Dear Departed Drawings

What originally started as a New Years resolution in 2014 to draw daily for my own practice, turned into a gift for a grieving friend, and resulted in Dear Departed Drawings.

Deciding that honoring, remembering and memorializing our departed loved ones is a far more important drawing than any other drawing in my life – I vowed to bring love and light to friends, strangers, and loved ones by gifting a drawn portrait of a dearly departed family member.  Each drawing subject has touched me deeply and inspired me to create.

In 2014, I lined up a full year of portraits of departed loved ones.  Depending on the detail of the photo, each portrait took approximately 40-60 hours to complete.  Completed hand drawn portraits are gifted to the chosen persons.

I will continue to draw portraits until the day comes where I can no longer hold a pencil.  So keep coming back to check on me.  Drawings are organized by most recent at the top.

Coming Soon

b. 09.23.1978  d. 05.09.2014

b. 02.2006  d. 03.24.2015

Alice
Guardian. 2015

There is no love like the love of a pet. The constant unconditional love they give us.  The memory never fades away.  I know Vayda misses her beloved companion so much.  We never forget them.  They are our protectors, our listening ear, our comfort in sadness, our calm, always loving us.  Nobody can replace that kind of love.  This is by far my husbands favorite portrait I’ve done.  We both love how this portrait outlines the love between animals and humans.  Connections are so strong.  Many of us can attest to the relationships we have with our pets and this drawing strikes a chord with that special love.

I met Alice’s human through Etsy Teams, Deadhead Art Alliance Team specifically.  In 2015 I participated in the teams Secret Santa Christmas exchange.  Vayda of Hippi Heaven, was my Secret Santa and sent me a beautiful, handmade skirt, crocheted hand and wrist warmers with matching headband, a crocheted three in one dreadie hat, AND a cute little handmade ornament!!  And then a friendship is formed.

One day Vayda is sharing all these photos of her dog online.  I feel very sad,  I somehow already feel what is happening.  Then she posts a picture a few days later of her and Alice with the words, “This is REALLY hard … And I have been and am truly struggling with this … Sadly I am loosing a big piece of my heart and my best friend Alice. Unfortunately she has lymphoma and is going down hill quick. 3 wks ago all of her lymph nodes swelled up and she drastically lost weight. I had high hopes that treating her with antibiotics would heal her. And yes swelling went down but not like it should and Then sadly last week she lost her eye sight within 3 days. And as each day goes by her symptoms are progressing. So now my focus has been lots of love and spending as much time with her so she knows I am here and am and will always be loving her.   Honestly this is one of the hardest losses I have ever been thru.  So if I seem distant, down, flaky, not my normal shining self you now know why…”

I knew I would draw Alice.   Alice passed on sixteen days later, Vayda contacts me with these words:

You know that skirt I gave you. Well it has a story and is connected to Alice.  That skirt originally started out as a dress I made for myself.  That skirt is the bottom half of the dress I wore when I found Alice in Montana at a garage sale while visiting my husband’s grandparents.”

b. 12.22.2008  d.12.21.2008

Lucia Yingst
Light and Peace. 2015

I met Lucias mother, Angie,  March 8, 2014.  I attended a poetry reading and book signing at Mulberry Art Studios for To Linger on Hot Coals.  I was there for Violet and her mother, Devany who was reading her poetry and one of the authors signing books.  I went by myself, sat alone and immersed myself in the baby loss community while listening to strong women express their emotions.  It took my breath away.  After the readings, four of the poetry contributors gathered to sign books, answer questions and offer support.  I felt really awkward, it was my first time meeting Violets mother and being inside the studio.  While I was busy blending in with my surroundings I kept feeling drawn to Lucias mother, Angie, from the first minute I saw her.  I too was feeling grief and felt very at home with all these grieving families because it was six days after the first anniversary of my dear friend Houd’s death.  We spoke just a handful of words between us that day as she signed my book.  I could not look away from her and kept wondering about her, how mysterious.

Later I discovered she was the owner of the Moon + Stone Healing which immediately drew my interest.   We again crossed paths at the MUM expo a few weeks later in passing.  I began finding out all kinds of wonderful things about Angie.  I began attending classes that sparked my intrigue at Alta View Wellness Center and eventually I was added to her friends list on Facebook.   I didn’t find out about Lucia until October 15th 2014 when Angie posted a photo of her altar for Dia de Los Muertos.  Which by the way I had not really seen a Day of the Dead altar prior to this.

