An art professor from the local college, having seen my kindergarten drawings, sought out my mother at a PTA meeting. The professor told her I had an innate talent that should be nurtured. We didn’t have the resources for art classes, and by the time we did, I had filled my days with other things, including a degree from Duke’s School of Nursing and a family of my own.

But, like many good mothers, Mom didn’t allow my potential to be forgotten; she told me that the opportunity would come some day and to be sure to pursue it then. Unfortunately, the time didn’t come in her lifetime. When my children were old enough for me to carve out the time, my mother’s terminal cancer backfilled my calendar.

Grief is a natural response to loss; remaining in it is not. To return to a state of wholeness requires processing that loss. Both professionally as an ICU nurse and personally, I am all too familiar with this truth. After the death of my mother in May 2010, it became clear that my most valuable tools would be my spiritual faith and the pursuit of my creative activities.

In homage to my mother’s aspiration for me, I pursued my artistic endeavors in earnest after her death. I gave myself a challenge: I would attempt to capture water on canvas. This quest stemmed from the inherent difficulty of adequately depicting fluidity in a “still” medium; I wanted to delve into the variety of forms water can take, acknowledging its ubiquity, and explore the symbolism associated with water’s powers to cleanse and heal.

Over several years, I carved out snippets of time from my various responsibilities to create a series of twenty acrylics I called “Portraits of Water.” Each showed water in one of its various forms or uses, from bathing to drinking to snow to waterfalls to suspended droplets that form a rainbow. 

The most symbolic piece, The Living Water, was my interpretation of the associated biblical promise of an omnipresent, sustaining power. Using only two acrylics, it depicts the splash from an individual drop. I chose blue and white: the typical colors associated with water, but also often representative of security and joy. The crown-shaped splash in my painting suggests Holy Authority. A single drop joins the whole, rippling into an endless body of water, representing universal interconnectedness and our eternal nature. The splash and its base ripple were created by painting the words for “Father,” “Son,” and “Holy Spirit” in a variety of languages.

The act of preparing for and creating these paintings, especially The Living Water, involved study and contemplation of both worldly and spiritual truths. The time set aside and the focus devoted to the creative process served as a “break in the battle” with my grief, affording mini-vacations from my sorrow. The deep healing found in striving to create beauty tapped into a wellspring of joy, and, by repeatedly immersing myself in it, I am made whole.

I finished that series, but I continued to create, expanding to pastels, watercolors, and poured acrylics. I have been involved in local art associations and curated exhibits and had pieces of my work juried into galleries in both North Carolina and Georgia over the decade since my mother’s death. I consider myself blessed to have had so many positive experiences and opportunities by realizing my long-deferred artistic ability, with the possibility of more to come.

Gallagher BSN '84 lives and creates in metro-Atlanta. 

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