New Commissions: In Memoriam Portraits
(Trigger warning: This story is about losing a parent.)
My Dad was sick for a long time. When my daughters were 3 and 5 years old we realized, according to calculations you never want to make, we had about a year left to create memories with him that at least my oldest might hold onto.
We did as much as we could. A week at the beach where we took turns pushing a wheelchair and two strollers down the boardwalk. Art projects that equally supported blossoming and diminishing fine motor skills.
Then my Dad's life ended, but my girls continued to grow.
When a long illness is lifted from your home, there's a lot you want to forget. So instead of focusing on how much he struggled, my mind began rebuilding my image of my Dad as though he was never ill. In a way it felt like when he died, he came back to life.
I imagined a proud grandfather on the playground cheering for my daughters as they mastered their cartwheels. I pictured him taking them to the zoo to visit his favorite gorillas. I relived moments that never happened, and never could have. They looked so real in my mind, they felt like memories. It was comforting and less sad than thinking about how he wasn't there. I pictured him regularly as though he was.
Then I had an art idea.
As with most special ideas that we know will take a lot of work, I dismissed it immediately. I told myself it was silly. But it didn't leave me alone. So one day I sat down and made it happen.
This is a portrait I drew of my Dad with my daughters.
I know what their laughter sounded like in this moment. I know how silly my Dad was being, and how my youngest was trying to be sillier. I know how proudly my Dad (who was also an artist) shouted when he saw this drawing. "Look at this!" I heard him say, "Fantastic!"
Except it never really happened.
The image of my Dad was drawn from a photo I took of him on a happy Fall day in 2012. At the time I was pregnant with my first daughter. The images of both my daughters were drawn from separate photographs taken in 2020. It took a while to find 3 separate photos that worked well together and created a new narrative. But I loved the energy of the three of them together here. The paralleled enthusiasm of my Dad and my youngest, and the victorious fists in the air of my Dad and my oldest.
I used Photoshop to create a digital mockup of the 3 photos together. Then I drew the new composition. Up until that point I kept thinking, don't do this, it's too weird. But the minute I started drawing, a smile swept across my face. It was like a wash of healing came over me. I realized, my Dad would have LOVED this. He would have asked me to give him more hair. He would have said, "Who's to say this never happened? This is real!"
I showed it to my sister first, and she fell in love with it. I sent it to my mom as a print in the mail, and when she called me in shock, there were tears of joy. We all agreed, if this moment had really happened, if he were still here, if the sickness never came, this is what it would have looked like. This is the memory we would have had.
And to finally see it front of us, brought such relief.
Had I not experienced this for myself, I wouldn't have known how powerful it is to have a portrait like this after a deep loss. Even though I was the artist, I experienced the process like it was a gift. Now I hope to give this gift to others.
If you would like me to create a memorial portrait for your own family, please reach out anytime.