The day of the dead intrigues me and I love the concept.  I’ve always loved the skulls and beautiful decorations but after Lucia’s mama posted the photo I immediately started researching the history.  I love this particular sites explanation.  I then contacted Angie directly in December as Lucias birthday December 22nd approached.  She led me to her blog Still Life with Circles where I read about Lucia.  Immediately immersed with Lucia and her story.  I grieved right along with Angie.  And then I knew Lucia was to be after Kole.   I chose to draw this photo of Lucia and the clay meditation mama that Angie made because this mama was not only leaving behind her baby but the clay statue she made with all her good intentions and hopes for her daughters precious life.  She is complete and beautiful.

 I am so blessed to know her and be allowed to draw Lucia for her and her family.  Thank you Angie, for inviting me in and letting me be a part of your world.  Lucia is one of the most challenging portraits I’ve done to date.  A real pleasure to be able to provide her family with a beautiful drawing of her divine beauty.   I’ve asked Angie if there is anything she has to say…..anything she wants to share….

In Angie’s words:”Over six years ago, my daughter Lucia Paz, named after Light and Peace, died inside of me. Thirty-eight weeks pregnant, labor started, then stopped, and started again. Her movements slowed, and I prepared for her. I rubbed oil into my belly, and sang her songs about the Earth. I frantically cleaned, and hung a hammock from the beams in our home, to ease labor. I wrapped it around my body, and eased the pressure in my back. I don’t think I ever felt more beautiful than when I was pregnant with my second daughter.I have pictures of those days before she died. My husband making a huge big pot of French Onion soup, smiling at the camera, readying for his second daughter. My twenty-month old daughter Beatrice with my husband’s stethoscope trying to find a heartbeat that already stopped, us oblivious. Me, belly out, tired and ready to be a mama again. After two days of stilted labor, she felt limp in my belly. I would lift her in my tummy, rearrange her, and she wouldn’t respond. When I noticed that, we went into the hospital. They told us she died and made me stare that at the hauntingly motionless ultrasound picture. “We are sorry. She passed away.” The doctor said. No heartbeat. No kicks. No daughter at Christmas.

It was Winter Solstice, and I never left the hospital. They wheeled me into the labor and delivery area where I stayed for 24 hours of heartbreakingly torturous labor, talking to a ministerial nurse who played through this new reality over and over. I told her Buddhist folktales, and we cried together often. She just abided in my grief, and stayed still, and told me that I would make meaning from this. She told me to take pictures, but I didn’t realize I’d want good pictures. No one mentioned professional photographers, or the service I now recommend to everyone–Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep. My husband and I snapped some strange pictures of each other crying and holding her, and others with her in a bassinet, blood still staining the blankets. She had died sometime in the days before we found out. I was too busy and contracting too much to notice her movements slowed. And anyway, I had read baby slows down before birth. (That is not true, by the way.)

When we came home, I used to look at the pictures over and over again. But my husband could not look. She was so bruised, covered with thick vernix. Her lips were bright red from the blood pooling in the head after death. And the skin on her eyelids were peeling off. To Sam, she looked too dead. To me, she looked like my family, my nose, dark skin, and wild gypsy black hair. I asked to put a photograph of her in the house, and my husband refused. It was too much, he said. And so, she became my daily secret ritual. I snuck into the office and just stared at her on the screen. I had one photograph of her in our home, a photograph of me pregnant with Lucia at 28 weeks, my husband’s hands wrapped around my waist.

I began painting her and I together. Me holding her in a hospital gown. Me as the Virgin Mary holding her. Me carrying her. But it wasn’t the same. I stopped looking at the pictures of her. It was part of her death that I regretted–good photographs. Last year, I met Amanda at a reading for the book To Linger on Hot Coals. Then our paths kept crossing. Finally, she asked to see a picture of Lucia. Most of my family had not seen pictures of Lucia Paz, and I couldn’t decide if I should or should not share them. It felt like exposing the most tender part of myself, leaving my most vulnerable places in me open to the sky. And yet, I trusted her. She asked if she could draw Lucia. I was both terrified and honored and sad and excited. This path unfurling in front of me was one I simply had to take. I agreed.

