“We all have a story to tell”

Katherine Muir Miller
Katherine Muir Miller

Meet Katherine

My name is Katherine and I’m 58 years old. I was born and raised in Montreal and am the middle child of five children.

After working as a paramedic for four years in Montreal and subsequently put myself through nursing school, I ended up completing my post RN BSCN in Ottawa at the University of Ottawa at the age of 24. I was married at 25 and we decided to root ourselves in Ottawa. My husband and I had five children within 6 ½ years, so by the time I was 34 years old, I had five children. Becoming a mother and raising our children has been my most precious legacy but it wasn’t all roses. I struggled with clinical depression when the children were younger. Two years of cognitive therapy helped me through that and strengthened me. I then became more physically active again as I had always been growing up. Sports became my “happy adrenaline,” my outlet. It felt natural, self-nurturing, and fed into natural hormone releases that made me happy and positive. I learned how to play hockey, and started goaltending for a men’s hockey league. I then joined a Women’s hockey league, took a coaching course to then coach my kids in hockey.

After staying home with the children for 14 years, I went back to work as an ER nurse. I loved nursing, patient contact, and bedside care. I recall saying to my children that “Mommy was going to go back to work as a nurse. Their response was that of total shock saying, “you’re a nurse?” I thought you were just a mom.” I taught the nurses and doctors in the ER to play hockey and we played every week. At the same time, I joined Canadian Strength Institute and trained hard, pushing my body, and felt the fittest I had ever been by age 50. I did a couple of triathlons and organized regular five-day canoe trips for the ER staff as well.

When I was 49 years old, feeling the need to nurture a quieter part of myself, I started my first painting class.

With encouragement from my husband Fraser, I took a few evening courses at the Ottawa School of Art. I did this and quite enjoyed it, meeting a variety of interesting eclectic folks that allowed me to tap further into my creative side. It’s so interesting to see what nourishing one’s soul and new found passions can do. Life felt busy but I worked hard on balancing it. Family, work in ER, sports and art.

What would you say has been the biggest shift in your life since turning 40?

On June 9th 2015, I had a life-changing accident. I had a bad fall, suffering a severe concussion, traumatic brain injury, facial fracture and torn muscles in my neck, stitches from my forehead down my nose. Life as I knew it was gone. I didn’t know this at the time, I thought I would bounce back and return to some normalcy. It never happened.

Three months after the accident, I was referred to The Brain Injury Clinic at Rehab Ottawa Hospital. My damages were subtle but there; I knew something was not quite right. I kept saying to my husband, “I don’t feel like the same person.” Bones heal and swelling goes down but I did not feel right. I had trouble finding words, remembering anything, could not think of more than one task at a time, could not see properly, I was dizzy with moving and had trouble with balance. My neck was so painful and I had daily head pressure and headaches.

One day I went down to the basement and wondered if I could try and paint something. I opened up a book of an artist I admired, and painted one of his paintings. I took out the largest canvas I had. Six hours later, I stepped back and looked and I could not believe I had painted it. I had found a temporary relief and escaped from my symptoms. My husband was blown away when he came home and saw the painting.

This would become the beginning of my new journey. I had an average of three to four appointments a week for my health and recovery, and I would paint with my free time. I made colours, I painted and would paint over most canvases in black from frustration. I took some art retreats with an artist I admired and learned so much about colour, and learning the freedom and liberty to just be bold and paint what I see and how I feel. I realized after about three years after my accident, that the energy from all my hockey games, and ER shifts, and runs and workouts and skis etc. were all going onto the canvas. It had become my creative outlet, and I was hungry for more every day.

I always said I was a nurse first and foremost, and loved to do art on the side. Only this past year has that title changed for me. My way of thinking has rerouted itself. I am now a Canadian landscape artist, a storytelling one. I am inspired by people and their stories, journeys and our beautiful vast Canadian landscape. I love Canada and all its seasons. I paint with bold strokes and I use colour to bring perspective.

I opened my own gallery in November 2020 in Perth during Covid. I sit in my gallery at age 58 and still cannot believe that I have done this. I am not sure where my journey will end, but for now my children and husband are proud of me, and I am finally proud of me.

