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Keeping A Promise To Love In Sickness And In Health

October 1, 2013

“Sorry,” she said as she passed me in the entrance to the women’s room, “That’s my husband in the other stall. Don’t mind him.” She was going back to her car.

Her husband was in the farthest stall, the one typically large enough for a wheelchair to turn around. There was one stall left for me…

There were only two cars parked by this restroom, mine and the older woman’s, a sturdy car like a Bonneville, gray like the sky. She was rounding the driver’s side to return to the restroom (as I returned to my car).

“Thank you,” she said, “for understanding.” In her right hand were her keys, and in her left, was a blue, waffled diaper, disposable…

“Everything OK?” I said.

And the woman paused, breathed a little, raised her eyes with a slight smile on half her face. “Fine,” she said. “Thank you.”

And she made her way up the path to the women’s restroom and her husband in the large stall…”
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So opens a very moving essay written by Kate Gray and published in The Rumpus.
It focuses on a difficult subject: caring for a disabled spouse. I was asked to illustrate the essay.BlankVertSpace.8pixels

“Wheelchair” made me think of the familiar International Symbol of Access, perhaps more commonly known as the Wheelchair Symbol.

I decided to use the symbols commonly seen on restroom doors to show a progression suggested by the essay’s opening lines: a couple begins married life in good health; one of them becomes disabled; the other loves in sickness as she did in health, and demonstrates that love by caring for the disabled spouse.

I drew and inked the figures by hand to give them more personality, and because it was necessary to show specific actions in the last two panels.

man and woman symbols representing good health, man becomes sick and disabled, changes into handicap symbol, woman kisses man in wheelchair showing she loves him in sickness and in health, woman pushes handicap symbol indicating elderly caregiver caring for disabled spouse

I was also struck by a line further along in the essay:BlankVertSpace.8pixels

“… the way a tree leans on barbed wire, the pressure making the body take in the barbed wire eventually, growing around it, adapting to the inevitable.”BlankVertSpace.8pixels

There’s no escaping life’s barbs, but love has a transforming power, especially when it seeks the good of another. A wounded heart can love more deeply.

human heart in pain, wrapped in barbed wire musical scale, elderly caregivers face pain and anguish in caring for disabled spouse loved one, but love enables them to endure all trials, love never fails

Caregiving represents love in perhaps its purest form. Changing a spouse’s diaper is not a romantic image. Doing it in a way that preserves the person’s dignity is nothing less than heroic.

Diapers made me think of bedpans, which led to this final image, a kind of meditation on love.

Modern culture would have us believe that romantic love is all there is: pretty people, fun and games. Real love is much more: it embraces sacrifice and puts the other first. And it endures even after death.

word Love repeated four times, as pure text, Valentine heart as letter O, bedpan as letter O, heart-shaped grave marker as letter O, symbols showing that true love persists thru early problem-free romance, through sickness and difficulties, and endures even after death

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I enjoyed this assignment. I love a challenge, and it gave me a chance to stretch. It also got me thinking about the subtle nature of humor.BlankVertSpace.8pixels

The subtitle of this blog is: Because nothing succeeds like humor and good illustration.

In my LinkedIn profile, I say: Nothing communicates an idea more powerfully than a carefully crafted illustration. Humor multiplies its power.

Which leads to a question: where’s the humor in the above illustrations?BlankVertSpace.8pixels

For me, there is humor in all three illustrations, but it’s a far cry from slapstick or comical humor. It’s a quirky kind of humor that springs from the unorthodox– using objects in an unconventional way.

Restroom symbols acting out a mini-drama; barbed wire as a musical scale; a bedpan used to spell out the word Love. They do seem a little comical if you think about them in isolation. But woven into the graphic, they give the images a certain poignancy.BlankVertSpace.8pixels

Humor is a lot broader and more subtle than we normally think. It can add real power to an illustration.
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Do you know any caregivers? Are you perhaps a caregiver yourself?

Any thoughts on love? Have we forgotten that love often demands sacrifice?

Has this post broadened your concept of humor? Does humor have a unique power to communicate?