Watching my daughter come to life has been one of the most profoundly amazing experiences of my life. Six years ago, she was taken away from me, and in a small way, I feel like Amanda gave me part of her back. Finally, I have a picture of her that looks like the baby I saw on Winter Solstice 2008. That looks like the baby I held, and the baby I see in my mind’s eye. With my son’s nose, and my daughter’s forehead, and all the bits from both of us–Lucia Paz–this amazingly beautiful drawing is who she is. As the picture developed, it is like she was talking through Amanda, showing herself to me, popping out, “Peek-a-boo.” I cried nearly every time I saw the blog pop up on my feed. It often caught me off guard, and I admit felt strange, sometimes violating, and then quickly moved to comforting.

“Here I am, Mama,” my little lady bug whispered. “Always here with you.”

b. 11.02.2006  d. 01.11.2009

Matching Chins
Matching Chins. 2015

I was sitting in my office at work in June 2008 doing paperwork and chatting with a coworker.  I don’t remember how the subject got brought up,  but it did.  My coworker (also a friend) started telling me about her friend, Renee.  How she has this darling son.  The cutest, sweetest little boy.  I remember her telling me they found a tumor in his chest.  I remember her asking me to send positive vibes, prayers, good thoughts to this family.  My coworker would give me the updates weekly or even sometimes daily on Koles progress.  I knew all about this boy and his family.  Then the day came when this darling boy left our earth in January 2009.

I was scrolling through my Facebook feed in September 2014 and a picture of a little boy showed up.  I dismissed it and kept scrolling.  This photo just kept popping up in my feed – for days.  I did not recognize the little boy, but I happened to see Renee’s name and memories started flooding back.  I DO know this little boy.  This is the little boy I heard so much about so long ago.  It was believable he is the little boy I had prayed for all those days.  Renee and I have some mutual friends and acquaintances, although we had not crossed paths prior.   I set about contacting his mother about drawing him.  Renee connected with me over Kole and pointed me to Kole’s journey through her Care Pages where she kept a journal for friends and family during the long days and nights in the hospitals.  Renee has shared some of her most private moments with me.  So far it is also the most detailed drawing of all five.

The photo Renee chose for me to draw was of Easter morning March 2008. Kole is 16 months old. Renee says, “It was taken not long before we knew he was sick. he was always a joy in the mornings. he often woke up on his own and just played in his bed. he had done that on this morning, I awoke and could hear him in there talking to himself. so I got up and went to the fridge and got the eggs and started hiding them. I was eager to watch him search. I grabbed my camera and walked into his room with his basket to get him. It was cold outside so I hid the eggs inside. I just loved his face in the mornings.”  

Here is an excerpt from Renee’s care pages journal: “I saw a small lump on his right rib cage. It bothered me. I asked about it at his checkup in April 2008 and was told it was nothing to be worried about, a “sternum abnormality”. I also told them his eating wasn’t as hearty and his sleep patterns were disrupted and out of sorts. I was told these things were all normal and he was a healthy growing boy hitting all his milestones.  Then he developed a low-grade fever.

No matter what I did, I couldn’t get it to go down. He seemed sweaty and his breathing seemed labored. He was very clingy and I could tell he didn’t feel well. He whimpered and whined which he never did. He was diagnosed with pneumonia on a Friday and got worse over the weekend. His skin was pallid, his lips were blue, and he could barely sit up by himself. X-rays ordered were inconclusive. By Monday, after a brief but chaotic series of tests at the pediatricians office, he was rushed by ambulance to the York Hospital and put on oxygen immediately. They pushed me around on a gurney for hours from room to room, test to test, while I held him in between my legs on my chest. More X-ray. Ct scans. Blood work. The whole mess. Finally we waited.

Before long, a parade of people in white coats from the radiology department walked in to our room with somber faces. My mom was there. Sitting in a chair. I was holding Kole over my shoulder and just walking around snuggling him. The doctor spoke first. He claimed they found a mass in my sons chest via CT. My mom fell out of her chair. I clutched Kole tighter. I asked if it was big. He said yes. I asked what was going to happen. He told me the hospital didn’t have the proper treatment for Kole and that he would have to go to Hershey Children’s Hospital. Our regional pediatric oncology specialists. That meant he thought my sons gigantic tumor was cancer. The doctors walked out one by one. A man with curly light brown hair came over to me and told me how sorry he was. I went numb as I felt the pieces of understanding falling into place. The helicopter arrived within 5-10 minutes. I don’t remember feeling anything but Kole, wrapped in my arms.”

