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NPR Arts & Life

NC Painter Speaks About Loss, Caregiving And Family

Credit Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance

In 2004, Beverly McIver’s career was taking off. She was 42, single, and well positioned in her role as a tenured art professor at Arizona State University.

But then everything changed. Her mother got sick, passed away, and Beverly was thrust into a new role – caregiver.
She’d promised her mother long before that she would care for her older sister Renee. She just didn’t expect it would be so soon.

“Renee is 52 but she’s third grade and she has epilepsy.” McIver says. “She’s sort of uneven in that if you see her in a social situation, she’d be very friendly and high functioning, but then she reverts back to doing things that a third grader would do. So she’s a challenge; she wants to be a grown-up but she’s not.”

Renee moved in with Beverly in Arizona. Beverly continued teaching, but Renee became her full-time job.

“It was challenging.” She says. “It was hard. I mean I wanted to kill her. Not my mother, my sister.”

The job became too much to do alone. Beverly and Renee moved back to North Carolina to be close to family and much needed support. Renee was still a challenge, but Beverly was able to gain a fresh perspective. That perspective is now on display at the Uptown Mint.

The portraits convey the pain of loss, the frustration of caregiving, but also a clear love and respect for her subjects- who are mostly members of her family.

McIver stands next to a painting titled “Truly Grateful." It’s a self portrait. She has her head down and her eyes closed. She’s dressed in a blue scarf against a warm, orange background.

“This is actually the most indicative of where I am in my life right now as a human being and as an artist.” McIver says. “Where I am exhaling and just being grateful for all the good things that are in my life.  And living in New York and having Renee settled.”

Yes, settled. Renee is now living on her own in an apartment for the disabled in Greensboro. Beverly is living in New York.

And Renee holds a central place in McIver’s work. In one painting, McIver places her standing in the center of the portrait against the same orange background, in a white dress and with large white wings. It’s titled, Renee as an Angel.

“I think what brings it all together is this idea of family and this idea of love and family taking care of each other.” McIver says.

And sometimes the caretaking goes both ways. Beverly admits that living with Renee changed her – for the better.

“I’ve learned a lot from her”, she says. “She’s given me a complete life, one that is selfless and one that honors patience, which I did not have before. And one that is talking about unconditional love”

McIver has found that her paintings strike a chord with other caregivers, people that  know the distinct, conflicting emotions that come with caring for a loved one.

“People say thank you. Thank you for giving me permission not to feel guilty because this has been a difficult job.”

This piece is part of the Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance, a consortium of local media dedicated to writing about the arts.