A blank canvas can depict so much. Though devoid of anything visual, there exists on the surface the potential for anything to be set down. Through our art is an expression of who we truly are. When the creative subconscious takes hold, it is all-revealing. Not even after a life-altering injury is this creative process interrupted. Instead, it is affirmed.

At QLI’s Lied Life Center is the Art Studio. Many paintings are set on tables and easels. Some are finished, dated in the corners as works of clients from 2017 or 2018. More of the paintings are works in progress, each gathering in their own corners a collection of brushes and paint bottles. On the edge of the northern wall lies a smaller canvas. It is relatively small in comparison to others and is fused with a curious blend of colors.

This canvas belongs to Tamika Clemons. A client of QLI’s rehabilitation program for a few months by this point, Tamika has determined to make progress on the painting a bit at a time. On the canvas is a simple statement—one that bespeaks the driving motivation that Tamika holds during her recovery. In big block letters along the middle of the canvas, it says “TAMIYAH.”

From January to September each year, we see the seasons change from winter to spring to summer to early fall. We watch our children get a little bit older, moving from one grade to the next. Change defines the time that continually passes. Tamika also experienced change but on a far more severe scale—no sudden car accident or stroke but a diagnosis of idiopathic sensory ganglionopathy. Over the course of nine months, Tamika lost control of her physical faculties and therefore her ability to walk.

Determination For Her Family

“I’m doing this painting for my daughter—this is her name,” says Tamika. Today she is focusing on altering the colors that surround her name and fill the spaces within the letters. Before, the letters were bright with shades of white, while today, she’s inspired by a darker orange and yellow.

“I’m not an artist,” Tamika laughs. Her painting has been steadily progressing over the past of couple of weeks. Filling out the black edges of the letters, or even through creating little balloons that surround the name, Tamika has a focus.

“Tamika’s range of motion and ability to hold different sizes of paint brushes has been pretty incredible to see expand over the past month or so,” says QLI Life Path Specialist Jack Mahaffey. When starting out,  Tamika’s grip was much more constrained, with her fingers forming a constant claw-like position. Over time and with therapies, her grip has relaxed, freeing her fingers. Another piece of control regained for Tamika.

Not only has the grip of her fingers improved, but her gait as well. Throughout her time at QLI, Tamika can be found in the Fitness Center, on her own accord or part of a weight lifting group. Tamika puts in the time, gradually getting to a point where her physical therapy sessions involve her practicing ambulation with a walker. As she makes each deliberate step, she envisions a reunion with her daughter, for Tamiyah to see her mother on an upwards trajectory, holding out a firm hand to stop the devolution from 2021.

A Reunion and Continuation

“She’ll be on campus in a couple of weeks.” That was Tamika’s mantra for the days leading up to Tamiyah’s spring break when she would come to campus—she’ll be here soon. Everything that Tamika has worked for—every hour spent in therapy has been to not only reunite with her daughter, but to inspire her—showing Tamiyah that the mother that slowly lost abilities and control is no more. She is here now, present and able. The day will come soon when she will be home again with her mother.

When Tamiyah arrives at QLI during her spring break, she observes Tamika’s sessions, one of which is her Life Path mornings in the Art Studio. Tamika attends to the painting once more—the color selection, letters, and balloons that adorn the canvas. Below Tamiyah’s name, Tamika has painted a big yellow star, which draws in the observer immediately. And above her name, coming

down off the edge of the canvas to grace the balloons below are thin and thick black streamers. These become a border of sorts that, like the star below, ultimately emphasize her daughter’s name, and in turn the full character of Tamika. Her artistic expression is around her daughter, not herself.

Tamika is preparing a batch of red velvet cupcakes as a thank you to her clinical team who have worked with her so diligently for months. In QLI’s Mona Faith Kitchen she takes the opportunity to practice standing and balance as she organizes the ingredients she’ll need.

With Tamiyah’s help, she applies a whipped and flowery yellow frosting atop each cupcake. Like the painting she dedicated herself to for weeks, in just one short session that same care is given to what she bakes. The next day, all the treats are set out in the Hub Café, with one of the plastic containers bearing the phrase “Baked with Love.”

After enjoying the cupcakes, the team takes a photo together. In the middle—Tamika—the confirmation of the progress she has made. When she and Tamiyah return to the art room Tamiyah contributes to the painting her mother started, adding careful additions and small lines to the black streamers that fall from the top edge of the canvas.

Tamiyah’s contribution extends the care Tamika gave to it.

The canvas is filled.