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In Memory of My Mother: Still Life with Chair & Jug -- After Schiele, comes from my mother's prev weeks. In the earliest days of her hospitalization, when her diagnosis was still unclear, my sisters and I met with my mother's doctors. While we talked in the hallway outside her hospital room, I could hear her occasionally calling, "Sue? Is that Susan? Sue, are you here?" My sisters told me she had been asking for me -- or talking to them as though they were me -- for several days.

Following her outburst of violence a year before, I had forbidden contact until she sought psychological help. The prev time I had seen her, she had me pinned down in an assault so crazy I had only recently come to believe that I might be able to live a normal life with those images in my head. I was traumatized by the idea of seeing her, and had grave reservations about entering her life to help her through this illness, only to have to leave again when she got better. She had not, to my knowledge, received any help to manage her violent behavior.

My sisters told me that my mother was completely paralyzed on her left side. She was spending her days sitting in a wheelchair covered by a tray, and with her functioning right hand she held a napkin, wiping and wiping and wiping the tray clean in front of her as she slumped half over it.

At one point I had to pass her room and finally marshaled the courage to look in. All I caught was one brief and indelible image before I continued on.

My mother's back was to the door, and she was exerting tremendous effort to hold her head up against the dead weight of her left side and look back over her shoulder as she called my name.

Her face was wearing an expression that I had never seen in my entire life: complete, unrestrained joy. For the first time that I had ever seen, my mother was carefree.

I decided to help care for my mother when she was diagnosed with CJD. By that time, though medications were able to reduce her paranoia and depression, she was nevertheless unable to speak. We were never able to discuss the violence that destroyed our relationship. It was both the most natural thing in the world and the greatest act of will I have ever engaged in to lovingly care for a woman whose violence was still vivid in my mind. But in the end, I am tremendously thankful that I found the courage to do it. It was the basis for the hard peace that I hammered out, as time and information helped to mitigate the sadness.

When I saw Egon Schiele's drawing Still Life with Chair & Jug, with its chair floating inexplicably in the air and its pitcher sorrowfully on the brink of emptying itself into nothingness, I found a match for the image of my mother in my heart. This painting, along with the Day of the Dead Family Portrait, was my first attempt to build the peace I knew I needed to construct. It is my farewell to her, with her beautiful face half joyful and half released from this world.

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In Memory of My Mother:

Still Life with Chair & Jug
—After Schiele
2002 oil on canvas 120 x 75 cm