How Markers & Paper Got My Sister Through Hospice

March 1, 2019
By Beth Herrild

If you have ever sat with a loved one during her final days, you know that it is a gut wrenching, emotional, life changing experience. My Dad passed away suddenly a few years ago. He was in amazing physical and mental shape and was my Mom’s sole caregiver. Seven months later, my Mom, with congestive heart failure and unimaginable grief, entered hospice. Unable to return to her own home and with a grim prognosis, she made the decision to stop eating and drinking.

The hospice center was in a small city in Michigan where I and two of my sisters, had never lived. So, there were no old friends or neighbors bringing us casseroles and comfort. It was early December. All four of us sisters dropped everything and took turns sitting with Mom 24/7. We had no way of knowing how long we would be there. Within a day or two of entering hospice, Mom lapsed into a coma-like state. While the nurses would pop in every few hours to check on Mom, there was no support for us, the family. We were beside ourselves with grief and all kinds of emotions. We didn’t know what to expect, what was normal in this situation. We didn’t know how to stay centered while we were going through it.

As the days spanned into weeks, we were pretty much crawling out of our skins. It was tedious just sitting there with her. Although we are all avid readers, we couldn’t even read because none of us had the ability to focus that much. One afternoon, I went to a local craft store and purchased a pad of marker paper and several high quality black markers. My youngest sister has always insisted that she is not “artsy”. Despite this, I convinced her to begin drawing black & white patterns with me, kind of a tangle doodle. I showed her a few pattern ideas and before long she was making up her own patterns and really getting into it. Sitting together at a table, near our Mom’s bed, drawing these simple repetitive patterns was a therapeutic, almost meditative experience.


My sister told me that “drawing patterns with markers was incredibly calming for my brain! It allowed me to let go of all the what-ifs and just be present in the moment.” She said, “Dying doesn’t happen on a schedule. Mom’s process was going to take however long it was going to take. Drawing allowed me to stay patient and present. Patience was the big thing.”

That was three years ago. Today, my sister is spending a month of the grey Pacific Northwest winter weather in Mexico. She brought her markers & paper and has enjoyed recapturing that patient, present state of mind. She is using an old sketchbook of our Mom’s, which makes her feel closer to Mom. She says that she has also been way more observant of nature and all of the amazing patterns that occur in nature since she began drawing. I actually think she may even enroll in an art class at some point. How wonderful that art can open us to truly experiencing the present and connect us to our lives in tangible ways.

Now you can donate a zen drawing project box to Seattle Children’s Hospital in honor of a loved one or just because! We’ve partnered with Seattle Children’s to come up with a box that works for them. You order it and we get it to Seattle Children’s. Then, they send the box to wherever they have the highest need at the time and send you (or whoever you donate in honor of) a thank you note.