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How This Painting Helped Me See My Son's Brain Injury in a New Light

A friend from my days in high school grew up to become an artist. A few years ago I took some time to reflect on her work in an attempt to appreciate the magnitude of her talent. Having grown up with Leigh Blackistone, I was in awe of her artistic expression. It was like discovering a secret about someone that you had known for a long time. Leigh was a gifted artist!

A piece that particularly stood out to me featured a pear. Leigh used oil paints and light to create what I found to be the perfect painting. This was no ordinary pear. It was bold, bright and its silhouette captivated my untrained eye. What I knew when I looked at the painting was that I understood what it meant to have a piece of art create a place of knowing within ones self. The thing I loved most about this painting was the color of the pear.

Leigh had presented the pear in the most glorious shade of blue. The blue held depth and played on color in a way my own mind never could have envisioned or executed. While I appreciated all of Leigh’s paintings the Blue Pear stood out most. The pear haunted me…in a lovely way. It stayed in my mind.

Over the past few years I have thought about the pear and wondered what it was about it that specifically spoke to me. Art is meant to reach us at our core, and with this painting Leigh had done that. Leigh told me that art is about breaking barriers and not setting limits. She also shared that she loves being wildly different.

As humans we ascribe to an image of how objects, places and even people are supposed to appear. We lean into order, prediction and plans. But sometimes something comes along and strips us of all that is familiar and we are left with a blank canvas. We are asked to create something beautiful out of what might on the surface appear to be a mess.

Leigh shared with me that part of the depth I was seeing in her expression was the result of not only excellent instruction, but also her personal journey. Leigh was given a second chance as an artist. In her late 20’s and early 30’s she went through a period of temporary blindness that was caused by complications from childhood diabetes, a complication that resulted in two detached retinas.

It is difficult to imagine being an artist whose sight has been extremely diminished, but when Leigh shared that she could barely see while walking down the aisle on her wedding day, it brought it home in a way I could actually imagine. Leigh experienced a dark place that I can relate to.

My son’s severe traumatic brain injury has forced me, and certainly him, into unforeseen and unimagined territory. It has pushed our family to face new fears, and to stop expecting things to fit a certain mold or plan. It has taught us that at times, life is not in our control. We are all blind to what is around the bend. We have to learn to see and value what is right in front of us in the now.

Before Taylor’s injury I would have predicted that he would keep advancing in his career, being extremely smart and hard working. I would have expected him to meet and marry the girl of his dreams. I envisioned him buying a home, and filling it with a family of his own. Taylor’s life was somewhat predictable, because Taylor was predictable.

The plan worked until fate charted a new course for Taylor. Life gave him a new map. Taylor requires help reading, understanding and following that new map since the days he began to emerge from a long coma. Understandably he preferred the old map, the safe space that life was supposed to look like, verses how it actually turned out. And honestly, so did his father and I.

We have had to learn to rearrange what we imagined his life to be. My hopes for Taylor have changed to simpler things, but things that feel significant nonetheless. I hope Taylor can return to work. Taylor hopes to drive again. I hope Taylor finds a life partner. Taylor would like a girlfriend. I want Taylor to be healthy in his mind, body and spirit. Taylor wants bigger muscles.

So together, with his dad and brothers, we are creating a new life map and a new family map too. Taylor’s personal goals have shifted from traditional to things that are off the beaten path. But that does not make them any less important. He will most likely never earn a six-figure salary, but if he finds contentment at a job, and can earn a fair wage that would be and feel monumental. He may never live on his own, but if he can find a safe space to be independent that would be fantastic. The list goes on, and shifts from month to month and year to year.

Leigh shared with me that the threat of permanently losing her sight is not what helped her become a better artist, but rather it pushed her to be the artist she was meant to be. Because of the moments when her clear vision was robbed from her eyes, she was able to see more clearly the path she was meant to take in her heart.

I was drawn to the blue pear because of Leigh’s ability to take something familiar and transform it into something wildly unexpected with the use of carefully calculated techniques and strokes. Pears aren’t meant to be blue, and people aren’t meant to suffer serious, mind-altering injuries, but there is beauty in things that look and are different. I am choosing to embrace them, and honor the beauty that is found in unexpected places and in less than ideal circumstances.

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Art by Leigh Blackistone.