My mother's name was Mary Castellano. Like my dad, my mom made it to the ripe old age of 87. When my dad passed in 2009, my mom lost her mojo. She had about one good year in her before things started going downhill. Her passing on May 1st wasn't completely unexpected simply because of her age and her health, but it is still rocking me in ways I wouldn't have imagined. The wake and the funeral were difficult, of course, but it was really nice to be able to celebrate my mom with people who knew her when she was young and happy and in her prime. Family, friends, and loved ones came together to share stories, enjoy photographs, laugh, cry, and hold each other. We remembered the woman with an incredible capacity for love. We remembered the phenomenal cook. We remembered the sweetness, the kindness, the patience, the generosity, the strength, the faith. My mom was a devout Catholic, and she prayed for just about everyone she ever met. If she loved you, she prayed for you. If you were loved by someone who she loved, she would pray for you. My mom loved everyone, and everyone loved my mom.
About a week or so before my mom passed, I had an image pop into my mind while I was meditating. I sketched it out on a piece of scrap paper and set it aside. I kind of forgot about it until we were on our way to the funeral home for the wake. Terry was driving, and I took out my sketchbook...and the first thing that popped into my mind was that image. If you've ever had to deal with making funeral arrangements for a loved one, you know there are a lot of moving parts involved, and things come up that you might not think about. One of those things is the process of sending out thank you cards to all the people who paid their respects once the services are over. The funeral home offers cards, and when the subject came up, I asked my siblings (Frank and Addie) if it would be okay with them if I had cards made up on my own. I wanted to pay tribute to our mom with an original painting, and I had a feeling that the image I had been sketching out was meant for her. They were completely on board with the idea, and when I showed them the sketch, they smiled. Addie said, "You know, this looks kind of like a cross...maybe you could lengthen this bottom part?"
The day after Terry and I got home from New York, I got to work on the painting. I knew I needed to get it finished quickly so I could order the cards in a timely fashion, so I chose a fairly small canvas size (5" x 7"). My mom was 4' 11 3/4" (the three-quarters was very important), and my dad always called her "small but mighty," so I think the painting's dimensions were appropriate. Thankfully, I didn't have many work-related obligations that week, so I was able to spend a lot of time working in my studio. I finished in three days, and the title came easily as well: "Eternal Love". Here's a picture of the painting's evolution:
the evolution of "Eternal Love"
After my dad passed away and before we moved her in with Addie and her family, my mom was living alone. I would call her every day to check in, and usually I would be painting while we talked ("What are you doing? Painting? Of course!"). Even though she never set foot in my studio (she wouldn't have been able to climb the stairs), it feels like she was with me for many hours while I worked. I can only hope that she was with me as I worked on "Eternal Love", and I can only hope she finds it a fitting tribute: a "small but mighty" expression of my love for her, and a "small but mighty" representation of the love she had for her family, her friends, and the world.