Still Life

Today I’m sharing something written by my very talented younger sister, Mary Beth Reynolds. She is a chaplain with Hope Hospice and Palliative Care Rhode Island, and presented this at our quarterly meeting, as a closing reflection.


When we look at photos taken from a trip,

it can be interesting to see who or what

made it into the background accidentally.


I’d like to share an experience of what I will call “A Living Photo” that

occurred during a recent patient visit.

I’ll call her Betty. She was one of several artists in my caseload.

I had visited with her once;

On the second visit, I joined the social worker.

Both times I felt Betty’s ambivalence about a chaplain visit –

too respectful to say no, not that religious,

yet animated when talking about things meaningful to her,

especially family and artistic creations.


On this second visit, I had a totally different perspective of her living room.

On the wall, beyond where Betty sat, were several of her paintings,

One a Still Life.

You’ve seen this type … the bowl containing fruit, a pitcher, a cup and saucer

All on a table, usually covered with a special cloth … clean, uncluttered

A still life might be a practice piece for more complicated paintings


This still life became a background, against the foreground (my focus)

of this 95-year old woman, who

talked openly about her physical and financial limitations,

Who shared the challenges she was facing

in preparing to move out of the place that had been her home for five years,

Concerned about packing up all her things,

Sensitive to causing additional burden to her children.


As she talked about present-day concerns,

Betty still exuded passion and energy from a lifetime of exercising

inspiration, vision, and talent

And the still life painting revealed to me movement,

The bowl, the pitcher, the table … were not static, but all about living.


Life that is still

Life that is still life

Objects on a table, a bookshelf, even those coated with dust,

are never just things, but doorways to hear importance and meaning,

to hear the relationships that have mattered through these objects.


Like the frame around a painting or photo,

We set boundaries to stay focused and maintain sanity in

our personal and professional doings.

But when we miss the fullness of the picture,

It may be time to shift the boundary,

Even pull it down and start over again.


Life that is still and still life

May each of us find moments in life to be still,

to see and hear the importance in the background.


And if I may …

May we value, and be valued for, the work of art we truly are.​​

13 thoughts on “Still Life

  1. Your e-mail got buried in the maelstrom that is my life at this time of year, especially this year with much “extra stuff” going on.
    I found it this morning.
    Thank you, Mary Beth, for your profoundly beautiful reflection.
    And thank you, Martha, for sharing it with your readers.


  2. Lovely! And so true. Both my parents are in an Assisted Living Dimentia Unit since last fall. This prose is so relevant! Thank you for sharing.


  3. Lovely! And so true. Both my parents are in an Assisted Living Dimentia Unit since last fall. This prose is so relevant! Thank you for sharing.


  4. That is very beautiful, Martha. And I totally get it. I’m a member of our Care Group team at church. I do a lot of visiting with the elderly. My oldest lady is turning 106 in September. So I know exactly what your sister is talking about. In fact knowing these women has affected me so much I wrote my own poem called Still Life.


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