Angel of Light
Written and with artwork by:
Richard James Cook
Accounts as they unfolded from the diary of Deborah S. Cook
"A personal journey through imagination to find the spirit"
When Richard and Debbie Cook experience the birth of their first child, Laura, they are filled with all the joy and wonder of new parents. But within a few short months, Laura is diagnosed with a rare heart disease, and life for the Cooks becomes a frightening and grueling series of medical diagnoses and procedures. Despite a heart transplant, young Laura does not live to see her fifth birthday, and Richard and Debbie are left to face the shock and devastation of losing their child.
And yet, even in the midst of the greatest pain, God reaches down and stirs the beginnings of new beauty that was not possible before.
Angel of Light is a celebration of the fact that life and love do not end with death. In response to this loss, Cook turns to a new kind of artwork which acknowledges the vivid reality of the level of the spirit. Cook's gift to the world is displayed in Angel of Light in the form of exquisite, inspirational paintings, accompanied by poetry that expresses Cook's "journey through his imagination to find the spirit." Bringing fresh and personal perspectives on concepts of afterlife, love, the passage of time, God, and Biblical messages, Cook brings to the reader an uplifting and beautiful experience.
Read the Introduction and Chapter 1
The grief following the death of one's own child is one of the most painful experiences a person can go through. Nothing can compare to having a little one, whom you would lay down your life to protect, pass away despite all your efforts.
Can anything good come from such a loss? Out of the depths of his pain after losing his four-year-old daughter, Laura, portrait artist Richard James Cook found a beauty flowing through his brush and paints that he had never expressed before. Through the experience of being close to Laura's life and death, Richard discovered a new level of artwork - art that expressed the realm of the spirit.
"Angel of Light," the first of Richard's spiritual paintings after Laura's death, brought him a measure of reconciliation and comfort. Following this work, Richard went on to create many more paintings that depict more than just the physical eyes can see - paintings that reach into the realm where the spirit exists, where there is no death, and where God's presence is realized. He used these works of art as a means of exploring the reality where Laura now lives, and of finding a feeling of connection with that world.
The collection of artwork and poetry in this book is a gift to all those who want to receive it. Richard painted them not only for himself, but as tools for others to use, to find connections with the realities of spiritual beauty. His gift can raise our minds to the wonder of God, and the wonder of the eternal outpouring of love, comfort, and life that come from this one great Source.
Chapter 1: A New Heart
My story begins on the 13th of September 1985, in a small delivery room at a hospital in Toronto, Ontario. I knew on arriving there that I was ill equipped to deal with what was to follow. Perhaps I should have been more attentive to those coaching techniques in the pre-natal classes. I have had little problem breathing for myself -- I've been doing that for as long as I can remember - but I found I was not a natural at assisting my wife in her breathing as she entered into labor. Nevertheless, I managed to perform my role adequately, and my confidence was boosted by the confidence of the nurses, and by the feeling of being in good hands.
By 11:30 PM Debbie and I had in our hands our first baby, a girl. What a miraculous time that was. We had already narrowed down our choices of names for her to Laura and Elizabeth. We liked both names, and finally settled on Laura Elizabeth Cook.
It was the strangest thing, bringing this little bundle home to our small house in Etobicoke, Ontario. It was also one of the greatest experiences that I can remember. This homecoming marked the beginning of a number of adjustments for us - we found that babies need a lot of attention!
I think that it was during our Christmas visit with Debbie's family in Boston that we began to sense a problem. Laura was not thriving in a way that we felt was normal. A trip to the Hospital for Sick Children soon followed, and Laura was diagnosed with a rare heart disease called EFE or Endocardiofibroelastosis.
During the days and months that followed, we endured frequent hospitalizations and had to watch Laura struggle as cardiologists worked to balance drugs to support her weakened heart. Laura became our only focus. The cardiologists gave us statistics, and we learned that about a third of all children diagnosed with EFE fully recover from the disease, while a third of them remain the same, and a third deteriorate.
The best thing in our lives, Laura, and the worst, her illness, converged like two roads merging together. We were facing a new road, not knowing what lay ahead, and we felt helpless. The best that the doctors could do and the best that we could do were not able to alter the course that was to shape Laura's future. I am so grateful that the Lord has been a central focus in our lives, because I have found, with that focus, that the appearance of hopelessness can actually be the beginning of real hope. Not the kind of hope that the Lord would provide the miracle of full physical recovery for Laura, although that would be nice. But instead, the kind of hope that the Lord's closeness would provide the strength to proceed on that difficult road ahead, and give us the vision to understand and read the signs, and to make the most of the sights along the way. It was not just Laura's destiny that was about to be shaped, but our own as well.