I asked Renee if she wanted to share anything, this is what she wrote for us:

“It has been a difficult season. Fall settles into a cold winter freeze that doesn’t seem to leave my heart until spring. Every year passes and I go through my grief cycle. June- Koles diagnosis. July August September and October are like months of hope for me. Kole thrived. He surpassed the odds of continuing to grow and develop an astounding vocabulary and intelligence beyond his years while being inundated with the most toxic chemicals we as humans put in our bodies (willingly?). I love summer and fall for this very reason. I feel connected to my son and to hope itself. November- his birth. A season of sadness as Thanksgiving approaches (Kole deteriorated) and then Christmas (we weren’t sure he would make it through the holiday). I kept praying he would stay. He would be with me and hold me into the New Year. He did. I prayed he’d be there to see my 29th birthday in February. He didn’t. 

On Saturday January 10th, 2009, I got down on my knees, alone, beside Kole’s bed, listening to him barely breathing and seeing what looked like a science project monster of what my child used to be. Kole hadn’t eaten or drank in days and his kidneys and liver were shutting down. I screamed. On my knees. I’m certain the whole Hem-Onc unit heard my pleas. I couldn’t take it one moment longer. Kole SHOULDNT have to take this one moment longer. He was tired. I was tired. I asked a God PLEEEEEASE!!!!! Please if you’re planning on taking my only sweet child, please take him now. Soon. I broke. I gave in. I gave up. I didn’t want to see Kole suffering any longer. I remember not being able to fall asleep after my breakdown in the hospital room. Light broke into the window of his room on the morning of Sunday January 11th, 2009, and I saw snow falling peacefully outside. I knew it was soon. I called everyone I could and told them if they wanted to see Kole one last time they needed to come. Come NOW. They did. Everyone who was an important part of Kole’s life was there in the room with us. I decided I had had ENOUGH of not being able to hold my son, and I asked for help. Everyone pitched in and helped push and pull tubes out of the way and adjusted monitors so I could scootch-in under my son’s limp, heavy body and embrace him like he deserved to be embraced. I remember placing his head under my chin, wrapping my arms around his chest, and feeling his small cold legs between mine. I clenched his body and felt his barely-there breaths. I wept. I prayed. I talked to him. I whispered softly, “Oh my sweet sweet boy. It’s okay. It’s okay. It’s going to be okay. Mommy and daddy love you so very much. And it’s okay. If there’s someone here to take you away somewhere (my dad, his pappy had just passed away 10 months prior), (Jesus), (some other spirit guide/greeters), then go with them. It will be okay. We will see you again Kole. I love you Kole. You’re a good boy Kole. It’s okay. It’s okay. It’s okay.” I stroked him and tried to take in the smell of him. Rubbed my face in what was left of his hair. Smooched my face into his cheeks. Kissed his fuzzy ears. Held his cold hands. Felt his chest go up and down one more time above me. Then it stopped. Everyone in his room gasped and sucked the air out of the room. His eyes opened. “His eyes are open!” Everyone exclaimed. He was gone. 

I completely lost my composure and we got everyone to leave the room. This was how I lost my son. This is why the calendar year is so very hard for me. I hate January and I hate the winter months in general. I hate cancer. I blogged the whole way through our journey and it touched many lives. Kole touched many in his short 26 months here on earth. After the “dust settled” my husband became addicted to pain medication and lost his mental stability.  I tried to move on with my life as best I could.  I dove into my career, moved to Philadelphia and found out in 2011 that my ex husband had unsuccessfully hung himself. I got brought back into trauma. I distanced myself from his situation to save myself. It took three years and over $7000 but I got the divorce finalized and was able to feel a freedom I hadn’t felt in years.  

I’m not sure if any more children are in my future. This has been a tough pill to swallow. This life. I contemplate having more children. I have to examine the opposite possibility as well, that I may not. I’ve had to reflect deeply on what this means for me. My mothering instinct is so hearty, would I be satisfied with this life if Kole was the only child I was meant to have? I weighed it out. Pregnancy was amazing. I actually loved being pregnant. I felt so connected to the universe. As if fulfilling a duty. Kole was something special. I enjoyed every day with him. I lived for him. He taught me more in his 26 months here than any other experience I’ve had in my life. He made me happier than I’ve ever been in my life. If he were to be my only, would he be enough? I decided he would be. He was. If he is the only child I’ll get to experience while on this Earth I will feel forever grateful. Would I enjoy having another child? Sure. You bet. Although it would be a mix of absolute elation and absolute terror. I will embrace it if it happens. I will not lay on my death bed with regret if it doesn’t. My heart tells me adoption may be up my alley for the future….. 

