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Senior Momentum - June 2015 - A Series of Situations


Senior Momentum - June 2015 - A Series of Situations

by Zoe Tummillo

We All Knew A Lillian...

She could have been Judy or Barbara or John. She’s the old woman or man we thought we knew soooo well – with all the little quirks and idiosyncrasies we found alternately cute or annoying. She had her ways, we used to say; there was no changing her habits, we’d speculate.

We would gradually get around to “her things.” Maybe her loved ones tolerantly referred to it all as “the stuff,” while she was still around.  (There is so much that outsiders don’t understand about someone else’s things!) You know the drill – the puzzled smiling, the knowing that the family would get to all of it... after.

In many ways they got to know Lillian better only after she had died, and much of the insight came from strangers. 

Anyone who knew her had their own singular description of who she was, and what she did.  Few asked her who she was, and very few knew her view of what she did, that she thought most important! 

And then one day she died. Did anyone know who it was, named Lillian, who had died? Did they wonder about her legacy? Did anyone even think she had one? Hard to think about that word when she was characterized and eulogized – as just a lovable, sweet old lady, surrounded by paraphernalia, always unobtrusively dabbling, year after year, with her “painting!”  What legacy?

In time, the garage and rummage sales were planned. Time for the family to redistribute, clean out, sell, give away and discard. Lillian’s was a small house suitable for an elder with simple needs – no telling what was tucked away in closets, on shelves and in the spare room that had not seen guests in years. 

Once into it – good grief! – Lillian’s “art” was tucked away in every possible nook. They hadn’t noticed how far her dabbling had taken her...  A dozen stacked here, six or ten on that high shelf...  That guest room was filled with dozens of canvases of all sizes, with themes of many persuasions.  It was her lifetime as an artist. They hadn’t known, or they hadn’t noticed it for what it was.

People who hadn’t known the family came in numbers – somehow, they knew!  One of Lillian’s paintings, someone said? How much? You must be kidding -- for one of Lillian’s?  What had been missed all those years as her death drew near? How had they not seen her art, or her self as a painter? Had they grown so cynical about the sharing of the caring of her last years that all that could be seen was a soul with little to do but wait and dabble? Had the body of work of a lifetime become invisible?

Who else might be among us (with no name like Renoir, Monet or Wyeth) who shows us beauty and gives us gifts that we do not see?  Amazing gifts are sometimes housed in a cluttered cottage amid the trappings (and chores) of old age, just stacked away.  (It’s actually a small percentage of the “fine art” of the world that is known, or that is in museums!)

She probably knew you didn’t really know her; and she surely knew you thought you did. The answers would be there for you when you finally had a chance to breathe – when the last of the paraphernalia of long-time care were cleared away, left over medications discarded and future doctor appointments cancelled. She probably trusted you would eventually meet her in the images she left behind. 

Who are they -- Lillian or Judy or Barbara or John?  Why do we sometimes fade them away before they are actually gone? Is the piano music of arthritic fingers or the painting composed in precious windows of time (between treatments or induced sleep) less inspired, somehow, than our own? Consider the journals of the Women of the Civil War, Lewis and Clark, the Donner party, Audubon, Darwin and so many others who captured our legacies in their personal words and images! It is interesting how we connect authenticity almost exclusively to notoriety...

(Yes; Lillian was a real person. I asked my sister about a beautiful oil hanging above her Baby Grand and she told me its story.)

Zoë Tummillo is a Business & Marketing Consultant, Trainer, Commercial Writer, dba COMMUNICATION CONCEPTS, in private practice since 1974. In addition to Commercial work, she writes “Senior Momentum: A Series of Situations”; “Pieces of My Path”©, essay memoirs of growing up first generation Italian American; and Senior Momentum: Front And Center!©. To contact her: email: