Pieta

The one word, 'isolation', sums up a lot for me. My husband chose isolation. It was his way of dealing with his cancer. He was very angry. He didn't want anybody to know, not his friends, his family or the children, who were six and nine. For me that was not the way I function. I found ways of talking with the children about illness and death at bedtime, in story terms, answering their questions when they felt ready to ask them. My husband was very strong, very capable, full of life and lived life to the full. For him his cancer was just another challenge. It was something to fight, find the best treatment, pay what was necessary, get himself better and nobody need know. He was someone who really played with life. He had lots of confidence, very different from me. I find life a struggle. It struck me at the time and it has struck me since, we are each given a hand of cards we'd find most difficult to play. This image came from a dream I had moments before waking. I opened my hand and there was a butterfly just sitting there. As I opened my hand fully the butterfly flew away. This happened several months after my husband's death, but as I woke I knew that the butterfly was really him. I don't know how, but that was the feeling with the dream. I wanted the butterfly to be colourful and it's done with very free brush strokes.

I didn't really know what to do at first, faced with a blank sheet of paper. I felt it was an opportunity to mess about with paint, and I found myself playing with these little images on the wings over the wings and it was very satisfying. A lot of the symbols on one side are repeated on the other, with some slight differences. Those two black bottles, one of them has got the message standing up in it and the other has a puddle coming out of it. This is linked with the time that my husband came back from the doctor with a bottle of morphine. It was quite worrying; he would sit up in bed and swig from it. I rang up the hospital to ask them about this because I was very shocked. They eventually found out that the sort of pain he had didn't respond to morphine. The worst thing is running out of time, hoping for an oasis of calm near the end - wanting the physical responsibility taken off me to focus on our relationship and his death. In the last two or three weeks he was having hallucinations. I think now that he died with a lot of unspoken stuff. He really wanted to be a grandfather; it is a huge regret not to see the children grow up.

There were regrets about not having enough time together. I felt I was with him at the end, as he wanted, the nurse on one side and me on the other. There were still ten minutes left of the workshop and I felt there was something I needed to say before I left. Sometimes you're having a conversation with someone and then you find yourself saying something very important just before you go out. I started doing this long sweeping curve which really is the incision on my husband's back where they took his lung out. This involved cutting his vocal cords. Something neither of us even suspected was that he would have no voice. He was a man who needed a voice, to be in control. He wouldn't be seen as vulnerable. It was very frightening to see him with this huge scar sitting up all night every night. It's also like a train track and these are staples holding it together. I was shocked: something so huge as having your lung taken out of your body and all you see on the surface is this neat little pink line with the two edges of flesh coming together like a couple of bacon rinds. It is really quite absurd because it all looks so neat, with neat little staples. My feeling now is that it was so at odds with my feelings, which weren't neat at all, really spilling over, so stuff spilled over out of this bottle here. The waves the bottle with the message is floating on are waves of emotion. The dolphin was not intended to be a dolphin but it looks like a dolphin.

There are kisses on the label of the bottle - I'm taken back to when the children were tiny putting kisses on cards - a kiss from each of us. Now there are the three of us like the three kisses, and three kinds of waves. I am very conscious of there being three of us now. The circles on top of each other are the children on my shoulders. As I look at it now I get the feeling of the weight of being a circus acrobat with a couple of people standing on top of me. And as far as the message in the bottle goes, I can remember at the time, I just burst into tears when I put the furled up message with some writing on it in the bottle. I drew the red pain here - it is unfinished because we didn't have the opportunity to have a peaceful time at the end. During his cancer and all the way through it I had no idea what to expect. I just found myself dealing with whatever happened as it happened. You just do what you can.