Family Art

My husband and I finally put up my dad’s artwork today, about two months after moving into our new apartment.

He was prolific in his drawings – all of masks or faces of different unknown figures, usually done in pastels. When he first passed away and my sister and I were sorting through his things, we had one of our biggest fights to date.

She had put aside some drawings she particularly liked out of the endless newspaper pads full of them created throughout my dad’s lifetime. After noticing this stack, I became irate, convinced that she had selected the family masterpieces and left me with nothing. We screamed at each other for what felt like hours, both crying and feeling hopeless about who would inherit “the best ones”. It went on and on until one of us (I can’t remember who) got in the car and drove away, exhausted and unable to find a compromise.

A day later, or maybe even an hour later, she called back and said “you can have them.”

I realized immediately then that I didn’t want them. I didn’t care. I didn’t remember why it had mattered so much to me in the first place. In thinking of retelling this story, I can’t even remember where the ones we fought so viciously about ended up.

The reality was my dad had a tremendous amount of these drawings. There were enough to go around. Maybe even too many. We had no where to store them. We were leaving Massachusetts to go in two opposite 6 hour plane rides from where we were – she to San Francisco and me to Amsterdam. Many of these drawings still sit on a table in my uncle’s spare bedroom, untouched and unseen since that call.

But that fight with my sister was about so much more. Grief, primarily, and the overwhelming burden of what to do with the things left after loss. Where do they go? What is valuable vs. important? What is worth keeping and what needs to be thrown away? What is a master piece, and what isn’t?

I don’t think either of us know. We are not art critics. My father is not a famous artist. But we are still a family, despite him being gone. I like looking up on the wall, and knowing that when I visit my sister in California, she has very similar drawings hanging in her apartment, all in the same style, all of the same value and all appreciated with the same amount of love.

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