I cannot remember how early on it was suggested to us that a heart transplant was an option to consider in cases like Laura's. I can remember the thought sounding like something out of Aldus Huxley's "Brave New World." Yes, heart transplants were common in 1986, but they were still in a pioneering stage with young children, and were a last resort.
As time went on we did not see the signs of improvement in Laura's health that we had hoped for, and various infections would put her back in the hospital. One time when the fight against an infection was not going well, Debbie and I sat on the grass just outside Sick Children's Hospital having lunch, trying to make sense of the cardiologists' question: "If Laura goes into cardiac arrest, do you want her resuscitated?" How far we had come from that first day in the delivery room.
In spite of the tumult there was much for us to be thankful for. Laura was a most extraordinary child. Between her problem times she was usually very happy and inquisitive, and she loved people. I feel safe to say that those who came in contact with her were often touched in some special way. Her unique personality certainly was one of the sights along Debbie's and my shared journey that provided some of the strength we needed. Where did Laura find this strength and happy view of life?
I remember that Laura's favorite color was blue, and that she loved to dance. I clearly remember the reaction she had when we brought our brand new baby, Ryan, home from the hospital. We were out in the back yard, and the day was bright and warm in early summer. Laura, just twenty-two months old, suddenly grasped the idea that this baby was ours, and was here to stay.
Read Reviews of this book
ANGEL OF LIGHT: Reviews
Portrait artist and bereaved parent Richard James Cook provides more than a straight-from-the-heart account of the life and death of Laura, his young daughter. His exquisite, enlightened paintings and poetry delivers the reality of spirit. Hope and reconciliation lead Cook to new realities and strengths reflected in this fresh presentation of spiritual artwork and writing. The book's uplifting message provides the reader a transforming, uplifting experience while providing insightful concepts about the afterlife, time, and God.
- Mindquest Reviews
Cook is the writer and the artist in this impressive large-size collection of sorrow transformed into beauty. His five-year-old daughter, Laura, died, and out of his massive grief came spiritual paintings and words of solace, faith, and recognition. The paintings are truly beautiful: tenderly blue, filmy, radiant and joyful. There is the story of Laura, there are the paintings, and there is the projection of what it might be like as an angel. The words are sheer poetry, sheer recognition: "It is the dawn, and today is the beginning of a new age. Jerusalem is perceived from within." Figures reaching up, always up, "instructed by the constant in-flowing of Divine Light." The Lord is my shepherd: "You are always there, inclined to lift me up, touching the core of my heart." Crown of glory: "The time is at hand for the bondage of self-loves and idolatries to be broken away, those things which have plagued humankind from ancient times." To his son, Ryan, he warns of a great foe: "He is called 'Growing Up,' and 'Disillusionment'." A wedding: "Each brush stroke records all the precious moments lost, now found." If prophecy is the shape of things to come, then anguish transformed is its soul. A book that touches essence. Cook has the great gift of making it all seem immediate and giving spirit to all the branches of the tree of memory.
- The Book Reader, Spring/Summer 2001
This is a simple title, profound because of its universal topic and the subtle approach to this topic through art. The topic is that one we cannot escape, for death will take us all in its time; for the author, his daughter's time came before her fifth birthday. Mr. Cook opens the book by sharing the story of his daughter's brief life -- showing the struggles faced up to her last -- and then, where I think the book takes its power, he shares with us the art. He joins together poetry and painting almost in question and answer format, pondering through simplistic verse, and apparently finding answers on the canvas. And it seems the answers are being given him; as he says, "While painting, I felt that it was not my hand that was guiding the brush. I was there merely to paint, to listen and to learn." Some of these works are more subtle, some less; they all seem certainly to draw on inner guidance or inspiration. My favorites among them include the title painting, "Angel of Light," in which the dying girl on canvas bottom awakens -- through means of a watery reflection -- into life and happiness in a lighted world. Certain paintings in the book appear less connected to his daughter's death, though they do all deal with the author's questions of and thoughts on the spiritual world and God. Two favorites among these include "The Holy City" and "Crown of Glory" (with an amazing Sphinx-like lion!). The author's precise reason for including these other paintings is a little unclear, but it is evident that the entire book represents a search into the other world.
Angel of Light
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