When my children were very young (five under 7 years), I was outside feeling completely overwhelmed, my kind neighbour whose children were grown and married, saw me and picked up on my state of “barely coping”. She said in her fine beautiful Jamaican accent, “AHHH Katherine, “it will all be Ok, ALL IN THE GOODNESS OF TIME.” I didn’t understand in that moment, or perhaps I was not ready to really hear it, but I tell you, that line has been with me since and especially as I turned 50, it became my mantra. Thinking those words in times of troubles and despair, gives you hope. I believe in goodness, and that we all have a “time” for something.

When do you feel you are most powerful?

First, I feel most powerful and proud when I have all my children home. When I am being Mom; nurturing, observing, watching them interact, laughing, and reliving our memories of the past. I just love my family.

Second, as now I spend most time alone in the day with my majestic Meeko (dog), it would be when every so often when I am painting – and it does not happen all the time – I have my music on, essential oils going and I feel so connected to me and the canvas. I have actually cried with happiness painting, still not believing what I am creating. Once in a while I will say, “this is really well done.” I become comforted by my own creation. So hard to put in words, but I feel like the dancing pines I love to paint.

Third, it would be 100%, without a doubt, when I am in nature, by water, trees, mountains, creeks, lakes and rivers and so forth. I feel empowered by pine trees. They are all so unique, I love their individuality and it reminds me of my love for people and nurturing. My mother gave me this gift, but I only discovered it in my 50’s. Her passion for nature, for trees and rocks. She would have me listen to the sound of the leaves blowing through the trees in the great wind gusts. I know now what she was giving me…we all have a story to tell. We do not need to live in desperate isolation. We can build and nurture one another. Our time here is only once. Let’s treasure it.

What are the top 3 most important things to you right now?

  1. My family, their happiness, their well-being, my husband’s hope to retire and live some of his passions.
  2. Finding a home that I love with a home studio that is not in a basement. It sounds so materialistic, but we are living in a transition home right now and it’s been too long. It is very important to me to find a place I want to call home again for all of us.
  3. Continuing to paint and feel inspired on a daily basis, seeing visitors come through my gallery, and connect and enjoy my work. I love the connections of incredible people I continue to meet. I feel sooo proud when I walk in my new gallery, I feel awestruck.

How do you make sure your actions are aligned with what’s most important to you?

Two words, accountability and integrity. I try to choose values and live by them, it keeps me honest and frees my mind of negative energy. Working hard is all my husband and I have ever done, and I know our children have seen that. I see their work ethic now and feel proud. I feel that sticking to these two traits in life, as well as kindness, allows me to live in a way that is important to me.

What seeds are you planting today for the future?

Well, I hope I continue to live by example. It’s like a light goes on in your 50’s, saying it’s ok, you can’t do everything, but you can do something…so just do it and be it. I plant seeds of hard work, that age is a number, that I will set examples, that I can hopefully inspire, that my family and children will have fond memories and feel proud. And, I am planting the seed to return to some sports and get back in shape again after almost six years since my accident.

What advice would you give someone who is interested in redesigning midlife?

The advice I would give anybody in midlife searching for a redesign or trying to “find something,” honestly is to explore. I would suggest a life coach, which is what I did over a year ago. I would have never taken that advice if it was offered to me a few years ago, I was your typical skeptic. But really, I was hiding. I am here because someone cared, listened, and nurtured me. I found my way through conversation and insight into myself. We all have a purpose, those roles and purposes change, and sometimes we need help in finding our way again. So reach out and find someone to re-nurture your spirit.

How can people connect with you and your work?

Come visit my website and if you want to chat about commissions, studio visits, or say hello, please feel free to call 613-720-5307 or email. I love hearing your stories and putting your adventures on canvas!

Welcome to my Power Profiles series.

Here I introduce you to powerful midlife role models in our community. May these stories inspire you, motivate you, and show you what is possible.

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About the author

Sara Smeaton

I help you discover the joy and power in midlife and navigate the transitions on your own terms. I am passionate about changing the narrative about aging and am trying to fill the world with profiles of real life people who are thriving and more alive after 40 than ever before. The best is yet to come and there are role models all around us. Book your free 30-minute connection call.

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