My uncle died on December 2, 2012. Three days before my 21st birthday and about a week before he came home for Christmas.
He had lived in Montana for over 10 years at that point and we only saw him at Christmas. Except that year he was in Texas with my whole family for my little cousin’s baptism but I didn’t go because I had a track meet. We tried skyping so I could say hi to everyone but it didn’t really work.
So my uncle had died and I was the only person in our whole family who hadn’t seen him in a year.
I was pretty sad about it for obvious reasons.
My mother was on a whole different level of sad.
He was her younger brother and he had died suddenly in a car accident, a mere few months after essentially rescuing some other people from their own car accident and braking his heels. Yes, that summer my uncle had rescued people from a car wreck and what, five months later was in his own at 4 AM or something without a seat belt on. It was a patch of black ice and a perfectly placed rock that ended my uncle’s life. That and the whole no seat belt thing.
But the story here is that my uncle was an awesome mattress salesman who saved people from car wrecks in his free time, and he was my mom’s baby brother, and she was heartbroken that he had died before his time, as the saying goes.
My grandparents were really broken up about it too. He lived in Montana and everyone would talk to him every once in a while, but he lived in Montana so it really wasn’t the same as actually spending time with someone.
We did get to visit though. In July the summer before my senior year of high school my family hopped on a train to Montana and spent 36 hours traveling through things I don’t remember because I was sleeping or reading. I get motion sickness so instead of being awake and torturing myself I slept roughly 24 of those 36 hours.
Anyway, Montana was amazing. Being from Indiana and having only ever traveled around the Midwest left me in awe of the mountains surrounding us. Even at my uncle’s apartment you could see mountains in the distance in every direction. It was really rather breathtaking for little old me. My whole family too, since none of us had ever been anywhere with real mountains before.
We spent 9 days in Montana going to national parks, climbing mountains, white water rafting, star gazing, and eating huckleberry flavored desserts. Although I was a moody, bratty teenager, it was an amazing time.
I’d say the most memorable day was in the middle of the week. My uncle wanted to take us to this mountain that had a rather simple path to walk on, because none of us are mountaineers, so we got there and we’re walking with definitely dozens if not hundreds of other people on this path. At first it was crowded but it thinned out eventually, and we come around this turn after we’d been walking for a while and suddenly we’re surrounded by snow. It was late July and we were standing on a mountain covered in snow.
Of course our first instinct was to throw it at each other. We had a snowball fight in July in Montana. And it was so great.
For Mother’s Day 2013, which was a little over 5 months after the accident, I decided to make my mom a painting. I had been working in oil paint for a few months at that point and was more comfortable with it, especially with trying new things.
I wanted the painting to be pretty but also sentimental. I wanted it to be about my uncle, but something happy that wouldn’t make my mom more sad.
I chose to paint something representing the best part of our trip to Montana – the snowball fight.
I came up with a few sketches and eventually decided on a setup I liked. Large, snowy mountain taking up most of the canvas with a path leading into the distance and some sun in the background to make is a bright moment.
While perhaps not very realistic, I like my mountain, titled Montana in July. It represents one of the best times my family had with my uncle Dan, plus it matches the colors in my mom’s living room. It’s a win in all aspects.
But really, I wanted to paint my mother something that might help her focus more on the good parts of my uncle’s life instead of focusing on his untimely death.
Maybe in the grand scheme of things one painting won’t relieve anything for anyone, but maybe it will. Maybe paintings can help people understand their feelings more clearly and help them decide to change those feelings. I think art and music has done that for me many times, and I hope my art has done the same for others.