Van Gogh’s Metaphor for Life, Hope … and Family Caregivers

I just returned home from a trip to London where I was overwhelmed by the beauty and history of the city. Perhaps one of my favorite moments, though it is hard to pick, was visiting The National Gallery. I took an audio tour of the most popular collections with my limited time and limited art knowledge. The Gallery held fabulous pieces from Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Monet and Van Gogh, to name a few.

As I was standing next to Van Gogh’s popular piece “Sunflowers,” another painting caught my eye. It was of long, weedy grass. Greens, blues and blacks mixed together to form an unkempt landscape. Tiny white butterflies were speckled through the grass’s general untidiness. Vincent Van Gogh painted this piece while he was a patient at the asylum at Saint-Rémy from May 1889 to 1890.  The work was aptly named “Long Grass with Butterflies.”

I won’t pretend to have any type of art knowledge, but I was deeply impacted by this work. To me, the painting was a metaphor for life, the challenges we all face and the hope we struggle to find. The long grass filled with weeds are enhanced with dark paint and speak to struggle, sadness and loss. Yet, in the midst of the mess hope is depicted in the tiny white butterflies. Butterflies are beautiful insects that symbolize the ability to change as they transform from caterpillars. As I stared at the painting I wondered about the ability to hope in the midst of life’s difficulties, in the weeds and disarray we all face.

As I look at my 5-pound replica purchased from the National Gallery gift shop I think about the family caregivers who are lost in the long, weedy grass. Life has become overwhelming with the constant struggle of doctors’ appointments, medication lists and housework. Hope is difficult to see as a loved one struggles, while change only seems to be for the worse.

What does it look like to see tiny white butterflies in the midst of the long weeds and grass? What does it look like to have hope in the midst of busyness—hope for yourself and for your loved one?

I plan to hang “Long Grass with Butterflies” on the wall as a reminder that hope and change are possible for me and for the family caregiver.

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