Song for My Mother
April 27, 2023
My mother was an oil painter. She would make the typical oil paintings of flower bouquets, spring meadows and sunsets - scenes that you might expect from a suburban housewife artist. She actively and prolifically painted from the 1950s into the 2000s. By the 1990s, macular degeneration had begun it's heartless attack on her eyesight.
At around age 65, she reluctantly turned in her driver's license in a startling admission of her lack of self confidence, advanced by the disease. Yet she continued to paint. Her paintings began to take on a more primitive feel as her eyesight continued its downward slide towards blindness. After executing about twenty of these 'loose' paintings, I informed her in all honesty that these were some of the most truthful, and hence beautiful, paintings she had ever done.
She never believed me. She thought I was trying to make her feel better about her diminishing eyesight, and that I was trying to encourage her to continue painting. Both of these assumptions were true, but there was nothing in my vocabulary that could convince her to continue to paint. I kept three or four of those "late" paintings. I cherish them, and aesthetically enjoy them much more than her earlier works.
Maybe she believes me now.
It was an odd sequence of events last night. I went to bed at 10pm, but by 11pm I had fever and vomiting, followed by a painful all nighter of diverticulitis. I was thinking of my mother alot, since she often would get that - she even had surgery for it.
In an odd twist, Mom had died at 10:39pm at the age of 94. Fate and time had not been kind to her. Thirty years earlier, she lost her beloved twin sister Joyce, then her mother Freda and, eventually, her eyesight. In 2011, she lost her husband of 61 years, and by 2016 her beloved home would follow suit. Gradually, probably exacerbated by her worsening blindness, dementia had commenced it's ugly downhill slide.
My brother had called to let me know. I immediately wrote down a positive thought about Mom.
"When I was growing up I always felt like I was different, kind of special, mainly because my mother told me I was. She seemed genuinely amazed at how smart I was for such a small kid, she would brag about me in front of friends and family. Obviously, she expected great things from me. Unfortunately, this was limited to being either a doctor or a lawyer, so I was never to meet her lofty expectations, but nonetheless the confidence she gave me in myself and finding my own way ended up serving me pretty well."
Ironically, considering my mother's struggle with blindness and her recent demise two short days ago, I had an appointment with my eye doctor the next day. The checkup went perfectly fine, no sign of the macular degeneration that decimated Jean's eyesight, and my own vision malady, glaucoma, is stablized, not worsening.
My friend Marta called from Hawaii. She thinks my sudden illness was no coincidence. I asked, "Why would someone, upon death, visit this upon her own child?"
Marta replied, "Maybe it was her way of purging any residual toxicity that still remained."
Jean Marie (nee Claus) Gilmore, 1928-2023, photographed at her home by her grandson Asa Gilmore