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Beauty in the Ordinary

Reflections on the Recent Past

Mother Portrait Painting Seamus Berkeley
Mother, Portrait Painting Seamus Berkeley

It has been some time since publishing my last blog post. Many significant events have transpired in my life over the past few years, which have impacted the frequency of these posts and my artwork.

As you may know, for the past several years, I’ve been very involved with the care of my aging mother who had returned from Ireland in early 2010 to live close to me in the Bay Area of California. In late 2015, my mom and I moved back to Taos to live in my house there. While we expected that she would live for several more years, after a short period of illness, she died peacefully at home in January 2016. This time of being with my mom in the last stages of her life, has had a significant impact on how I perceive life and what is important. During this several year process of caring for my mom, I was exposed to things that I had never witnessed before, most significantly: witnessing how people in her life cared so much for her, especially healthcare workers. I was amazed to see how people who knew very little about my mom could care for her so kindly. The concept of a person dedicating their life to caring for other people was remarkable.

Seeing this, along with watching my mother grow older and less capable and then leaving our world, affected how I saw the importance of actions I am taking. I even began to reevaluate the importance of creating paintings. At times, the idea of even painting at all was questionable. Why would I bother making new artwork when my mom was in the hospital or simply needing help in her daily activities? It began to enter my mind that really, caring for one another takes precedence over any other activities in which we can engage in this life.

Over the past fifteen months since my mom has passed, I’ve reflected further on creating artwork and pondered how to connect it with the notion of serving people, rather than just making another painting to express beauty. I’ll be commenting on those events and how they have affected my artwork in future posts. Stay tuned!

28 responses to “Reflections on the Recent Past”

  1. nancy feinstein Avatar
    nancy feinstein

    I really appreciated reading this. First, I remember talking with you about your family, and know that this was such a wonderful thing that you got to have this time with your mom. As a mother, I also know that it must have been so deeply good for her as well.
    This dilemma about doing art has been on my heart for decades. Ironically, I was just coming into the part of my life where i thought that i would finally be able to devote real time to doing art – and Trump was elected – calling me to many other forms of stewardship of relationships, community, people and the planet. I appreciate very much what you’ve shared. thank you.
    nancy feinstein

    1. seamusberkeley Avatar

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Nancy.

      I wish that everyone is able to spend time with their loved ones when they are ready to part this world. It’s similar to being present for a birth and can be comforting for all present.

      Art! Yes, the turmoil of the world seems to require positive action as a remedy. I’m working on finding a balance of action and artwork, as it is being brought to my attention that bringing more beauty into the world contributes to healing. It’s what has led me to participate in an open studio this Memorial Day weekend—will post more about this soon.

  2. Andrea Fotopoulos Avatar
    Andrea Fotopoulos

    Seamus, this is beautiful. What great conversation around why we create and how what we create can have an impact on the greater good, if we choose. Many people heed the call to use their effort in some impactful way.

    I have also thought much on the journey that we walk on life and how we, as a culture, don’t do a lot of work on dying. We are frightened of it to the point that we hide it, or run from it but don’t really respect it, honor it and do the work of ushering those on the journey out with love. Like children that need their parents to guide them through the beginnings of life, we also benefit from being guided them; the same with our elders. This is the full cycle of our lives. I send out my love to you and to Sarah. It’s been many years and I think of you often.

    1. seamusberkeley Avatar

      Nice to read your words, Andrea, which resonate very much with me and my perspective on creativity, the temporariness of our situation and being with our elders on their journey from this world. Thanks for sending love; returning the same to you.

  3. F Adams Avatar
    F Adams

    Dearest Seamus, you are a loyal and loving son. Your mom moved to be near you in Bay Area, moving into your Taos home to be with you. She obviously trusted and loved you very much. You were there for her times of greatest need, caring, comforting, and loving her as a devoted son. You were able to see the amazing beauty of others devoted to the care of strangers, causing you to reassess the relative importance of your work. However, those that you admire (rightfully so) are versed in caring and healing arts, with a creative process aligned with other arts/creative processes. Please consider that your works, gifts, and talents have similar profound significance in a caring, nurturing community, addressing human spirit and psyche instead of physical body. Imagine the joy and respite that you have provided to hundreds (if not thousands) of people that you have interacted with in your artistic career, life endeavors, and art. Visual and aural arts have ability to distract those battling with illness from their circumstances, pain and suffering, seeing beauty instead. And, an artist “painting from the heart” has chance to connect with viewers in an emotional and spiritual manner that may have physical beneficial affect. The Divine artist and physician is capable of using any person as the “brush” that creates the “painting” of healing and peace in the world. Please be gentle with yourself in your life review. Condolences to you, your family, and friends in the loss of your mom!

    1. seamusberkeley Avatar

      Wow, Fritz, I’m just astounded by what you’ve written, especially because it is has been so many years since our last communication. Your words are inspiring to me—thank you so much for writing them.

