This is the latest in our occasional series of Postcards — stories from the heart about photos that hold special significance.
I live with my parents and brother in a small house near Dayton, Ohio. My mother, the Artist, decides our living room needs terraforming into a green space, as if we lived in a forest or jungle. Anchoring this newly green space is a full-wall mural of a place we’ve never heard of: Hoh Rain Forest. Mom vows, one day, to visit this place.
My first summer living in Seattle. New friends encourage a trip to the Olympic National Park, and its forest primeval: Hoh Rain Forest. Excited to be inside Mom’s mural, I bring my inexpensive camera, and take many pictures. I send her copies. I tell her: you must come visit here.
My parents sell my childhood home. While preparing the house, they remove the mural from its wall. They take grandmother with them to a new home in Sedona, Arizona, next to my mom’s sister and her husband. There’s much family here, but little green. Dad builds Mom a small oasis in the front yard with a fountain in the center, and Ohio plants that can survive the desert all around it. Mom says, mournfully, and often: “I miss the Green.”
My mother is dying from cancer. On her bedstand, she places this picture:
It’s the Hoh Rain Forest, a photo I sent her a decade before. She holds the photo tightly, Dad tells me, and stares at it. Immersing herself in it. Willing herself to be there.
I relocate to Sedona to share Mom’s final two months. During our profound, and final conversations, she asks me to scatter her amongst the mural, within her beloved Green.
In early November my mother dies, having seen the forest only through my pictures.
Solemnly, my father bears Mom’s ashes to Seattle. It’s his only visit to see me here. Two days after their 40th wedding anniversary, he and I scatter Mom amongst the mural, within the Green. And then, Dad asks me to promise: When his time comes, scatter him here as well, in union with his treasured partner, so they can join together again, and be one with the Green.
My father is dying from cancer. Compared to Mom, he deteriorates rapidly. By the time my brother summons me to Dad’s California home, Dad’s mind is badly affected by the illness, and the treatment. He barely recognizes me, and we have no True Goodbye.
At the end of May, my father dies, and I return to Seattle with his ashes. In the summer, at the height of Green, I travel to the mural and fulfill his final wish.
Now, it’s today.
I keep this photo on my bedstand. It’s faded, wrinkled from age, and from her tight grip. It’s a sacred artifact, a blink of time sliced from its temporal substrate, and painted in photons. This picture tells a story; this picture is a story. I hold it, and I see her holding it with me. And we cry.