I can say without a doubt in my mind that December 21, 2013, the day between my mom’s death and her funeral, was one of the hardest of my life.
My sister and I zombied through Pulaski, Tennessee, with red eyes and runny noses doing all the things that immediate family members do when someone dies. We ordered flower arrangements. We visited the funeral home. We reviewed the drafted obituary. We picked out songs for the memorial service. We worked on a eulogy.
But the most difficult thing we did that day was visit her home. It wast difficult because Mom’s adorable house, situated at the bottom of a hill on West Jefferson Street, was perfect. It was a sanctuary. A reflection of the essence of her. Except the essence of her was gone.
Mom had remarried that spring and my sister and I went to her house that day in hopes of getting some of her things that held sentimental value and comfort and memories for us. To me, the most important of those things were her paintings.
Mom started painting about 10 years ago–mostly of angels or Madonnas. I loved her whimsical, vibrant style.
When we arrived to her sunroom-converted art studio, we found a handful paintings stacked in the corner. I flipped through and recognized a few from her Etsy shop. But there was a particular one I loved that was missing.
I asked her husband–Tom–if he knew anywhere else that painting might be, and he suggested the small storage shed on the side of the house.
And that’s where we found it.
Not just the painting I was hoping for but dozens of them. Stacks and stacks of her work–most of which I’d never seen before.
We brought them all in the house and began revealing one after the other, lining them along the walls so we could take them in. So we could bask in them.
They were magical. They were beautiful. They were her.
In addition to painting, Mom was a writer. And many of her paintings included words. Sometimes names of the Madonna or angel she was painting–Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, Our Lady of Guadalupe. Other times just uplifting messages, whatever she felt inspired to say.
And as my heart swelled looking at those paintings born from her hands–the hands that raised me, the hands that molded me into everything I am–it was as if they were speaking to me.
A butterfly blinking the words “Joy is everywhere.”
A beautiful angel offering up “Transformation.”
A pink and purple tree, saying simply “Love grows.”
A skull surrounded by roses soothing, “I honour what is lost & found.”
A wavy-haired woman suggesting that “Grace makes us whole.”
It was like she had put those messages there for us. To ease our pain. To hold us as we cried. To echo in our heads as we mourned the loss of her.
The largest painting, nearly four times the size of the others, was of an anatomical heart, pierced with several spears and bursting with flames.
And written in Mom’s familiar handwriting in the top corner were these words:
“In sorrow’s stillness, a tear comes that prisms light, a sigh comes forth
and something that was broken breathes.”
I don’t know what Mom was thinking when she painted those words. Or who she had in mind. Or what angel guided her hand. But those words were exactly what I needed to hear.
Now nearly eight months have gone by. I’m past the phase where I forget she’s gone and am constantly t-boned by that devastating realization. I’m past the phase where I cry all the time. I’m past the phase where I can’t sleep at night, where I can’t sit still, where I can’t let my mind wander.
Instead, I’m in the phase where I just miss her. And I wish she was still around. To be my goofy mom and my sweet friend. Some days I can’t think about anything except her. And she’s all I can ever seem to write about, no matter how long I spend trying to think of another topic. And I get scared when I can’t remember exactly how her voice sounds or what her different facial expressions look like or all her amusing catchphrases.
Some days I feel like I’m barely scratching the surface of my grief.
And on those days, I know if she was here, she’d remind me of the words I found on another one of her paintings last December.
And of course, I know she’d be right.