There are two holidays that serve as book ends for my mother’s life: the 4th of July marks her death and Labor day marks her birth. This year – 2009 – marks the 20th anniversary of her passing and would have been her 92nd birthday were she still with us. My mother was an energetic woman hugely impacting my life; it wasn’t always easy, but I know and love the gifts she gave me. She loved making music and creating things. Growing up, there was always some kind of project in the works be it making candles (and spray painting them gold for whatever reason), sewing clothes for me and my sister, or preparing for her teaching job or her girl scout troop. She had so much energy and intelligence and she was driven to do something helpful for others.
When I was very young, my mom worked as an occupational therapist. One of her patients was a young man with polio confined to an iron lung. I remember that he painted the most wonderful paintings using only the movements he could make with his big toe. My mother had built a splint for that big toe enabled to cradle a paint brush and she spent hours with him making sure it fit correctly and gave him the support he needed to do his art. From my mother I learned that a person could do anything with a little help and kindness, and beautiful artwork flows from everyone.
Unfortunately, the last years of my mother’s life were spent in nursing facilities and hospitals. Our family was fortunate, because the government’s Medicare provision and my father’s health insurance covered those expenses. During the last few weeks of her life, I visited my mom in the hospital and I tried to capture those moments in watercolor. Robert Henri wrote in his book Art Spirit “the beauty of the lines of the drawing rest in the fact that you do not realize them as lines, but are only conscious of what they state of the living person…you have been let into that life.” It was important to paint her, so that I would never forget her pain. Over the years I have returned to those paintings to remember my mother and think about the good things she did for others. I share one with you now to serve as a call to action. This is our time we can make a difference and help others.
In the middle of August 2009, the group Remote Area Medical provided free health care services to some 10,000 residents of Los Angeles for eight days providing the uninsured with routine services like eye and dental exams, mammograms and access to special treatments like kidney dialysis. There is a crying need for healthcare reform in this country. We need to find the right model so that no one is without healthcare in our country. The latest recession figures indicate there are 40 million Americans living in poverty and they cannot afford healthcare. T. R. Reid’s book The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care describes four basic models of health care at work in the world: Britain’s Beveridge Model where health care is provided and financed by the government; Germany and France’s Bismark Model where private insurance funds — financed by employers and employees — cover everyone and are government regulated to keep costs low; Canada’s National Health Insurance model which uses private-sector providers financed by government insurance plans into which every citizen pays; and lastly the “out-of-pocket” model most found in undeveloped nations where you get what you can pay for. We can do better than the last model. Wednesday night, President Obama laid out his vision of healthcare reform stating “if you’re one of the tens of millions of Americans who don’t currently have health insurance, the second part of this plan will finally offer you quality, affordable choices. If you lose your job or change your job, you will be able to get coverage.” He went onto say we can help people in need and we can solve this big problem. When I remember my mom, I think of someone who was always trying to do something useful to help someone in need. Like my mother, everyone deserves access to healthcare through every stage of their life. Now it’s our generation’s turn to help others. Lets bring about healthcare reform and shape the future by our actions.