WorshipWeb: Braver/Wiser: A Weekly Message of Courage and Compassion

A More Complete Story

By Aaron Stockwell Wisman

"Our memory is made up of our individual memories and our collective memories. The two are intimately linked. And history is our collective memory. If our collective memory is taken from us—is rewritten—we lose the ability to sustain our true selves." 
—Haruki Murakami

It takes a community to remember someone in all of their many facets.

My grandma Marge was an extremely talented artist, painting landscapes mainly in oils and acrylics. She could paint a replica of whatever photograph she had clipped to the top of the canvas. By the end of her life, we had created a gallery wall in her living room with at least fifty paintings, ranging from the 1940s to the 2010s.

An elderly woman wearing a paing-spattered apron sits in front of an easel, smiling, as she paints a beautiful landscape.

In her last few months, I would sit with her as she watched her game shows and Western movies, the volume turned up all the way. My attention was more drawn to the tranquility and calm of her paintings. Many of them became seared into my memory: the one of the trees, the old mill, the lake, the lighthouse, and so on.

When she died, my parents distributed Marjorie’s paintings to the rest of the family. It was time to dismantle the gallery walls. A few now grace the walls of the home I share with my wife.

A few weeks ago, my cousin invited my side of the family to his house. I knew that he had taken a few paintings, so I was looking forward to seeing some of them in a different context. There on the wall were two paintings, unmistakably my grandmother's, but unfamiliar to me. Though I knew the answer—she had signed them, Marjorie Morey, after all—I asked my cousin “Are these Marjorie’s?"

My cousin responded, “Oh yeah, those are Grammy’s.”

I was taken aback. “Oh, right,” I reminded myself, “we called her different names.” I had never seen these paintings before. I marveled at this painting. What other paintings were there?

When I lead memorial services, I remind the congregation, "You likely have a story or an experience of the person who has died that only you know. Share that during our time together." This time for sharing is one of the moving aspects of memorial services. When those gathered begin to share the stories of their loved ones, a more full picture emerges. A more complete story comes into focus.

I know that there are likely dozens of paintings of my grandmother's that I've never seen. It doesn't make those paintings any less real, or any less her creation. They just haven't been seen by my eyes.


May I collect the stories that I know, and may I be open to the stories that I don't know.