This season is a difficult one. Amanda Johnson made it more bearable for me this year. I was contacted about a portrait and was hesitant. I had buried this for years. I don’t look at videos and pictures much because it hurts. It was a real task for me when I was asked to pick a picture of Kole to be drawn. That meant unearthing the last 5 years. I realized it was time. I faced the pictures and videos with more grace than I expected. I even smiled. I SMILED. I especially smiled when I saw the picture of Kole on Easter morning that would be the replication. I knew this one was it. I could see it in his eyes. Amanda brought Kole to life before my eyes. Every day I actually looked FORWARD to seeing the progress. I was looking forward to seeing my son. I wasn’t trying to avoid it. I made a lot of progress as she made progress on the drawing. It was very healing for me. I appreciate it from the bottom of my heart. I am happy to share my story here and hope that anyone reading who has a similar situation in life or is struggling with pain and grief, cancer, or the loss of child, please get in touch with me. It feels so good to be able to talk and share and work through it. That is, when you’re ready. I avoided writing this final farewell because it was almost like the end of a healing process for me. But all good things must come to an end. Kole came to me veerrryyyyy strongly in my dreams last night. I felt like I spent the whole night with him when I woke up this morning. Too bad the whole dream was in the hospital, but I’ll take it. I think he’s telling me I can do this. He kept saying “Mommy!” “Mommy!” I think he was telling me something. So there you go sweet boy. Mommy loves you and always will. I can’t wait to see you.

“He was a bright light from the moment I found out I had a baby inside me.
He saved my life.”

b. 08.01.1982  d. 06.12.1990

Brothers
Brothers. 2014

I am honored to draw these two beautiful boys, Neil on the left and our close friend Ben on the right.  It means the world to me that recently my dearest friend Hank (Neil and Bens mother) shared his memory with me.

Neil passed on a beautiful day, just before midnight.  Born on August 1st, 1982.  The school year was just ending and the boys were playing in the creek with a friend that afternoon.  Screams filled the air.  Neil was under the water and not visible, the fire company sent divers into the creek.  It took them 20 minutes to find him.  20 minutes under the water.  He was life flighted to the hospital where his family was told after being in the water so long he would probably have brain damage.  The elephant in the room now was the decision to set him free, liberate his soul or keep him here.  Neil made his own decision and passed just before midnight of his own accord.  June 12, 1990.

Neil and Ben’s mother, Hank (Henriette), is like my second mother.  I was instantly accepted as family from the moment we met.  My husband introduced us, they were well acquainted for over a decade through friendship with Ben.   Hank and I have shared recipes, gardening, advice, craft making, conversations for hours upon hours over the years.   Nestled in the beauty of the mountains is Hank and Dave’s “Camp”,  I could live there all summer.  Surrounded by fields of Queen Annes Lace, soft, squishy moss covered ground, roaring bonfires, laughter throughout the night, and fireflies lighting in the fields.  I had been told in whispers that Ben had a brother.  All the years I spent with Hank, she had not mentioned Neil.  I knew when Hank told me about Neil  – that I would draw him.

“Accidental death may be the epitome of evil. 
It is senseless. There is no one to blame. 
There is no way to think it through.”

b. 11.02.2011  d. 11.04.2011

Mother of Three. 2014
Mother of Three.    2014

I remember the first time I saw Violet’s name.  I remember reading her story.  Violet passed away due to a heart defect related to being diagnosed with a chromosome abnormality called Trisomy 13 after two and a half days of life.  I remember thinking, “Wow.  I can’t imagine losing a child.”  Then I realized I knew nothing about that.  As I read about Violet through her mothers blog Still Playing School I kept seeing the abundant love her family had for her and how they honored Violet.  I remember when I read Grief stops you in your tracks and time stood still.  I knew I had to draw Violet.  Devany asked me to give her a gift only an artist could give her.  A drawing of all THREE her children.  Absolutely.  She posed the LeDrew crew with the blanket and I used an existing photo of Violet, melded the photos together and set to work with pencils in hand.

I asked Devany to share about Violet, in her words:
“The thought of writing something that sums up our daughter Violet reminds me of how I marveled about her arrival before she was born. How do we fit a life time of love into the brief time she’ll have with us? How do I condense into text all that I have to say about her, the journey of meeting her, her short but beautiful time with us, and all that has happened since she died?

