s Struggle with Isolation

This is one of my last beautiful memories associated with my mother. Unfortunately, we had to spend the next vacation in London because of the pandemic restrictions.

My mother was devastated and very worried that the world would remain lonely and that no one wanted to talk or meet anyone anymore. She talked a lot about loneliness and how it was bothering her. I understood her perfectly, but I knew that it was easier for me because I wasn’t alone at home. I had children, and I was busy homeschooling them because the schools were closed, so my day was filled with various activities. To some extent, I even enjoyed such a life.

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Reuniting with My Mother After nearly 2 Years Apart: Overcoming COVID Restrictions and Stressful Travel to Finally Visit Her

We couldn’t see my mother again the next summer, and it wasn’t until the summer of 2021 that I could visit her, although it wasn’t easy to get out of London and get to Poland. We had to go through various checks, COVID tests, and there was a lot of stress and associated costs. But we made it, and despite the difficulties, we could see my mother that summer.

It was a fantastic summer. The weather was perfect. At the end of our stay in Poland, I took my children and my mother to a summer cottage by Lake Kalwa.

Photo by Ann Sun Art

Regrets of a Last Goodbye: Reflecting on Missed Opportunities

If I had known that these would be our last moments spent together, I would have done everything differently. I would have let her eat the grilled mushroom baguette I made her throw away. The taxi arrived, and we had to go, and I didn’t want the driver to be uncomfortable with the smell or, God forbid, if we messed up his car.

I knew it was serious: Struggles of Convincing Mama to See a Doctor

During the entire time we stayed with her, my mother coughed and wheezed, and had trouble breathing. I asked her to go to the doctor, but she didn’t want to. She said she already went, and the doctors said everything was fine. But I could see that something was seriously wrong. I wanted to go to the doctor with her, but she refused. She knew already then, but she didn’t want to tell us.

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My mother coughed and struggled to breathe throughout her entire stay with me. I told her to go to the doctor, but she didn’t want to.

She said she had already been and that the doctors said everything was fine. But I could see that it was something serious. I wanted to go with her to the doctor, but she refused. She already knew at that time, but didn’t want to tell us.

An Empty Room: The Pain of Being Separated from a Dying Loved One

She had advanced lung cancer. After a biopsy, she had a collapsed lung and fainted at home. An ambulance was called and when they took her to the hospital, it turned out she also had COVID.

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They put her in the COVID ward.
Only my brother was there and could bring her all the necessary things. But no one could visit her.

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When they made a hole in her lungs to drain the air that had accumulated there, she felt better and called me. I was in London at the time.

A Letter Written Before Death

I answered the phone and heard her calm, very weak voice. She said,

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“Anya, I feel better now, my saturation is better, I can breathe.” I told her that she would get through this, that the doctors would help her. Her last words were that she was calm and not afraid, and that she owed that calmness to us, her children.We spoke only for a couple of minutes, because she was very weak and said she need to rest.

Later,I found out that she wrote a letter in a few days before she died. None of us really believed that Mom wouldn’t make it. I couldn’t shake off the loss for many months, and it was hard for me to know that I couldn’t be with her, hold her hand, that she was alone in an empty hospital room.

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The Goodbye That Never Happened

This farewell was a farewell that never happened. Unexpected departure and helplessness.
Because if I could, I would jump on a plane and be with her. Unfortunately, the COVID epidemic and related restrictions didn’t even allow me to attend her funeral. When my mother was buried, I was stuck in my bed at home, just because of COVID, with a 42-degree fever, experiencing my mother’s final earthly journey on my bed in London, online, watching the funeral on my phone.

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For the next 2 months, I recovered and mourned my mother. But I will never fully come to terms with her departure and the fact that she died alone.

How Painting Helped Me Cope with the Stress of Losing My Mother to COVID

When I finally managed to regain my strength to the point where I could move around the house independently, COVID had caused me to become so weak that even ordinary daily activities, like taking a few steps from the bed to the bathroom, were as difficult as climbing a very steep mountain. After about two months, I started to recover, although my energy level is still not what it was before COVID. To help me forget the pain caused by the loss of my mother, I returned to painting, and this is the first painting I made after the break. Three leaves painted with watercolors. Painting helped me cope with the stress associated with my mother’s death.

Aya’s painting of 3 leaves using a watercolour Photo by Ann Sun Art

The three leaves symbolize my family home. The two leaves on the outside represent my parents. My father passed away at the age of 46, and my mother in 2021. The leaf in the middle represents me and my siblings, there are five of us. It’s amazing how what we sometimes draw or paint unconsciously shows our feelings.

  1. Have you ever lost a loved one unexpectedly? How did you cope with the grief?
  2. Do you find that art, such as painting or drawing, helps you process difficult emotions like grief?
  3. How have you found ways to remember and honor loved ones who have passed away?
  4. How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your ability to grieve and mourn loved ones?
  5. What advice would you give to someone who is struggling with the loss of a loved one?

Hey there, folks! Don’t be shy, let’s hear what you have to say! Share your thoughts, rants, or musings on this topic in the comments below! We’re all ears!

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