May 20, 2019
Wading into a year
and just now a week of “firsts” I never wanted to see.
I invited people who would understand. I invited friends who knew Marshal’s love of art, and his creative spirit. They all came.
There were 15 – 20 people, various ages and artistic abilities. The first group I’d had in my house since just after his memorial service. I had copied several of Marshal’s doodles, incomplete characters and creatures. I made a few finished ones for the younger kids to color in. I eagerly watched to see which doodle or drawing each person chose.
“Hey! That looks like Abraham Lincoln! I want to finish that one.”
“Cool…look at this giraffe! I want to color this one!”
“Whoa, what a cool monster!”
“What is this one?! I think it’s some kind of frog.”
They sat at my kitchen table or on the back porch, clutching their crayons with great care and dedication.
Even the grownups chose doodles and pieces of something larger. They were saying, “Oh, yes, Marshal would have loved this. He’d have said, ‘That’s not too bad,’ or even, ‘Hey, that’s actually pretty good!’”
People smiled as they drew or colored. Some worked in pairs, and the kids fished for compliments. I found myself smiling, too, even laughing now and then. I walked among them as a teacher, as a parent, as the loneliest being loved on this day. As I watched them, I felt things I had not felt before, things I could not name.
I had stressed over “what to do” to mark this date, one year later, where ending and beginning would meet. He took the ordinary, the simplest things, and created magic.
He made more. I knew I would need to make more, too.
Among the many doodles was one of a man-eating plant. A Venus Flytrap like the one from “Little Shop of Horrors” but with a face and personality of its own. It is stretching over and about to swallow up a stick figure. “Oh snap!” says the figure. “Why me?!”
An 8-year-old boy chose that drawing to color. The little hero had miraculously survived cancer as a toddler, and now he was a full-on, healthy, nothing-but-smiling little boy. He and his mother were there on the same floor with us at Shands, and we grew to know and love them well in the years to follow.
He remembers Marshal a little – his famous fart sounds, character voices, and artistic creations. Their shared love of Mario. He carries his lunch to school today in Marshal’s Mario backpack. He was so excited to draw, to get started, to create. He grabbed up Mario to color and then the Flytrap.
He made the flytrap so colorful. He showed it to me with such pride. We marveled at “how perfectly colored” it was. I told him more than once just how much Marshal would have liked what he had done with it.
They all seemed to know how important it was to me. They seemed to know Marshal would be there, too. And he was.
As I took it all in, he seemed so strangely present. I felt a different “alive” than I had felt in that first terrible year of grief. He was my smile, the lump in my throat with every hello and goodbye. He was the twinkle in my eye as I saw their love, as I immersed myself in all of this afternoon.
I hadn’t been sure I could handle the laughter, or making this saddest of days a happy one somehow. But I could, and it was.
Many of them left their doodles for me to keep or sent pictures after finishing them at home. A friend took them all and made a simple collage, now in my room.
It is love carrying on. It is my proof. Living proof that just as more can be made from these incredible beginnings of doodles and sketches, more can be made from my story with Marshal. Maybe I can move forward, bringing him along with me.
Legacy. Life. Continuity. Connection.
Always and every day.
–> View and download Marshal’s “Made More” gallery!
If you’d like to draw and color with Marshal’s doodles, click the link below for printable art sheets. You can send photos of your finished drawings and colorings to Betsy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Betsy Fisher is a mother, writer, and champion of Arts in Medicine. During her time as a caregiver to her son, Marshal, she wrote from her point of view about Marshal’s experiences in a healthcare setting where the arts and healthcare often intersected. This collection is based on her journal entries.
Special thanks to AIM writer in residence Andrew Hix for serving as blog editor for this collection.
Read more by Betsy: Artist’s Journals