Her life did not appear noteworthy or remarkable. She married young and had three babies, a girly little staircase. Housekeeping was not her forte, though directing her daughters to clean was. She was a poor cook, yet she always had a dinner of sorts on the table. She had dreams, but never shared them…
When my mother was nearing her last days (so we thought), I left our home in Europe to gather with my sister and her husband and our kids in West Virginia, though my dear husband had to stay back for work. Mother’s wish was to remain in her home with her beloved and somewhat anti-social feline companion, so she held court in her bedroom as my loving big sister and I cheerfully (well…somewhat cheerfully) met her every need.
Suddenly, our Mother wanted to tell every story she’d ever heard as a child…from her grandfather having an affair in the home as his wife lay dying, to the love that grandfather put into building a home in a proper and stately area of the town, to the great (great-great to me)uncle who wrote postcards and letters in near Shakespearean style. She had our kids running to the basement to find bits of her life, making them promise to drive by the house on Pearcy Street she knew as her childhood home (stolen from her and her parents by a deceitful aunt and uncle), and encouraging them to view the beautiful high school she and my dad, and we three girls, called our alma mater.
And two months later, in the actual week before my mom left this earth (it was the longest death scene in the history of drama–typical of my mother to stretch it out), the hospice nurse spoke with her about her condition after she asked, “What is wrong with me? I’m not ready to leave.” John asked this question, “What is it you feel you’ve left undone?”
Mother animatedly said she wished she had travelled, had cooked the recipes she’d saved, had spent more time reading and making art.
I guess I didn’t know my mother. I never took the time to ask her that question.
I did remember that when my sisters and I were kids, Mother went off to an art class one night a week. She returned so energized each week, telling us what she had learned; when they practiced the human form, there were nude models in the class, a fact that kept us kids giggling, gasping, and gawking at our “boring” mother.
My kids are artistic–creative and talented in so many ways–some of which they inherit from their skillful father. I know and see the tapestry of family woven into the fiber of each of us, and all my children were blessed to receive the thread of artistic talent from my mom, the easy chuckle from my dad, the love of games from my little sister (and big one) and their dad’s dad, and the joy of family from both sides of the clan.
Art is our memory of love. The most an artist can do through their work is say, let me show you what I have seen, what I have loved, and perhaps you will see it and love it too.
– Annie Bevan, Art Quotes.
Because of finding my mom’s sketches, which she proudly signed for each of the kids, I now want to have art created by people I love and care about. For Christmas last year, I asked my kids for a composition made by each of them–unwrapping and seeing the gifts and giftedness was a delight, and they now hang in our family room next to a watercolor by a dear friend and former neighbor.
I can’t help but think of my mother…the longer she’s gone (it’s only been a year now) and I find the remnants of her life as I clean out yet another box brought from her home, I see her as more special, more remarkable. Oh, I still remember the hardest parts of her, and some of the long-healed hurts, but those too fade as I recall her softening in old age, becoming more loving and more forgiving. When I see the best bits of her in my children, my older sister, and her brothers, I see her life was more than noteworthy…it was a masterpiece…
What is it you feel you’ve left undone?