Hope you’ll leave a comment.blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

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Other Posts You Might Enjoy:BlankVertSpace.8pixels

Paula Deen, Twinkies, And The National Debt

“Enter The Geezer”: Inky Draws Movie Trailer

The Wonderful Paperback Book Cover Art Of Illustrator Shannon Stirnweis

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36 Comments leave one →
  1. SingingTuna permalink
    October 1, 2013 1:25 PM

    Oh, Mark. I can’t say anything yet, crying too hard to type. This post is so important, meaningful, poignant…


    • October 2, 2013 9:11 PM

      Ah, my dear Robin. I’ve been thinking of you a lot these past weeks. I know you’re someone who feels things deeply. I also know you’re a force for good in the world. Your kind comment speaks volumes. Thank you, my friend. Hang in there, all will be well… : )


  2. October 1, 2013 1:48 PM

    Great illustrations.
    The barbed wire was much more sad to me than humorous.


    • October 2, 2013 9:17 PM

      Thank you, my dear fellow, always delighted to see you here.

      There’s no denying the pain in the illustration, nor in the situation it portrays. The presence of humor is debatable. Humor is nothing, if not subjective. If it is present, I’d like to think it’s unobtrusive, serving only to help convey emotion.

      I sincerely appreciate your visit and your feedback– thank you!


  3. October 1, 2013 2:07 PM

    Ah, Mark… humor [as i perceive it] requires a kind and pure heart. Can’t do it otherwise and cannot create images such as yours without the above ingredients.
    Enjoyed, liked and am wearing a big smile because of it! 😉
    Happy October, my friend!


    • October 2, 2013 9:35 PM

      My dear, dear Marina! Speaking of kind and pure hearts, only one such as yours could possibly keep leaving me such wonderful comments! I always close all the windows before reading your comments, lest I float away and wind up on the moon! Who knows when I’d get back?? I might have to eat grilled green cheese sandwiches for weeks!! : P

      Our trees are ablaze here in October– lovely yellows, reds, and oranges. Your kind words have made them glow even brighter– thank you, my friend! : )


      • October 3, 2013 6:26 PM

        …you ought to see the glow of ours over here, after reading your response! 🙂


        • October 4, 2013 9:02 PM

          Uh-oh!! Who left that window open?? Gah-zwhooopp! Calling Moon Base, calling Moon Base– get ready, here I come again!!! : )


  4. October 1, 2013 8:24 PM

    I am a caregiver, but, um, I am being cared for as well. I’ll, uh, have to show this to my wife.


    • October 2, 2013 9:37 PM

      Mutual caregiving is a sure sign of love, hope, and faith. Sending you both my best wishes, Jak!


      • October 3, 2013 12:17 AM

        It was hard for both of us not to read this post without some tears, but… I am glad, because, you are telling it like it is, including folks like us.


  5. October 1, 2013 11:15 PM

    A colleague lost her husband a year ago after a long illness. Your thoughtful illustrations and this story made me think of her. I always considered her strong … and brave. I especially love the symbols in the first panel. Excellent, Mark. Illustrations with heart.


    • October 2, 2013 9:56 PM

      Thank you so much, Judy. Your thoughtful comments and kind words always give me a great boost. I can’t thank you enough.

      When I was a kid, the only “disabled” people I ever saw were older folks with canes. Now handicapped and disabled people are much more visible, part of the mainstream– and that’s a great and good thing. Funny, tho– many caregivers seem to remain invisible. I’m constantly amazed at how many there are, quietly and heroically taking care of others. So much love at work in the world…

      Thanks again, Judy– you good influence, you!! : )


  6. October 2, 2013 3:03 AM

    My parents celebrated their 67 years of marriage this year. Dad is 90 Mom is 86. They love one another and Mom does much of the caregiving to Dad because of his ailments but Dad loves her back in his own way. Lots of self sacrifice on both people.

    I was able to visit with them for 3 weeks this past spring, I live far from them. I saw day in day out the love, self sacrifice, caring, enduring and the humor these two individuals, my parents had for each other. It was a lifetime of dedication of their marriage relationship that they both worked on but but displayed genuinely only by their love for their Creator God.

