My parents met in art school, and when they got married, one of their professors, a well-known painter in the area, gifted them with a large, impressive painting comprised of multiple paintings of each of them. I grew up with the piece always hung prominently. It didn’t occur to me until later that having such a gorgeous, elaborate piece of art of your parents hanging on the wall wasn’t typical.

So far I’ve only been able to find one picture that shows it whole. Kind of ironic that it’s a picture of my mom being goofy.

After I brought Mom to Tennessee, I wondered what had become of the painting. I didn’t expect that my dad would continue to hang it after Mom left him, but I hoped he hadn’t destroyed it.

While I was going through Mom’s apartment after her suicide I came across a rolled up canvas bundle held together by rubber bands. I had absolutely zero clue what I was about to unroll.

Just the parts with her portraits, cut away from the rest, some of the edges frayed but neatly cut as much as posssible. I have no idea when she did this – when we went back to Pennsylvania to fill a moving truck with the rest of her things, did she take wait until she was alone and cut away the parts she felt she had a right to take? She certainly never told me, never showed me. I have no idea what’s become of the other pieces – maybe my father has them rolled up in a similar bundle somewhere. Maybe one day I’ll find it in his things.

I don’t know where to begin, describing how I felt when I unrolled that bundle. It was a Sunday and Matthew was at work so I was there by myself. I was getting pretty accustomed to having the wind knocked out of me unexpectedly as I went through all of this, but this moment was particularly intense.

I was – am – grateful to have them; grateful they hadn’t been destroyed or lost, that I’d have the opportunity to make something of them, to put them back together. Seeing them like that, though, after so many years of that portrait being a fixture in my home life – the unravelling canvas, the headless torso of my father – it was like a physical symbol of the trauma and separation that had marked my parents’ relationship, and mine with them, for so, so many years. It was like having a terrible wound, being fully aware of it, but suddenly looking directly at it for the first time.

I knew that I had to have something done with it – something worthy. To have her put back together. It was something I would never have been able to do for her in life, as much as she wanted me to, but at least I could do it in symbol.

I took them to a local artshop known for their expert framing. It was pricey and it took a while but they did an amazing job. The piece is now hanging in our guest room, which lately has also begun a transformation into doubling as my magick room. I loved the idea of having a sacred space dedicated to her in that room, and so it was perfect that the portrait fits so well over the mantel, which I’ve now made into a Mom Altar.

It amuses me to think what she would have thought about this. I think it would shock her that I would want to have an altar dedicated to her, religious issues aside. And as far as the religious issues go, I’m honestly not sure what she would have thought – her beliefs on so many things changed so very much over the years; the woman who chased me out of her life when I was a teenager because she couldn’t handle me dating a girl was very, very different than the woman who marched in the Pride parade with her church. (There will at some point be a post about how it’s sometimes difficult for me to talk about her with people who were more recent friends of hers, because the woman that was their friend was drastically different than the woman who raised me in many ways.) Maybe she would have been less disturbed by my Paganism than she once was, but I’m not sure.

I do imagine her making some snarky joke about me putting up an altar now that she’s dead when I rarely took her advice while she was alive. In response I’d tell her that while her advice to other people was frequently very wise, her advice to me had a history of being … unhelpful. And anyway, I don’t have an altar because I’m in any way worshipping her – this isn’t an ancestor worship thing. It’s a reognition of how very, very much she shaped – is still shaping – the person I became/am becoming, in ways good, bad and complicated.

And it’s a recognition of how much she loved me, even when she wasn’t able to express it properly. No matter where her spirit is now, her love will always be a part of my soul.