Sean Matthews: The Deterioration of Catana

Sean Matthews: The Deterioration of Catana

  • Date: August 21st, 2017 - October 2nd, 2017
  • Every day
  • Location: Climenhaga Building, Upper Gallery
  • Cost: Free and open to the public

Sean Matthews: The Deterioration of Catana

August 21-October 20
Climenhaga Building, Climenhaga Galleries (small gallery)

My mother-in-law was diagnosed with ALS in June of 2016 and lived with us on and off for the next year. With each new visit and during each extended stay I witnessed declining motor skills, thinning of the body, and the loss of speech. Although ALS is somewhat unique in each of its hosts, most victims exhibit first signs of the disease in their outer extremities, advancing over time to their throat and mouth. The deterioration of Catana began with her tongue.

My wife’s mother would sit at our dinner table and I’d pretend to not be uncomfortable as she would manually move her tongue with her finger so she could push morsels of food down her throat. She would sit with us night after night, joyfully listening to the events of our day, unable to offer up her own anecdotes. Although she was a translator for the deaf, her ability to sign was lost on our inability to understand the language, so most of her communication was performed with whatever was around to write with and whatever was around to write on.

My children’s grandmother was a homemaker but ALS stole the comforts of her bedroom and replaced it all with a wheelchair and medical bed in the center of her living room. Social media kept Catana connected to the world when it became too difficult to leave her house and it kept us tuned in to the life she had been missing; her Facebook posts consisted mostly of images of nature and 30 second videos of cooking demonstrations. When Catana was not living with us and unable to speak, she communicated through text messages. One of the last messages I received from her was on May 31 at 9:34 am.

I want to know if you can create a sculpture to represent ALS and hope for a cure. I have searched for artwork but it’s like this disease is so horrible no one wants to show hope in it at all. I would so appreciate it. Love you.

Truth be told, after all I witnessed, I see no hope. I see a quick demise concealed by medications that prolong the inevitable. I see the emaciation of the body and the longing of the spirit. I see exhaustion and suffering. I see the whimsy of the Ice Bucket Challenge as an emotional escape from the reality of the disease. But in that whimsy I saw the birth of a short-lived awareness. Perhaps the hope that Catana was looking for picks up where the challenge left off. Perhaps we should no longer laugh with the disease and see it for what it is. Perhaps this new awareness can initiate deeper conversations and perhaps these conversations will initiate a different type of hope. My hope with this installation is that it confronts the past ALS conversation and converts whimsy into action. My prayer is that you find hope where I cannot.

Catana died in Hospice care. She lasted 10 days without food after requesting the removal of her feeding tube. By the end of the third day she had completely lost the ability to communicate and seemed to be drowning in shallow breaths of fluid. Her hair greyed over night as her body withered down to bone. Catana’s skin however remained soft and beautiful, much like it had been all her life. My mother-in-law died from ALS on June 14, 2017.

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