It's Only A Picture

May 16, 2006

My sister, Amy, died, thirty-three years ago of leukemia. During the last year of her life, and before we knew she was sick, my father took a portrait of her that really captured her essence. Shortly after her death he sent a copy of the picture to a company that produced a large format print that looks like an oil painting. This picture has hung in my mother's bedroom ever since.

As my father has never really talked to me about Amy's death, it is hard for me to talk to him about it as well. After years of wanting a copy of the original picture I finally asked my mom if she would ask dad to make me a copy. While I know that she asked he has never followed through, and so I still have no picture of my sister by which to remember her.

Three weeks ago when I saw my mom she told me that she was putting together a list of treasures and to whom she wanted them distributed. She said that one of her choices was going to be upsetting to me. She then pointed to Amy's picture and told me that she was giving it to her two biologic grandchildren so they would "know their Aunt Amy." It was upsetting but I told her that I understood and we moved onto other topics. Since that time I have come back to the whole picture issue again and again. My nieces will never know who Amy was; she died thirty years before they were born, and if what my brother tells me is true, he doesn't really remember Amy so other than telling them that this picture is an Aunt they'll never met, I'm not sure what purpose her picture will serve in their lives.

I think that my mom sees in her two granddaughters the potential of Amy's life that was lost when she died so young. R and A will, hopefully, have long, happy lifetimes, and I believe my mom is counting on that to somehow make up for Amy. I understand that and I will admit to feeling that way myself. It's just hard for me, in a year when I've already lost my wife and will soon be losing my mother, to, in effect, lose Amy again. I've always wanted a picture of Amy and even after I asked for one I still don't have anything. That part of me which is passive-aggressive wants to take my camera with me the next time I go and, in front of both of my parents, take several pictures of her portrait saying as I do, "this way I'll finally have a copy of my own."

Being passive-aggressive about my feelings won't help either the situation of my mom dying, or of my not having a picture of Amy, but in a time when so many aspects of my life seem to be beyond my control or ability to absorb, acting out is one of the few activities I have that is under my control. Once I get over my upset about this I'll send my father a letter and ask one more time for a copy of my sister's picture. At least I have pictures of my own of mom, so I won't have to wait thirty years to have something by which to remember her.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.