Louise Rouse's son Hudson died of a heart attack six years ago at age 22. It's been very hard, of course, but now her granddaughter Katelyn of Jacksonville has KT syndrome, a rare condition that requires a small fortune in surgeries by specialists in New York.
To soften her grief and raise money, Rouse had the inspiration of painting 108 images of Buddha over the past five years and putting them on silent auction in November at the Historic Ashland Armory.
Why 108 paintings? It's the number of beads on the prayer necklace of Tibetan Buddhists — and the teachings of Buddha, mainly about letting go of attachments, have been the central inspiration during Rouse's years of healing.
"I was reading 'Eat, Pray, Love,' and I saw it in there. I felt I could be helped by painting. I committed to paint 108 Buddhas," she said. "I started talking to my children's grandmother, who was dying. I asked her to help me and to watch over Katelyn, who needed help from the other side." Now, the 108 vividly rendered paintings cram the hallways and bedrooms of the upper floor of the country estate of Rouse and her husband, Steve Rouse, who started and ran Rogue Valley Electric for decades.
They will be put up for silent auction or "buy now" at the Armory Nov. 23, with viewing in the afternoon and bidding from 6 to 10 p.m. Proceeds will go for surgeries for Katelyn Robertson, daughter of Jonathan and Kerry Robertson of Jacksonville, who suffers from Klippel-Trenaunay Syndrome, a rare dysfunction of blood and lymph vessels.
"I have a team working to help me," said Rouse, referring to kinfolk in the next world. "I feel I'm going to pull this off.
"Before I started, I couldn't paint a happy face. I learned to use a lot of iridescent, metallic tones and spray paints. My focus was 'how do I stay in the present and release emotions and stop beating myself up with a 2-by-4?' I just kept painting Buddha, and soon I could feel what my son was like, in Heaven."
The main thing she has learned from being so focused on Buddha, said Rouse, is his central teaching that all attachment leads to suffering, including her attachment to her late son. Letting her paintings go, she added, also is a practice on that path.
"It's not over with death. It's never over. What I learned from this process is, in the end, what matters is how well you lived, how well you loved and how well you let love live."
Her ties with Buddha were strengthened recently when, as an assistant to Takelma spiritual elder Agnes Baker Pilgrim, she dined in Pwwortland with the Dalai Lama.
"She became my mentor when my son passed — and the Dalai Lama was incredible, very special. He created a meal of foods that reflected all faiths. He would say, 'Oh, you're a Christian? Very good! You're a Muslim? Very good.' "
Rouse follows the same spiritual path, she said, viewing all religions and spirituality as a "free spirit" and sprinkling her home with books and images from all faiths.
"I'm just into love, not judgment — and feel all should honor each other."
Rouse wrote an e-book about her painting journey with Buddha and her son, Hudson, noting, "I don't feel that Hudson is gone. I've felt him here saying, 'Don't touch that painting any more' or 'You need to work on that one some more.'
"I learned that those on the other side are here, willing to help us."
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.