Over the course of a life, we learn people through our senses and experiences with them, as we learn and grow these memories and people become completely intertwined. We just can’t do this or eat that without remembering the people who gave us these memories.
I connect with my Grandpa Mac anytime I write my children’s name on something in Sharpie. We always took our lunch boxes to him so he could write our names on them, all scripty and fancy.
I connect with my mom when my kids and I plop down on the kitchen rug and share a snack. I remember countless yogurts that she shared with me on the rug in front of the sink.
I connect with my dad through painting, not painting pictures or murals, but the dirty, hands-on act of painting walls or restoring furniture.
I’ve spent the last 16 hours or so working on refinishing a computer armoire for myself. I badly need a space to write and work that is all my own, but can be closed up for safekeeping from children’s sticky hands and curious eyes.
My dad was many things in many seasons, he started and sold several successful small businesses. The main two business ventures he had were a paint and wallpaper store and a custom framing shop. He was your guy if you wanted to spruce up your walls.
I grew up in that paint shop and for the first few years I thought my name was “Leanne Verkaik Paint and Wallpaper” because I heard my parents answer the phone with the business name “Verkaik paint and wallpaper” over and over again from the cardboard box they kept me in. Seriously, I played with my toys in a console TV box in the back room, and I turned out just. fine. thank you.
My Dad was a methodical and meticulous painter, almost to a fault. So much so that he’s infamous for firing his little brother from his painting business because he didn’t think he was doing a neat enough job.
I used to think that my time to paint my own walls and furniture would never come, because when my Dad was alive wouldn’t let me lift a brush. He knew that I wasn’t patient enough to take the time and effort it would take to come out with a glop and streak free result.
And he was right even a quick glance at my desk painting skills from last night will reveal smudges and drips. If he were available I would gladly give the whole project over to him, and he would likely sand it all down and start over so he wouldn’t have to live with a sub-par paint job in the family.
Every time I paint it’s bittersweet, because it brings back countless hours where I would sit in the garage or a bedroom watching him paint. Last night as I painted in our tiny garage with the door wide open my Dad felt close by. It felt like I was the one painting and he was the one watching, or more likely cringing.
I have a deep sense of peace in my relationship with my father, I actually enjoy missing him because by doing so I honor the unique void that only he can fill. I love painting, camping and baking his cookies, all these repetitions bring him closer and give his life a voice in the now.
It’s so healing to purposefully put ourselves in situations where the lost can come close to us, just over our shoulder, almost as if they never left. We must never throw our memories away or lock them in a closet for fear of the pain that may surface. If there is pain, let it surface, cry in the batter or on the paint roller. The more you enter in to the close spaces of connection with the lost the more those wounds can heal and be part of the color you bring to all us here in the now.
What do you do that brings your lost ones closer? Do you avoid certain activities or recipes for fear of tears?
I pray that you can reopen those parts of your past and bring them back to life for yourself and those around you.