GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — An artist in Hudsonville will share her unique expression of gratitude to health care workers this week.
“I am grateful for the men and women who work in the health care field,” Kimberly Johnson said. “It’s my unique way of saying thank you.”
Johnson is the producer of the film “If My Paintings were on These Walls.”
It will feature sketches she drew while her mother was in the hospital in June 2020, just as the coronavirus pandemic was ramping up across the country.
Johnson’s mother, Georgia, had been out of breath one summer day while at home. She was also having headaches.
Johnson, who lived with her mother, called an ambulance to transport her to the hospital.
She, along with doctors, assumed her mom had COVID-19 until more tests showed a deeper problem.
“They came into the room and asked her how long have you had cancer and she looked at them and said I don’t have cancer and they go, well, we think maybe you do,” Johnson recalled. “That whole thing was surreal.”
Doctors would later communicate to Johnson that her mother had metastasized breast cancer.
“It started in the breast bone. She had an abnormal mammogram. It came back, and when she had the second ultrasound, they still didn’t find anything,” Johnson said.
She added, “The problem was it wasn’t in the actual tissue. It was in the breastbone, so they didn’t go far enough over to see, but by then, there was a mass on her breastbone the size of naval orange. It had already spread to her bone, spine and brain.”
Johnson spent each day with her mother in the hospital. While she was having tests run, Johnson would channel her pain to paper.
She had her pencil and sketchbook readily available in her backpack if she needed to vent her frustrations.
She found herself in that space each day she was at the hospital with her mom. Sketching quickly became her outlet as she was harboring her frustrations with the care she says her mother received.
“I would sketch what I see and not that I had any plans for it because I was pretty upset with the health care system at that point,” she said. “I had no desire to give them any props. I thought they could have caught it [her mother’s diagnosis] quicker.”
Johnson would sketch interactions between her mother and the nurses. She would also sketch what she witnessed in the hallway, which was just complete devastation.
Johnson described seeing nurses being physically and verbally attacked and overwhelmed by the stress of their caregiving duties during such uncertain times with the pandemic.
“Lots of group hugs,” she said. “I saw a lot of that in there.”
Johnson’s mother spent less than a month in the hospital before passing away.
“They said she had six months to a year to live, and in 20 days, she was gone.”
Johnson had been living with her mother for 47 years.
When she died, Johnson felt an urgency to move out of the home and into another place. The thought of staying at the residence that held many memories of her mom was painful.
The anger of her mom’s passing carried on with time, and Johnson wanted to get rid of all of her drawings and supplies and put them in storage.
Her friends helped her move out and executed her wishes.
“My mom was gone. I had no desire to do art again,” she said.
More than six months later, Johnson had a change of heart towards the health care workers.
“I’m giving that to God because it wasn’t me. He melted my heart, and he gave me compassion and gratitude for them.”
Johnson didn’t have any supplies handy as it was all in storage. She went to the store to purchase more items.
To her surprise, her box of sketches from her time at the hospital was in a box in one of her spare bedrooms, not tucked away in storage as she thought.
“It was meant to be,” she said.
She decided to do more with her sketches. She turned them into watercolor paintings which will also be included in the 20-minute film she recently produced.
Grammy award winner Debby Boone most known for the hit song “You Light Up My Life” narrates it.
The two met on Cameo, an app that allows the public to access thousands of celebrities. Johnson also knew Boone’s sister through an online platform.
When Johnson introduced the idea of a film to Boone, Johnson says Boone was immediately intrigued.
“I looked around and haven’t seen anything like. Debby said the same thing. I searched and there’s nothing like it,” Johnson said. “I really wish she [my mother] was here to see, but I imagine she would very proud.”
There will be a private viewing of the film at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 17, at the WKTV studios in Wyoming.
Individuals can watch that film live on wktv.org. A more public viewing will be announced at a later date.