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Published May 11, 2013, 11:40 PM

Leaving a legacy: Artist with Parkinson’s makes books for future grandchildren

WEST FARGO - Carol Morken hopes she’s taught her three children to choose happiness, health and wisdom. It’s her mantra. “It’s such a choice to say those things. I’m really not healthy, but yet I am,” she says.

By: Anna G. Larson, INFORUM

WEST FARGO - Carol Morken hopes she’s taught her three children to choose happiness, health and wisdom. It’s her mantra.

“It’s such a choice to say those things. I’m really not healthy, but yet I am,” she says.

Carol, an artist and a teacher at the Katherine Kilbourne Burgum Center for Creativity, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2007. It took her a year to fully accept her diagnosis, but once she did, it pushed her to “live more purposefully.”

For Carol, that meant working on leaving a legacy. She is authoring and illustrating children’s books dedicated to her future grandchildren in case she can no longer draw in the future or doesn’t live long enough to meet them.

Parkinson’s affects sufferers’ ability to move because of a problem with nerve cells in the brain and worsens over time, according to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation.

“I don’t dwell on this, but I don’t know how long I have. I want them to have something to remember me by,” she says. “I want them to know my personality and creativity and fun-loving spirit. I want them to know I thought of them before they were born.”

Carol’s working on books about tooth brushing, numbers and the alphabet. She’s also writing and illustrating a book about a little girl named Bubbles. With her full cheeks and short, blunt bangs, Carol says Bubbles resembles her as a child, and “Bubbles” was even her childhood nickname.

Carol draws and uses watercolors to create each image in the books. She also hand writes the text, saying it requires a lot of patience.

“I always tell my kids that when I make something new, it’ll go to their kids,” she says.

Each book is dedicated to her future grandchildren. The dedication page for her alphabet book reads: “This book is dedicated to all my dear grandbabies. You were fearfully and wonderfully made.”

“I am very happy whether they choose to have children now or later or maybe never,” Carol says. “I respect their choice, whatever it may be. I am blessed with all kinds of children in my life, whether they are children of friends, nieces, nephews, students, sponsored children in Nicaragua, (or) toots (children she’s tutored).”

Carol’s daughter, Kristina Lau, wasn’t surprised to learn her mom is creating books for her future grandchildren.

“My mom has always loved kids and has asked when I was going to ‘give her grandbabies,’ even before I was married,” she says.

Kristina, 25, and her husband, Kevin Lau, plan to wait a few years to have children, and she’s happy knowing the books will be ready.

“I know she will enjoy sharing them with my future kids, and when my mom is no longer with us, I love knowing that I can share something with them from their grandma,” Kristina says. “They will know that they were loved even before they were born.”

Carol says her children and husband, Jim, have been her biggest supporters as she’s started authoring and illustrating the books. Her oldest son, Justin, 29, says she’s done the same for them, describing her as an “innate encourager.”

“Whether it’s telling us how much she appreciates us or supporting us in our crazy projects and adventures, she’s always making us feel loved,” he says. “This carries over into her work as a teacher, as she feeds the potential in every child.”

Carol has taught art to children for about a decade. She started by teaching her children’s classes in West Fargo because they didn’t have art teachers at the time.

“I’m living my dream,” Carol says. “Children are special gifts given to us as mothers and grandmothers to mold and shape. I try to make every kid think ‘I’m an artist’ when they leave. I want them to feel special.”

Besides family support, Carol says medications have helped her get her life back, although she didn’t want to be on medication for Parkinson’s right away. She was scared she would develop tics, but within a week of using medications, she could once again write checks and open envelopes.

Before the medication, Carol says it was difficult to do simple daily tasks, and she was “slipping away.”

“It wasn’t time yet,” she says. “I knew I had more to do in my life.”

Although Carol says life is “pretty much back to normal,” some days are tougher than others for her. She often asks daughter Kristina for help getting dressed, putting on makeup or doing her hair.

“She’s right there to help and very positive,” Carol says. “She does it with a happy heart.”

Kristina says that since she’s around the most, she’s become her mother’s caretaker, making sure she takes her medicine, helping her around the house and supporting her when she’s having a difficult day.

“When I see her in need, I can’t not help,” Kristina says. “It is hard to see her not able to do what she wants and needs to do because of Parkinson’s.”

Despite the challenges, Carol’s youngest son, Jon, 21, says his mother doesn’t let the disease halt her ambitions.

“She’s very determined in things she does,” he says. “She doesn’t answer to limitations.”

Carol says that having Parkinson’s has taught her and her family to value each day. She’s also grateful that it motivated her to create the books for her future grandchildren.

“It’s been a good lesson for all of us to learn, to live each day to the fullest,” she says. “I’m healthy, happy and wise – that’s what I always want to be.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Anna G. Larson at (701) 241-5525

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