I remember when I realized after Violet died that I could still mother her. I had been very frantic to “do it all” while she was still breathing but after she was gone I realized that I had been mothering her while I was still pregnant and I was mothering her still. I raise her siblings to remember her, I share her with the world, I create for her, and I write. It’s not the way I imagined spending time with my second daughter but I welcome the opportunity to continue to be her mother for the rest of my life just like I was for the entirety of hers.

This is where amazing people like you come in. Friends who I had known for decades disappeared while people I hardly knew flocked to my side to witness this journey and all that evolves from it. They lift us up on the most heartbreaking days, the make us smile and cry with their memories and thoughts of her, and they remember her too. That is the greatest gift they can give.

I could write for the rest of my life about Violet (and I WILL) but I will never be able to convey in words what this drawing means to me. With tears in my eyes I can tell you this: You’ve given me something that I could never had otherwise. You’ve given me a picture of our three children together. You’ve also given me so much more. You’ve gifted us with the opportunity to watch the process of them come to life through your art. It is stunning to me that the drawing resonates with their laughter and sparkling eyes like a photograph never could. And you’ve given me your friendship. You’ve carried some of this burden of life long grief along beside me and you’ve placed Violet in your heart forever. Thank you for sharing her with me and the world.”

b. 01.08.1985  d. 03.02.2013

Penny For Your Thoughts
Penny For Your Thoughts. 2014

Funny, caring, loving, witty, sly, mischievous, fun, uplifting, helpful, friendly, genuine, nature loving, animal loving, adventurous – those are just a sampling of words I would use to describe my friend. Preferred nickname Houdini after the great magician, or Houd for short.  Arriving at “Camp”, we were always greeted by Houd willing and able to help us setup our tent or camper no matter if it was light or dark outside.  I found a photo, taken by my husband accidentally one night, while we were helping Houd setup his tent after dark.  We were all fumbling around with tent poles and clips and my husband had this idea to use his cell phone as a flashlight.  He accidentally pressed the camera button and took a photo of the corner of Houd’s tent.  We had a good laugh about it when finding it among our photos, it is now treasured.

When I saw the photo of Houd on my Facebook screen the early morning of March 3, 2013 and the message that he had taken his own life the night before….having been at that point in my life several times in the past myself.  The sad reaches deep.  It hurts.  Some day we will meet again.  A reminder that life is precious and short.  Very short, too short.

My best memory of him is shirtless at camp, barefoot, laughing with his dog, Coyote by his side.   Usually found adventuring or discovering, and loved telling jokes or riddles.  One of his pickup lines: “Hey does this rag smell like chloroform?”  If you tell him that you need some help,  Houd is known to reply, “I got beer.”  If you inquire about his injury, he will tell you that “the best way to pull out a tigers heart is through his teeth.”  I miss my friend.

“Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them.” ~  George Eliot

b. 01.07.1984  d. 04.27.2012

Eternal Embrace. 2014
Eternal Embrace. 2014

Written by Leigh’s sister, Angela:

“A simple click of a camera on a sunny day captured a fun moment at the park. Springettsbury Park in York, PA. I took many pictures that day, but the significance of this certain picture would not really show itself for a couple years. I thought there would be tons more to come, just like this one. I did not know at the time, that this would be it, and I am beyond grateful to have this memory forever caught on film. And now, this memory has been caught through the eyes of a true friend, and talented artist.

The embrace shared in this picture is between my sister Leigh, and my then two year old daughter.  My daughter is now a happy, healthy six year old. Leigh is forever 28, having received wings on April 27th, 2012. After a long battle with addiction, my sister lost the fight, and is now an angel watching over us. Kaya will never see her Aunt Leigh again, never hug her, never play with her at the playground on a sunny day. But, we do have this picture, forever.

Leigh always wore a smile, and was always ready to give life all she had. Unfortunately I have discovered, love is not enough when you are dealing with an addict. I wish it had been. All the love in the world was not enough to save my sister.

