Have you ever had the feeling that someone who had died was trying to make contact with you?
In 1990, shortly after my first marriage broke up, I was living in a funky neighborhood in a central part of town. My first husband and I had built the house for my mother and father to retire to, but that plan didn’t work out and they only lived there for a short while.
One day, the next door neighbor called out to me.
“Could you come inside for a minute?” she asked.
What could it be? Why did I have to go into the house now when she’d never been friendly before?
“Look,” she pointed, as I entered the dimly lit living room.
I was shocked at what I saw. Hanging on the wall in the living room was one of my mother’s original oil paintings. According to the neighbor, my mother had given it to her during the brief time that she and my father had lived next door.
It happened that at that very moment my mother was in the grip of Alzheimer’s Disease. In fact, she had probably been only half in/out of her mind when she’d “given” the neighbor the painting in the first place.
It seemed strange to see my mother’s painting hanging in someone else’s house, almost as if she wasn’t more or less buried alive in a nursing home 200 miles away, but was instead just next door waiting for me to come and find her.
Several years later, my father entrusted me with all of my mother’s paintings. He’d kept them while she was in the nursing home, but couldn’t stand to look at them after she was gone.
I doled most out to the family and kept one: a huge rendering of three magenta-colored chrysanthemums in a wide, 1970s-style frame.
It was vibrant, full of life and imagination—the one painting I had kept for myself from among the trove that my father had given me.
But I lost it.
When my second marriage broke up and the estate people came to pick up what my then-husband and I didn’t want, somehow, that painting got picked up too. I didn’t realize it until a few days later and when I went to the Estate Store to retrieve it, they told me it was the first thing that had sold.
I was devastated. It represented the mother I never knew—maybe that even she herself never knew.
My mother and I didn’t really connect when I was growing up. Even as I became a mother myself, my feelings for her were so ambivalent and confused that we ultimately never connected.
I have few memories of her actually interacting with me—but I do have lots of snapshot-like memories of her in her small, painting studio, a skylight letting the sun shine in while she sat and created a vivid world of colors, shapes, forms, and images.
It seems to me that one way or another, my mother’s paintings have been trying to find their way back to me…sort of.
A short while ago, through the magic of social media, a woman contacted me.
I don’t remember the woman’s name and I can no longer find the message.
I also don’t know how she knew I was the daughter of the artist named “Siani” who had signed the painting.
“I have always treasured this work of your mother’s,” the note said—or words to that effect.
There was an attachment. It was a photograph of a luminous painting of two ripe strawberries.
When I saw the photo, I had an immediate desire for the painting. It felt like a replacement of the chrysanthemums that I’d lost. It felt like the painting that the neighbor lady had hanging on her wall was coming home.
It felt like it was mother reaching out to me through social media from the other side.
At the time, I immediately wrote back to ask more about the painting. How did the woman happen to have it? How did she find me? Where was she from?
She never answered.
I had the absurd thought that if I put the picture of the strawberries back out on social media, my mother would somehow see it and know that while she and I didn’t fully understand each other at the time that she painted it, we understood each other now.
Author: Carmelene Siani
Image: Author’s own
Editor: Travis May