There is a story I liked to tell this morning, on a day that marks the fourth week without Peter. The story is full of twist, turns, oddities and if you believe in them, coincidences. It’s a story of a Father’s Day card, a painting, the days before Peter’s death and how I hope it will always remain part of Peter’s story. It’s a long one, but one I want to tell it now, while it’s still fresh in my memory. Stories become convoluted, pieces are missed or they are blown up like a fisherman’s tale. But what I am going to share next is what I hope to always remember, the way it was, when Peter was alive.
I have to start back a few years ago, on Mother’s Day, 2017, when my adored niece died. Racheal was Peter’s godchild. She was the only daughter of Peter’s twin sister, Trisha. Racheal was funny, kind, a great listener and had one of those spirits you wanted to be around. She and her “Uncle Pete” got along very well. There was a connection between them. Perhaps a connection that extended from a twin’s bond. Whatever the reason, and for all the reasons, Peter was devastated when Racheal died.
Fast forward to this Father’s Day. My daughter, who lives five hours away, had to work that weekend and wasn’t going to be able to come home to celebrate. Since she knew she wouldn’t see him on the day, she mailed Peter a card that started this whole unlikely stream of events.
The card came the day before Father’s Day. It held a scene of sailing on its cover, one of Peter’s loves. (Peter was a member of a sailing club. He sailed every summer on Lake Michigan and sailed the Virgin Island once. He always did what he loved without fear or regret. He lived life fully.) The scene on the card, captured in this post, captivated Peter. He stared at it for a long time before reading my daughter’s message on the inside. When Peter turned the card over, he saw the name of the artist. It was, is, the same name as Racheal’s, the niece who died two years previously – the same first name, the same last name. This reveal touched Peter, maybe more than any gift my daughter could have given him.
Peter searched the internet and found the artist’s name. On her website, her name appeared differently, but Rachel, the artist, painted under the name of Racheal, the niece, on this particular painting. Peter sent the artist a message. He asked to purchase the painting on his father’s day card and explained the story of the card and his niece.
The artist informed Peter the painting he referred to was the only sail scene she ever painted. Her portfolios of paintings were of animals like cats, dogs, and horses. But she painted this one, this sail one, as a personal remembrance of her childhood home. It hung in her house, she said, and she was not looking to sell it. However, after hearing Peter’s story, the artist agreed. She set a price, and without consulting me, something he never did before on big purchases, Peter sent her a check. Once the payment was received, the artist took it off her wall and mailed it to Peter.
Two days before Peter died, on an early Saturday afternoon, the painting arrived. I was on a visit with my mom and was not home for the big reveal. Our neighbors and friends, Dave and Lisa, were outside doing their normal Saturday chores. Peter walked up to Dave and told him the story of the painting and that it arrived. After the story, Peter repeated a few times “what do you think it means? It has to mean something. It has to.” Dave said Peter was different when he told the story, not at all like the Peter. He told me Peter was distant, almost trance-like. I don’t doubt Dave. It didn’t seem like Peter. He was never one to look into the meaning of life or purposes. He didn’t question. He lived.
After he was done telling his story to Dave, Lisa walked up and casually asked what was going on. Peter repeated the story to Lisa and asked the same questions. Lisa confirmed Dave’s feelings. According to Lisa, as he told the story, Peter looked different, spoke different and everything about the conversation was out of his character.
After he finished with Lisa, Peter asked them both to come over to look at the painting. The three of them came to my house and stared at it. Peter, again, repeated “What does this mean? What do you think it means? It has to mean something, right?” Lisa and Dave told me Peter was “not himself”.
When I pulled into the driveway that day, Peter was mowing. He stopped the mower, and with a big grin on his face, came trotting over to me. He grabbed my hand and said, “Come on in. I have to show you something’. I already had an idea the painting came. No, it wasn’t another odd thing to the story, but because I saw the packaging in the garage. When Peter showed me the painting, he beamed at it. I mean, beamed. Peter was never a “whoo-hoo look what I bought” type of guy. He never grew excited about too much, let alone purchases and gifts. After opening a gift on Christmas or on his birthday, he would always respond “oh, this is nice” with words never projecting any kind of excitement. Yet with this painting, he was so animated, I was surprised.
We hung the painting on the part of the wall that does not get much viewing. We were going to change its location, eventually, when we had time to rework all the other pictures hanging on our wall. And that’s where it hung, without any more discussion.
After I heard our friends’ description of Peter the day the painting arrived, the story behind the painting, and my own remembrance of Peter’s emotions, I thought, maybe Racheal, our niece, was beaconing Peter. I quickly dismissed that theory, knowing Peter would never purposely leave me or the kids. Lisa thinks the painting was Racheal’s way of telling Peter, she was at peace. Perhaps. Maybe Peter did feel a sense of calm from knowing Racheal was good in the afterlife and from feeling her presence. But what I think, what I truly believe from my heart, is the painting, and the story behind it was our wonderful, loving niece’s way of telling Peter she would see him soon. And she did. Two days after the painting arrived, Peter was killed.
I emailed the artist, giving her closure to this story. I know as a writer, I always enjoy people’s responses to my own writing. I included in my message how now, four weeks later, her painting hangs in our…my….living room. I told her the new furniture and accessories I picked out recently were based on the colors in the painting. It told her I moved it and now is the focal point of the room, hanging over my head, in the place where I write every day. I wrote that for me, the painting is a knowing of Peter’s support.
The painting will be mine for as long as I live. I hope after, it will be handed down for generations. Not because of its beauty, although as you can see, there is that, but because of its story. It’s Peter’s story, a father’s story, a grandfather’s story, a great-grandfather’s story, or perhaps an uncle’s, a great uncle’s, story. Whoever ends up with it 100 years from now, he/she/they will have a part of Peter’s story, a part I wanted to write down this morning, on this forth week without him, so I know I got it right.