The first time my sister lived with me was so cool. Having a sister to talk to all the time and go shopping with and be silly with……. She worked at Red Lobster and she would call before she came home to see if I wanted any coconut shrimp, which was always a YES! We would sit at the table in the kitchen drinking Twisted Teas and getting a little loud and rowdy, but all in good fun! And when she decided to chop off her long hair, I went with her. (She was always the brave one. lol) She looked absolutely beautiful after the cut. She was always spontaneous. Where I was the thinker and worrier, she was the ‘lets just do it now’ kind of person. To me, she seemed so confident and so sure of herself, and never cared what anyone thought. She was a free spirit. She once called me from the car to leave me a voicemail message: wanted me to know that while listening to Rusted Root in the car she thought of me, and she loved me. Wish I still had that message.

Leigh was active in her addiction when my daughter was born. It was not until my daughter was two, that Leigh had been clean and in recovery for awhile, that she was able to meet her.  When Leigh would pull in the driveway, my daughter would shout “Aunt E! Aunt E!” My sister had a way of drawing people towards her, no matter the age. She loved her niece with all her heart. Shortly after, Leigh ended up moving in with us, and my husband and I tried to keep her sober and on the right path towards a bright future. After about a month, my sister fell into her old habits, and I was forced to ask her to leave out of safety concerns for my daughter. That was one of the hardest decisions to make, and one that will forever riddle me with guilt. Heroin made me choose. It made me choose between my beautiful daughter, and my beautiful sister. Although I know when my sister was in the grips of heroin, she was not really the sister I knew, I had always kept hope that one day she would win her battle with addiction and I would have my sister back.  My daughter would have her Aunt Leigh back. At this time, my daughter knows that Leigh was very sick, and that she is an angel watching over her. My heart breaks to know that one day I will have to explain to her why and how Leigh was sick. I am not however, ashamed. I am not ashamed of my sister, or her addiction. I was so uneducated and not aware of the support and proper tools to really help my sister and make a positive difference in her life. Since her death, I have tried to learn all I can, and I continue to learn more everyday.

Not a day goes by that I don’t miss my sister with all my heart. Every year in January, on her birthday, we get together to celebrate at TGIFridays,  and order her favorite Jack Daniels signature dish. We talk about present day, and share stories of my sister. It’s such a bittersweet evening. We would each give anything to have her there at the table with us, laughing and joking around.

The thought of my daughter growing up within this epidemic of Heroin has me scared. It has me fighting scared. I may not have known enough while my sister was alive to save her, but I will not allow her death to be in vain. I am currently a part of several anti-heroin groups, including my own personal fb page: Heroin Robbed Me. I initially set up the page to raise money to purchase a park bench in her memory. With the help of my friend and graphic artist at work, I designed and sold one of a kind anti-heroin apparel to reach the monetary goal. My sisters bench was placed at Rocky Ridge Park in York, PA. I chose the exact spot where she had a peaceful view, and during the Holidays she is under hundreds of beautiful Christmas lights as a part of the annual Christmas Magic at Rocky Ridge Park. I try to visit with her on the 27th of every month, her angelversary. My husband and I have also been active in several anti-heroin rallies locally. I have met some wonderful people who not only love and support me, but encourage me and blaze trails to fight this epidemic. By trying to raise awareness, I try to honor my beautiful sister as well. I do this for her, and I do this for my daughter.

Since my sister passed, I have been through countless emotions. Good days, bad days, horrible days. I have had incredible support from friends, family, and strangers, and I have also been a part of some who choose to be not so understanding and not so supportive. The ones that have stuck by me through thick and thin will always have a place in my heart and I will be forever grateful for their compassion and care, and the lift they gave me when I was unable to lift myself. When you see this portrait, I want you to see the love. I want you to see the happiness. I want you to see a beautiful moment between two people that fill my heart. I want them to fill your heart too.

Words will never be enough to truly capture the thanks I have in my heart for the artist, Amanda Johnson. Through her kindness and generosity and amazing talent, she has given me such a bright light in my soul. Where some days the unnecessary drama and hurt caused by the death of my sister made me lose faith, this portrait instilled in me that there are truly beautiful people out there.  For all, I am blessed to know and appreciate true friendship.”

“Addiction, and Heroin does not discriminate.
Heroin knows nothing of age, sex, race.
Heroin has no geographic limitations.
Heroin is in your backyard.”

Current portrait list to be drawn, in no particular order.  Portraits are chosen to be drawn after meditation and prayer for guidance.  List does not include commissions, which are drawn privately and given priority.

Brubaker

Herman

Engroff

Poppa

Lindsay

Conner

Addyson

To commission a portrait of your departed loved one with me, click here to be taken to a listing you can purchase.