Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Wake

As I sketched the Hessling Funeral home, groups of high school kids came running down the slanted uphill driveway. I was leaning back against a parking meter and twice I had to sit up so people could shove coins in the slot. A pickup truck pulled into the parking lot and the man pulled out a lawn mower and started mowing the lawn.
The wake was an eternally long period of sitting and waiting from 2 to 4 and then 7 to 9 PM. Ruth's body was lying in a solid and sturdy looking casket. A small table toward the foot of the casket has a picture of a neatly trimmed Christ. My sister Carol found a statue of Betty Boop with a bright red boa to put at the table at the head of the casket. Ruth was a fan of Betty Boop and had a collection of them. At breakfast in her home I put in a Betty Boop animated short and watched her sinuous cycled animation.
My sister Carol had been put in charge of making sure I did not do a drawing of Ruth in her casket. She said, "I know you love drawing, but... no drawing the coffin, I'd think you'd freak everybody out." Juanita and Gail also also kept a close eye on me. I knew Ruth would not want me to do such a drawing but being told it was forbidden made it tempting. Had I tried, I would have been kicked out of my own mothers funeral. Gail told me that if I sketched mom she would haunt me for eternity. Ruth was always concerned that she only be photographed or drawn when she looked her best. The mortician had done a good job of removing any hint of wrinkles and pain from moms face. She wore one of the leis and two others were dangling from the edges of the casket lid. Large red Victorian floor lamps lit the front of the room with a warm red glow. There were large flower arrangements from the children and grand children and people in town.
I once did a drawing of my father, Art, when he had Leukemia. Ruth found the drawing and ripped it out of my sketchbook and destroyed it. I later did more drawings of my father but all of them were from memory, done in the waiting room.
Honesdale Pennsylvania is a small town and everyone knows each other. Gail and Juanita live in Honesdale and friends and co-workers kept coming in and hugging them and offering condolences. I sat lined up against the wall with the rest of the 6 Thorspecken children and we spoke amongst ourselves never being embraced by the people from town. I realized it is hard to cry without touch. My family sat around and joked and told stories to pass the time. I couldn't take all the banter. It was all just so much noise. I just wanted to be alone with my thoughts.
I finally went to a back parlor of the funeral home and started sketching. I made sure to place a relative strategically to block any view of the casket. Old photos of Ruth were on display and a digital frame displayed photos of her grandchildren. Kyle and Jack, two of my nephews, watched my every move as I did the sketch. Kyle is a budding artist himself, and I was proud when he showed up to the second half of the wake with his own sketchbook tucked under his arm. My brother in law Walter kept borrowing my sketchbook to show to his friends. I met the owner of a downtown gallery and she was one person who held my hand for the longest time when she greeted me. I found myself talking excitedly about art for a while before, out of the corner of my eye, I again caught the image of mom lying in the front of the room alone and ignored. I did stand in front of the casket for a long time memorizing her features and the gentle turn of her thin wrists with her fingers folded calmly on her belly. This lifeless image is however not one I want to hold onto and I will never commit it to paper.

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at


Suzanne said...

This is both beautiful and poignant in some ways. This piece of writing, the tone, the voice, what you choose to say and draw, is a masterpiece in terms of 'l'art de la retenue'. I don't know the english words, and I wish I did. "L'art de la retenue" is to say lots and lots ... without actually saying much. Of course, part of that is what us, the readers, pour into it. But 'l'art de la retenue' is a lost art in this era where everybody spills their guts about anything and everything, trashing their own dignity in the process. This moment here is described and narrated with simplicity and such elegance. And at such a moment. Hat's off to you. We find ourselves there, quiet, witnessing some of it. But not as voyeurs.
Thank you. And my condoleances for the loss of your mother.

Neyestan said...

happy to see your wonderful blog!
the best

Chere Force said...

So sorry for the loss of your mother. Time is so precious.

I am glad your family and neighbors were able to be with you - each in their own way.

Thor said...

Suzanne, You make make it sound like these musings are in some way literary. Thank you.

Beth Marshall said...

Sorry for your loss.
This is a gorgeous sketch. One of my favorites.
The greens are so rich.
Great work as always.