I’ve had some powerful experiences in the past two weeks. Some would call them synchronicities. Others would call them mere coincidences. Whatever they were, they gave me a feeling of connectedness, a feeling of being remembered even though I am (I think) too much of a skeptic to believe my father is sending me messages from the great beyond.
The night before what would have been Dad’s 97th birthday, I was flooded with reminiscences of prior celebrations, memories I captured in Birthdays Remembered. His actual birthday was a travel day, filled with last-minute details and a losing battle to cram nine days worth of clothing into a carry-on.
Around 1 p.m., I wrote an email message to my three brothers: I know we all know what today is. I’m sure we’re remembering it in our own ways. I can’t think of Dad’s birthday without thinking of all of you, and I wish we were together somehow. But I am with you in spirit and somehow, I think Mom and Dad are with US in spirit.
A few minutes later, I received an unexpected call from Kline Memorials, the company that was creating a monument for my father’s, mother’s and sister’s gravesite in Arlington National Cemetery. Back in September, we completed some forms requesting approval for its installation from Arlington. Kline’s representative told me that the granite marker had just been installed. On Dad’s birthday.
After my trip to the Northwest, I side tripped to see (or as I liked to say, “meet”) a piece of art that I asked an artist-friend to create a painting as a way to remember and honor not only my father, but my mother. After Dad resided for so many years in a bedroom in my home, I needed to reclaim that space, to remove the telltale signs of Dad’s final weeks, to re-imagine it as a welcoming space for guests and a sanctuary for me.
That’s asking a lot of a painting.
What this very personal memorial is not is an attempt at “closure.” I’m not trying to conclude anything, least of all my relationship with my father. He and I had no unfinished business.
A painting was a way to literally put myself back in the picture with my mother and father, at a time when our security was both threatened (by my father’s heart disease) and protected (by their fierce brand of love and family loyalty).
My artist-friend followed my journey with Dad long before I thought about asking her to create a painting. Though she was inspired by a bit of free verse I wrote for her last spring, The Kingdom of the Wing Chair, I immediately saw details that she had pulled from past blog posts and conversations. Books of his favorite poets, for example, sit on a shelf behind the central image, a wing chair.
Since my verse had mentioned that a Spaniel was often seated next to Dad’s chair, she decided to include a Springer Spaniel. My Dad always loved Springers, great family dogs with good noses for hunting upland birds. Our first was Boot, an unusually large male with a head shaped like an anvil, who was just as hard-headed. Boot was followed by two litter mates, Katie and Beall. The dog in the painting looked just like Beall, with her white “feathers” extending from her legs and her eyes locked on to a spot where Dad would sit.
Only I never mentioned a Springer in my verse, just a Spaniel. My friend took the liberty of including a Springer because she needed a pattern to balance the bold green and red solids in the painting.
When we went to dinner, I asked her about the meaning of a gold ring tied to a string and hung from the book shelf so that it dangled next to the chair. “That was to put your mother in the picture,” she told me. She used the iconic image of a gold band since she didn’t know what my mother’s wedding ring looked like.
“You mean like this?” I asked. From my left hand, I removed a thin gold band I’ve been wearing since Dad died. The inside is engraved, “E.D.C. to H.S.C. 26 Dec. ’41.”
We talked about how painting is more than a one-way conversation.
“It’s a circle,” she said. “And the circle is only completed when the viewer brings their experience to it.”
Circles don’t need to close, and they are never broken.