I began a painting for an art class from an old photo of my grandmother and grandfather.  I thought it was just an interesting photo for a project, however, through the process of revealing the photo, much more was revealed to me.  The process for the painting included covering banner cloth completely with black tempera paint, allowing it to dry completely, sketching the picture, and then removing the paint with water, rags, towels, finger, or whatever would work to reveal the picture.  I was convinced this would be a project of failure for me, yet, I was able to surrender to the process and initiated the first step.

Before I get to the painting and its revelations, I want to share a bit of history.  One of the stories in our family history concerning my grandparents, was she was around the age 14 when they married.  She came from a poor family, had no education and experienced repeated episodes of incest and abuse. She continued a painful life of abuse and servitude at the hands of various men all the while trying to raise her 4 children without the gifts that accompany a loving spouse, literacy and employment.  She resorted to placing her children in foster care until she could care for them once again. I don’t know much of my grandfather’s earlier days, however, the talk in our family was that he was involved in a mafia like organization, killed a man, left my grandmother, their children and moved to South America.   Throughout my childhood we thought of him as dead.  He was discovered by a distant relative to be living in a small Pennsylvania community.  He had remarried and fathered another family of daughters.  After some urging, he briefly and shamefully reconnected briefly with my father and aunt.  He passed on never really knowing his children and grandchildren that were produced from the union with my grandmother.

Growing up we joked about our colorful Italian history, unaware of the generational shame we all carried.  It was well hidden throughout the sensationalism of the stories.  The awareness of this shame surfaced during and more deeply upon completion of the painting.

I began the project, with trepidation and frustration, with my grandfather.  I revealed him quickly; he looked like a cartoon character.  I moved to my grandmother and noticed that I was meticulous about capturing what her eyes revealed.  As I worked, I began to feel her sadness, her loneliness and her longing.  At times, I had to stop and just be with what I felt from her and found myself sobbing.  I was experiencing her and knowing her as a woman who endured so much.  My memories of her are as a loving grandmother…she endured and loved anyway.

When I completed the picture of my grandmother, I needed to go back to my grandfather.  I wanted to get to know him better…he had to be more than an empty caricature.  I worked with his eyes and felt nothing. I finished him and surrendered my desire to know him better; perhaps that was his wish at the time.  A few weeks after the picture was completed, while in conversation with a friend, I began to get a sense of his dilemma and pain.  He may not have come through because I was carrying shame and judgment around who I thought he was.  It was shame and judgment that was passed onto me through my ancestors.  Once that awareness was present, there was an opening for another truth.  That potential truth being that he may have had to make the choice that was handed to him by this “gang” to save his life and the lives of his family…perhaps he was really a hero.

The painting was initially titled bondage in homage to my grandmother; however, I see that both of my grandparents were in bondage in seemingly different ways.  This bondage expanded to permeate the psyche of my family. It is my hope that past, present and future generations can be released from this piece of their bondage through the revelations of this piece.

 My grandmother passed on with her pain unspoken or healed.  She wanted this painting to be done; she wanted to come through.  After I completed the painting, again during contacts with a friend, I recalled a dream I had a few weeks prior to the photo presenting itself to me.  In the dream, my grandmother spoke to me saying “I am a worthwhile project”.  Yes, grandma, you are a worthwhile project.  I love you.

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As I walked through an Independent Living Facility yesterday to see a patient, I passed a group of elderly residents seated in a circle, praying in unison.  This was my second experience with this group.  The first time I thought it was “nice”.  Yesterdays experience left me feeling comforted.  I was not feeling well.  The sound of their voices in prayer, lifted me.  As a result, the comfort and grace I received from the beautiful prayer group was carried into the apartment of my patient.  She shared my experience without even knowing it and, perhaps, she shared that grace with others throughout her day.

The prayer group will never now how their grace affected my day.  It is a good reminder for me to participate in simple, invisible acts of grace as I move throughout my daily routines; we never know who we will touch.