    Thank you for your post, it was very uplifting. As you said there is humor. Laughter is the best medicine.


    • October 3, 2013 8:36 AM

      67 years… wow. A lifetime of caring for each other. Truly inspiring– there’s nothing more powerful than teaching by example.

      Thank you for sharing that wonderful testimonial, Beatrix. Your kindness and support are sincerely appreciated here. : )


  7. Lily permalink
    October 2, 2013 12:53 PM

    Beautiful. Powerful. Moving – that’s all I can say 🙂


    • October 3, 2013 8:40 AM

      Whaddaya mean that’s all?? You done said a mouthful!!

      I’m sincerely touched by your kind words, Lily, and it’s always so good to see you here. Thanks for your lovely comment, and for always being so supportive. : )


  8. October 2, 2013 4:03 PM

    I would call it “heartfelt humor”. And I love it! The wheelchair symbols are my favorite. We have wheelchair and “universal” access trails at our park. I love the idea that everyone has the right to enjoy a place. Caregivers make this possible. I don’t envy their task, but thank goodness they are there for each other.

    I also like New York’s new wheelchair symbol. I’ve worked with folks in wheelchairs and no matter their age or disability, they deserve the more dynamic symbol.


    • October 3, 2013 8:56 AM

      “Heartfelt humor”– now that’s the kind of description I can really get behind!! : )

      Thank you very much for your kind comment, Amelie. I agree: everyone deserves access, everyone needs to be included.

      I did come across New York City’s more dynamic wheelchair symbol while researching the assignment. I understand the good intentions behind the dynamic design, but it didn’t fit the mood of the essay. Also, someone offered the opinion that the dynamic symbol made it look like the person in the wheelchair needed to use the restroom really bad!! Once I read that, I couldn’t get it out of my head. Oh, well…

      Thanks as always for your support! : )


  9. October 4, 2013 9:09 AM

    I found your post very poignant Mark. A dear friend of mine has Motor Neuron disease and cannot move himself at all anymore except to raise his thumb. Watching his wife help him and the two of them struggle with this awful, awful disease, is very much the heart on the barb wire, except for them, it is three hearts as they have a twelve year old daughter who has never known her father as he was, has never been able to hear him speak to her. You mentioned humour. I can still remember a few years back trying to help Lee get Pete into the car when he could still stand briefly. We got him in but then, being so rigid, he fell across the seats rather than being in the seat. We thought he was crying and in pain when we suddenly realised he was laughing. Laughing with him, I just wanted to cry at his braveness.


    • October 4, 2013 9:17 PM

      Whoa. Just reading your comment was an emotional roller coaster, Jen: pain, laughter, love, heartache, caring– all of the complexities of life, all the things that really matter. Needless to say, Pete’s example is what keeps the rest of us going. Stories like his (and that of his wonderfully loyal wife and daughter) need to be told as an antidote to all blather and empty posturing that seems to surround us on all sides. No one wants pain and suffering, of course, but I’ve often thought that without them, we’d never appreciate the truly important things in life.

      Thanks for sharing, Jen, and for always being such a good influence here. : )


  10. October 5, 2013 8:34 AM

    Deeply touching Mark. You are in tune with your own loving heart which was likely caught in that blasted barbed wire a time or two. It demonstrates the secret story of many artists. It is my contention that upon reaching a certain age ones heart is either broken and kind or broken and bitter, both baring the scars of life but choosing different paths of survival.


    • October 6, 2013 7:17 PM

      What a fabulous comment, Lesley, thank you! It makes sitting here all tangled in barbed wire completely worthwhile… : )

      All kidding aside, many thanks. Love your theory about hearts. It rings absolutely true, psychologically. That’s gotta be one of life’s toughest lessons: freely acknowledging that hurts will come, and opting to let them make you kinder and more compassionate, rather than bitter and resentful. And boy, is that easier said than done!!

      Thanks again for your kindness and insight.


  11. October 6, 2013 3:41 PM

    This post has broadened our concept of you. Congratulations on the sensitivity and courage in this post.


