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Life's Work wades into the 'sick cosmic joke' of caring for a parent with dementia

Artist B.A. Lampman depicts her experience with her mother's care through comics, paintings, writing and more

By Carrie Swiggum
June 3, 2022
Health
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Life's Work wades into the 'sick cosmic joke' of caring for a parent with dementia

Artist B.A. Lampman depicts her experience with her mother's care through comics, paintings, writing and more

Image: B.A. Lampman / Submitted
Image: B.A. Lampman / Submitted
Health
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Life's Work wades into the 'sick cosmic joke' of caring for a parent with dementia

Artist B.A. Lampman depicts her experience with her mother's care through comics, paintings, writing and more

By Carrie Swiggum
June 3, 2022
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Life's Work wades into the 'sick cosmic joke' of caring for a parent with dementia
Image: B.A. Lampman / Submitted

As children, we are never ready to care for our parents—even as adults, we can struggle to know when to take the reins and help. And then when it’s all over, we’re left trying to make sense of what just happened.

B.A. Lampman’s mother was diagnosed with dementia in 2012, but she had noticed unusual behaviour in the preceding years, complicated because her mother had always been somewhat eccentric.

In Lampman’s new solo show, Life’s Work: A Visual Memoir with the Victoria Arts Council, she presents a story through writing, paintings, and graphic-novel-style comics about her mother’s Lewy Body dementia and the difficulties in their relationship that complicated her caretaking.

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Her story is not particularly unique; 20% of Canadians have experience caring for someone living with dementia, and with an aging population, the number of families experiencing it rises all the time. Many of those caring for someone with dementia wish people understood the realities of the disease, since each experience is different; there is no guide book.

Lewy Body dementia is common and is distinguished by vivid, visual hallucinations or distortions of reality, unlike Alzheimer’s, which is primarily associated with memory loss.

After her mother died in 2017, Lampman began painting her portrait. In the last two years, this project started taking shape and has been her largest and most sustained work to date.

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Simply, the show is about transformation. Life’s Work spans the tattered, deeply personal journal entries from her youth to the final triptych painted most recently, which shows a human form boldly rising from the ground, the artist now in her early 60s.

All the pieces are ink on paper and the show consists of paintings, graphic memoir, and an installation. The show will lead toward a future graphic memoir, now in its final stages, that will tell the story from start to finish.

It’s a long story.

“I spent the better part of my life trying to figure out how my mother’s unhappiness had stunted me, because I was determined that her misery was not going to become mine,” Lampman wrote in an email,defining the formation of this project.

Life’s Work references the “spiritual mountain” Lampman climbed in order to be there for the woman who was rarely there for her, feeling initially that this was a ”sick cosmic joke” when it became clear she would become her mother’s primary caregiver as her Lewy Body dementia became reality.  

“By the end of the experience, I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. I couldn’t have come to this point at any earlier stage of my life…I even came to feel that I was honouring my mother, which I wasn’t really expecting.”

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Lampman says she turned to using a bamboo brush midway through the project after being frustrated with the first graphic memoir pieces she painted. In those pieces, she tried to jam too much into the small squares using a tiny, detailed brush. Instead, she gave herself more room to create.  

“I wanted to work quickly, without over-thinking. That way I was able to get lost in allowing the piece to unfold as it wanted to,” she writes.

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It is the act of letting the ink and brush guide the story and throwing away ideas of perfection and understanding that invites vulnerability into the project.

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Lampman says on one hand that what she went through with her mother is mundane.

“My experience is commonplace. I don’t want to whine about it, or lay blame. It became clear to me at some point in my life that I wouldn’t be the person I am if I hadn’t struggled to overcome certain adaptive habits of mind developed in childhood. And that dealing with the ways in which your parents fuck you up can create superpowers, too,” she writes.

“The more I accept or lean into emotional challenges I’m faced with, the more I’m able to be there for others. And for myself.”

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Maybe that’s what Life’s Work is about: letting go of perfection and expectations where they manifest; saying goodbye and thank you at the same time.

Open as of Friday, Life’s Work: A Visual Memoir, by B.A. Lampman will be on display until July 17 at the Victoria Arts Council, 1800 Store Street in Victoria, BC.

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Carrie Swiggum
Freelance writer
EMAIL:
TWITTER:
@swiggss
contact@capitaldaily.ca

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Life's Work wades into the 'sick cosmic joke' of caring for a parent with dementia
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