Oil Pastels and Making Peace

6 Years ago yesterday, life for the Johns family changed forever. Cancer won a physical battle and my father passed from this world to the next. 

It was one of those surreal events where time seemed to stand still and at the same time the world is spinning at its fastest pace all around you. The logic and understanding inside of me could take in what was happening. It all made scientific sense and we new that he would be drawing his last breath sooner than later. We had known for 16 months.

That same time standing still, world spinning like crazy feeling hit hard the night we called 911 and my Dad was rushed to the hospital. The news of brain cancer set it all into motion. 

The feeling of utter helplessness and fear. The uncertainty and confusion. The deepest heartache and the incredulous thoughts. They took over. Mind and body. Sick. 

How could it be that this invincible man, the cornerstone of my family, my Daddy, could be changed like this. Never to be the same and now set on a path for death. 

At this time, I had 4 month old twins and life had already been hard. Food stamps and medicare kept us afloat. Life's stresses had my art supplies in a bin at the back of a closet. My creativity had been shelved. 

Desperate to make sense of these 3 tumors now nesting cozy in my Dad's brain, I dug out my oil pastels. How can I know and understand the reality and gravity of the situation and still find peace? The canvas and oils would help me get there. 

I began with blood-shot eyes from all the crying and a grumbling stomach because I had hardly eaten in days. I sketched with my pastels and was immediately pulled into the images of the bay at night. My Aunt had a beautiful home on the Grand Traverse Bay in Northern Michigan. Its one of the most beautiful places to be. I thought of it at night with the moon glowing and the large rocks catching its light. I sketched roughly with some agitation and force. My reality and the scene in mind were far too different. There was no peace in me. But wasn't that what I was getting at? I needed to smooth this out, make a connection and sit quietly with it. With turpentine and a brush I began painting through the rough lines sketched in oil pastel. They began to smooth and blend. 

By the time I was done with the painting, I felt different. The heartache and fear hadn't magically gone away. But I was overcome and keenly aware of the beauty in the peace offered, though the large rough rocks rest on its shores. Knowing, in my bones, that my hope couldn't be in defeating cancer or excavating the rocks. They hold their own beauty. The thing they give to us is the understanding that our world is broken. They juxtapose the hope to come.  

If I place all my money on beating cancer and we all die in the end any way... then whats the point? Ive got to hold onto something bigger. Something true and good. Now, don't get me wrong here, I wholeheartedly believe in fighting. Fight like hell and get every drop of this life out that you can, but know that this isn't the end. 

I often cry because I miss my Dad and I really just want to sit at talk with him. My husband is quick to remind me that I will. He reminds me that my last conversation with my Dad wasn't our final conversation. There is someone greater that came to this mess of a place to live and die all on our behalf. He came to right wrongs and he came for redemption. We see through a mirror dimly now. But one day, when we are on the other side, we will see more brilliantly than we could ever imagine. The war on death has been won, it doesn't have the final say. 

Holding onto that gets me through. But its still hard. Every time I set up for and art show I think of how much my Dad encouraged me. He was always the one to tell me that I should pursue my art. I know he would be ready in a heart beat to cary tents and poles and paintings and get me all set up. I watch my kids, growing up before me. I love every minute of them and It breaks my heart because he would have loved it too. They would have the best Grandpa out there, but instead, they have no memories of him. Yes, the tears come and my heart is heavy, but I look at this painting and I am reminded of what's to come. 

This painting got me back in the world of creative expression that I had left for a few years. I haven't left it again. It oddly feels like a parting gift from my dad. There is just something about working things out on canvas and sitting quietly with the creation. It has become a way of life. Creativity has become lifeblood. There is nothing else like it. 

So heres to my dad, a wonderful man with the bluest eyes that would tear up in a second because of the compassion in his heart. Here's to his quiet laugh and dry humor, his commitment to his family, his willingness to lay down his desires for the sake of ours, his integrity and honesty. Here's to the love he gave.

Hold your loved ones tight, find peace and keep creating. (and if your creativity has been shelved, pull it out! Who cares if its awkward and messy, who cares if its ugly with lots of 'mistakes!' You get to interact with one of the most amazing things inside of you. It will bring you places. Good places.)

Much Love, 


Kate Thomas