    • October 6, 2013 9:21 PM

      Aw, you dear chaps… : )

      I was going to say that your comment has broadened my estimation of your kindness, but that’s not true– I already thought you blokes were the best… : )

      Sincere thanks for your very lovely comment– it meant a lot.


  12. October 6, 2013 8:49 PM

    Reblogged this on the tao of jaklumen and commented:
    This is my reality. I suffer neuropathy and other chronic pain due to back problems. I cried and cried when I read this, and when I showed it to Cimmy, she did the same. She is taking the brunt of things right now, trying to help me, but then also trying to keep up with our son and his special needs. Then there is our parents and their illnesses– this issue just digs deep across generations. I am grateful to my good friend here for summing things up so well– a wounded heart DOES love more deeply.


    • October 6, 2013 9:59 PM

      I’m deeply touched by your words, Jak– thank you.

      I know everyone has certain fears, worries, demons, challenges– and some have more than their share. I pray regularly for all my blogging friends. You may be sure you and your family are on my list. Courage, my friend.


  13. October 7, 2013 3:18 AM

    “Real love is much more: it embraces sacrifice and puts the other first.”

    Oh, my dear Mark, so many experience this sometimes heartbreaking condition in their lives; being ‘taken care of’ or ‘taking care’ of a dear one.

    Recently both my partner and I have been on the receiving end of the other’s love and care. What a wonderful realisation to find my love’s care for me goes so deep; in a strange way it has built our relationship to an even greater bond. Such a treasure to know we are loved; in sickness and in health.

    Your post and illustrations are a measure of you, Mark. The standard, oh so high…


    • October 7, 2013 8:43 PM

      My dear Carolyn! What a wonderful surprise to hear from you! You have shocked me to the core!! (but in a most congenial way)

      Sounds like you’ve got a wonderful partner there, and I know that goes both ways. Sorry to hear you’ve both had challenges to deal with, but, as you say, when love rises to the occasion, one feels truly blessed. I wish I could banish all pain and suffering, but there’s no denying they teach us lessons we could never learn otherwise…

      Thank you for your lovely comment– it’s a delight to connect with you again! : )


  14. October 8, 2013 11:10 PM

    I liked the last one especially…a wry, gentle look at love, long lasting love. And your couple panel.

    At this time not a caregiver yet…but my partner is 16 yrs. older than I. I’m 54. So believe me, Mark when we go on vacation, is now. Not waiting until I retire. Yes, he is slowing down a bit in his cycling style. And we’re talking about who cycled across British Columbia and Alberta last year and this year.


    • October 11, 2013 9:07 AM

      Many thanks for your kind comment, Jean, sincerely appreciated. You’re very wise to do things while you can. I’ve lost track of the stories I’ve heard about people who postponed trips or other activities until they retired, or were financially secure, only to be confronted with illness or other problems. It’s a common human failing, and a very painful one to see.

      Your partner’s lucky to have you, and so am I. Thanks for all your support, Jean! : )


  15. October 12, 2013 6:27 AM

    Profound? Poignant? None of those could match this masterpiece you just did. Kudos to you, Mr. Armstrong! More power!


    • October 16, 2013 8:19 AM

      Thank you for that lovely comment, Aina– one of the nicest I’ve ever received. It means a lot. I’m very happy you enjoyed the illustrations and found them meaningful. I appreciate your enthusiasm, your good humor, and your wonderful support! : )


      • October 16, 2013 7:59 PM

        You well deserve all of it, and more accolade, Mark! Your works are masterpieces; your talent is remarkable; your heart Is pure and kind–thank you for sharing and enriching the World Wide Web.


        • October 23, 2013 1:01 PM

          My dear, dear Aina… thank you for one of the sweetest and most supportive comments I have ever received. I can’t tell you how happy it made me. You’re giving me way too much credit, of course. The last time I looked, my heart was only 99.999% pure. So I still have work to do… : )

          Seriously, though, your kind words have energized me, and I shall be moving thru the day with a big smile on my face, and a resolve to do my best possible work. Thank again for that lovely comment, Aina, and for being the wonderful person you are.


        • October 23, 2013 8:24 PM

          More power Mr. Armstrong!


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