St Anthony of Padua is the patron saint of lost things: objects, obviously but also people, relationships, and faith, the kind of losses that can really kick your ass. It took me until a couple of years ago to fully realise that loss is a part of the human condition, that when we show up here it's part of the deal and that I'd be a lot better off if I could accept it. I was able to discover this very important piece of information because I was in grief counseling. I was in grief counseling because my brother has ALS and because our Gramma Sara died suddenly and unexpectedly. Unlike my beloved grandfathers and great- grandmothers she was not ill or in decline and I had no reason to expect that I would not see her later that day or the next as planned.
This St Anthony of Padua shrine is about losing my Gramma Sara. When I was sketching out ideas for a St. Anthony piece the memory of cleaning out Gramma's house kept coming back to me. Gramma had lived in that house for over fifty years. My dad and uncle grew up there. We had the luxury of waiting six months before having to touch anything. At first it was strange, but then exciting as all sorts of interesting things were unearthed from drawers, closets and cupboards: love letters to my Grampa, photographs, vacation souvenirs from long ago, the pinking shears my dad loved cutting paper with as a child. And then, it was empty. I think it was the sight of Gramma's closet that really hurt, that really felt...final. All of the familiar clothes that she inhabited, her shoes, her lady-like pocket books, were gone, dispersed amongst us or donated to the women's shelter. The shoe rack- where I had stashed the box of chocolates she begged me to hide on her so she wouldn't eat them when I was six- gone. I got my sweet tooth from Gramma Sara. So the emptied closet was what I used to communicate that feeling of loss in this shrine.
I treated the top of the shrine like it was the top of Gramma's dresser, which was a place of great interest for me as a child. I used the space to tell the story of what happened and also evoke that which is particular to her: the dresser scarf, her pincushion, the drawing which came from a photograph of Gramma on my Uncle John's First Communion day, her earring. The pincushion became the holder for the painting, or retablo, of Gramma's soul leaving the hospital, where she passed away. The toy ambulance tells how she went to the hospital, that it was sudden, an emergency from which she could not recover.
The small painting itself shows St. Anthony of Padua finding Gramma- because he finds what is "lost"- and guiding her to Heaven. I painted this for my own comfort, because I wanted to believe that Gramma continued on in her journey, her soul evolving and growing, healing, free from worry and knowing peace. Word has it, though,that she and Grampa John are still at the house, where my youngest cousin and his family are now living. I'm not sure wether to worry about this or not: are they stuck, or simply choosing to stay by the family they were so devoted to in life, in the home they made over fifty years ago?