  4. Robert Sawvel Avatar
    Robert Sawvel

    Dear Seamus, we extend our sympathy to you regarding your mother. Val and I appreciate your comments and empathize with you. Val lost her mother in 2014 after a long illness with dementia and she lost her brother Pete last year to cancer. Friendships and people are most important. We too are becoming older and our perspectives are changing. Val is now retired and I am teaching at two colleges in Iowa. Gennai lives on the west coast and Rose is still in Colorado, near Denver. How are your children?

    1. seamusberkeley Avatar

      Appreciate your condolences, Robert. Totally agree with you that friendships and people are most important. Perhaps we can continue this conversation through email?

  5. Tim Avatar


    Sorry about the passing of your mum! Great painting of her!!!

    Miss seeing and talking to you out in CA. I hope all is well!


    1. seamusberkeley Avatar

      Thanks for your words, Tim. Things are well here in Taos. Perhaps we can talk another time on one of my visits to Bay Area or if you’re ever in Taos—it’s a nice place!

  6. Heather Sontag Avatar
    Heather Sontag

    Beautiful retelling of the effect your mothers last years had on your life. I enjoyed reading this and hearing how you have been doing.

    1. seamusberkeley Avatar

      Thanks for writing, Heather. Hope you are well and that you artwork is thriving.

  7. Jim & Sharron Avatar
    Jim & Sharron

    Our deepest sympathy on your loss, Seamus….

    1. seamusberkeley Avatar

      Thanks Jim and Sharron; so nice to hear from you.

  8. Silvana Piga Avatar
    Silvana Piga

    Thank you Seamus for sharing this intimate place of yourself. However you decide to reflect those special events of yourself​, I have no doubt that your brush strokes shall always unfold a palette of beauty. Your mother must be a very a very beautiful spirit the world looks forward to meet through your exquisite painting.

    1. seamusberkeley Avatar

      Your words are inspiring, Silvana. One of the things we did together in my mom’s last days, was to read a series of near-death experience stories; my mom even requested more if I forgot. Those stories gave both of solace and opened my mind to the possibility that things in this world may not be as concrete as I have taken them to be. Your comment about her spirit in appearing in paintings is very much in alignment with this.

  9. Dora Avatar

    Oh Seamus. How absolutely beautiful that is. How you put such emotion into words is amazing. Your Mom is so proud of you as am I. You must keep painting and creating beautiful pieces as you have done and should continue to do as your Mom would want. I so look forward to seeing your next beautiful piece. XxxxxDora

    1. seamusberkeley Avatar

      Thanks for your kind words and encouragement, Dora. Some paintings are in the works — we’ll see how they unfold!

  10. Meta Dittmer Avatar
    Meta Dittmer

    Wow Seamus, that is beautiful. Losing our parents is one experience we are all guaranteed to have, unless we lose ourselves first. Many of my friends are losing their parents now and it has initiated many conversations with my Mom over how to prepare for this unfathomable event – losing her some day. I no longer live near her, which she says will make it easier to lose her, but I disagree. I think spending that intimate time together in her last years, like you did with your mom, might make it harder initially, but would allow me to make peace with her passing much sooner. I will stay tuned to hear more. Thank you for sharing.

    1. seamusberkeley Avatar

      Nice to hear from you, Meta! You’re welcome for writing. Happy to read that you and your mom are talking about the inevitable of each one of us leaving this world. I’m in total agreement with you about being in close proximity. When my mom was living in Ireland, my mind was dreading receiving a call to say she was gone. It was my good fortune to be with her during her final years and journey to another realm.

  11. Daniel Holeman Avatar

    Thank you for that. I have been feeling much the same and contemplating frequently. For me, I think I will always have a hand in creating beauty for others to enjoy, but I feel it is in process of taking the back seat to more sacred work that helps others in ways that I can. Partly the times we are in. People are scared and hurting and more love can help. The love put into paintings is good and your artistic gift deserves to be shared with the world. Maybe there are other gifts we have that our hearts are meant to share generously with Life as well. Deep Blessings,

    1. seamusberkeley Avatar

      Glad you can relate to the post, Daniel. Yes, it does seem that there may be more important ways to reach out right now. This morning the song All You Need is Love came to mind.

  12. Wind Avatar

    Thank you Seamus for sharing this tender reflection and and for you caring so lovingly for your Mom.
    Sending love and blessings,

    1. seamusberkeley Avatar

      You’re so welcome, Wind. Looks like you’re still in Sebastopol; come visit the next time you’re in Taos.

  13. Carla Avatar

    Your words are so beautiful, important, and timely. I can’t thank you enough for this message, as it confirms in me a very powerful truth that applied to all of us.
    I look forward to seeing more of your art, and your words.

    Blessings and Gratitude,

    1. seamusberkeley Avatar

      You’re so welcome, Carla. Yes, this does apply to everyone and it’s worth keeping in mind relative to our actions. Take care!

  14. Chris Baker Avatar
    Chris Baker

    nice Seamus… thanks for sharing this.

    I know it was a great comfort for your mom to have you by her side until the very end.

    1. seamusberkeley Avatar

      Appreciate your comments, Chris and know you’ve had loss in your family too.

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