Stories: Who We Have Lost

My brother Georgie was bigger than life, literally and figuratively. He had a big voice, which he was not shy about using, a big body and a big heart. He refused to get vaccinated against COVID and managed to avoid it until the end of January, 2022. He fought for 3 weeks but he could not overcome it. When he was still able to text me, our conversations were sometimes tense as I urged him to agree to treatments in spite of his mistrust of the medical system. It was such a tense and scary time.

Since transitioning from a management position in hospital social work to a part time job, I had started to paint so now, in between working and fraught phone calls with the medical team, I spent time in my studio, painting about my fear, anger, dread and hope against hope that Georgie would not die. When it was clear that he could not survive, I watched him take his last breath on Zoom. In the immediate aftermath of his death, I had no desire to paint. Eventually, this changed and I did several paintings about my sadness and everything that comes with losing a special person. Most siblings are close and have a special bond. Being almost 12 years older than Georgie, we had that bond from day one. It got strained in the presence of the political divide that has happened in our country but it never broke and it made me feel better to paint out my feelings.

When the Attleboro Museum of Art, a local museum in Massachusetts put out a Call for Artists, I applied and was one of 8 artists chosen by two jurors to exhibit in their annual 8 Visions Show in August. My series would be on Layers of Loss, Love and Longing and it touched not only on the death of my baby brother but also on endings: ending of our family business, ending of close family ties, ending of so many mundane and meaningful things.

I paint intuitively, meaning I usually have no set idea of what I will end up with. I allow my feelings, or words that come into my mind, to guide me in choosing my colors, marks, and shapes. For this series, I incorporated both collages of family photos or photo transfers, where the image is embedded into the canvas. At the museum, I displayed a copy of WHO WE LOST, open to my story “I Special Ordered My Brother” and named one of my paintings for the story. I painted VAX to express my fear, anger and frustration, especially because our society become so polarized around a public health emergency. For “Last Text,” I found an app that allowed me to download the text from Georgie’s phone and included the last message he was able to send, shortly after he said “I’m scared.” I tried to encourage him and on February 5th at 2p, he texted me a heart. Then he was intubated and there was no more communication. Bed 58 was his bed in ICU–it’s where I watched him take his last breath. “Everything is Muted” refers to how nothing is the same after losing someone special. Georgie loved being the life of the party and always encouraged me to act silly. He would tease me and make fun of me and he was never afraid to act like a fool for laughs either. “Party Rocket” captures that feeling for me. And in “Yellow Gold” I again include photos of the popcorn business that my father started in 1957 and that Georgie grew into a very successful enterprise. Finally, “We Three” includes photos of my sister, me, and George.

I confess that before the exhibit, I was a little worried that my work might be too personal and that viewers might not relate to it but after reading the comments that people wrote in my guest book, I am so happy to see so many found the work emotional and poignant and could connect my paintings with their own losses. I hope Georgie was happy to be the center of attention and I hope that he is proud of me. I will never not miss him and I will take any opportunity to talk about him and honor his memory.

Comb Over Angel

Story aboutThe Aldrich Family

My family had one plastic tree for twenty or more Christmases. It was a well-constructed one, a bare metal trunk with two or three hoops to hook in each individual branch around the tree. It actually came with an instruction manual. Our Christmas tree and boxes of ornaments occupied several boxes in the basement; the annual production of “putting up the tree” was my introduction to grown-ups without the memory skills to recall from one year to the next the locations of things they put away in the same box in the same place every year. And now I am that grown-up.

The only part of the decoration process that I ever relaxed and enjoyed was the practice of throwing tinsel everywhere—on the tree and near the tree—and the tradition of placing the angel on top. (That is an unsung rite of passage, the moment the family notices one is tall enough to top the tree with a star or angel.)

One of my family’s angels was a seraph whose robe was a cardboard skirt with one staple to hold it in a fluted tube shape and with glued-on glitter that had started to peel off and thin, stringy blonde hair, like a combover. Its halo was glitter glued in a circle on that hair, as well; it was not even on a wire that held it above her head. It was a broken angel. But you see it was our angel, the one my sister and I thought of as ours for some reason, and when nicer, more expensive-looking, gilded angels with a halo on a wire found their way into our house, they were always relegated to lower branches. Our comb over angel always sat on top.

My family’s philosophy that one always roots for the underdog extended to angels.

That perspective may be the best, the longest lasting, gift I received from my family.

Light Into The World

Story aboutJohnny Fischer

I have so many fond memories of my brother Johnny who passed from Covid in mid April 2020. My favorite was making an Advent Christmas Wreath with our parents and grandmother. Johnny and I would gather evergreen branches and pine cones and our parents would supply the four candles, ribbons, and little Christmas ornaments. We would light one candle every week on Sundays before Christmas until all the candles were lit. This was an annual tradition. The wreath with its four candles represented hope, peace, joy and love, and eternal life.

On the last Sunday in Advent our family would light the last candle, sing Christmas carols, and read Christmas stories together. Johnny had the most beautiful voice that I can still hear today. My grandmother would bake a stollen as well as freshly baked German Spice cookies that we all enjoyed. Each candle of the wreath represented bringing light into this world.

I terribly miss the light my brother brought into my world. I will miss him forever. I wish him eternal peace.

Christmas Tree

Story aboutMichael Mantell

Thirty-eight years of the largest Christmas tree, more arguments that it wouldn’t fit, needed two people to carry it, not enough lights and I was always right — but the tree was the most important part of Mike’s Christmas holiday. Our tree was memorable and we had to keep it up till January 6th, dead and all. Everyone came to see Mike’s Christmas tree. How I miss these memories. Just not the same.


Story aboutGary

My father always loved the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade and now I have tears in my eyes every year when it starts. He’d wander through the kitchen taking small bites of food to “help check” how things were going but stayed away from the cooking because he burnt everything he touched.

We grew up very poor but every year the holidays were a huge blowout because he’d saved a little from each paycheck to be certain we had a big Christmas morning, even though it meant giving up things he needed during the year. Every year I’d search for the best dad gift — he had a great sense of humor so I worked hard to find a funny one.

Now I walk through the stores and see the “perfect dad gift” and realize I don’t have anyone to give it to. My holiday spirit is gone now, I have to keep up the traditions and put on a happy face but all I want is for the holidays to be over and done without him.

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