While eating lunch today, the emotions of grief showed up at the table without an invitation. Sorrow came out of nowhere. It rolled right up into the eggplant rollatini and pasta on my plate; wrapped itself around my fork; slid down my throat; and freely dispersed itself through my body until it released itself back into the atmosphere through the moisture of my healing tears. While I was eating, I took note that my mom loved eggplant and would have thoroughly enjoyed the dish before me. The sauce, she would have said, was better than hers. The noodles, she'd comment, not her favorite type.
Although I have been relieved she is with peace after experiencing Alzheimer's, it was the first time I have felt deep heartache for her since she died one month ago.The taste of the food is not what caused me to ache for her. It is what I was watching while savoring this comfort food. When I eat, I eat. Rarely do I watch tv or a video while I'm paying attention to a meal. But today, I strangely happened to be watching an Italian man make sheets of paper from rags and old scraps of clothes in his simple rustic workshop. The work of his hands using tools that were surely at least the age of my mom made me long for her. Why?
I was witnessing art and the passion behind its making. I couldn't call her to tell her about it. Couldn't discuss how lovely it would be to have a notebook with the crisp sheets of linen this man was crafting. The void of her not being on the receiving end of a phone call was huge. Yes, there may be someone else I could call to share this story. But the ache stems from the fact that my mom is the person who taught me to appreciate art. She was a lifelong patron of the arts: love for the symphony, opera, Broadway, art museums, botanical gardens, nature preserves, paintings, the joy of reading. The list is endless. Grief can be heavy because who or what we grieve over is usually irreplaceable.
Even though I was stricken with the shade of grief, one of the most important things I learned from my mom, and one I cherish deeply, was illuminated by way of watching an artist at work. As the afternoon sun brilliantly kissed the window pains behind me, a memory blessed me. I thought of the words my mom said to me before I left to visit my daughter in Italy this past year.
Look for the Caravaggios, she said.
That's all she said. In a brief moment when Alzheimer's stepped aside, my mom gave me her last piece of advice. I listened. I traveled. I looked for them, and I found one. When I stood before it, I noticed how the painter used his technique, chiaroscuro, the contrast of light and dark in his work. This contrast is what my mom wanted me to see. Then and now, it causes me to wonder and feel. Reflect on the past and honor the present. Sit with the guest of sadness and then together, be drawn toward the well-lit beauty that exists.
I wonder how a painter would have painted me eating lunch today as the air of mourning swirled around the light of a glorious late summer day. If I had the chance to call my mom today, I wonder where our conversation about the artist who makes paper out of rags would have led. I wonder what will happen when I stand before performances and works of art from this day forward. I wonder what art will reveal to me that it hasn't before. I wonder for whom I will look.
I think the scene this afternoon would have been an excellent opportunity for a painter to practice the form of chiaroscuro. If I had a conversation with my mom today, I know it would have led her to tell me more about her upbringing and my Italian roots. From this day forward, I believe I will inhale the arts as I've never done so before. Art will express love to me, and love outshines grief. Each time I place myself before a work of art, I indeed will look for my mother, maybe shed a few tears, and whisper thank you.