Jenny Feldman, my late mother-in-law, wrote in her journals that she imagined being a ghost after her death, watching her art and writings go to the dumpster. If an artist was not successful in his or her lifetime, she reasoned, there would be no one to protect and shepherd the artist’s body of work. She made a decision to create anyway, because the act of making art was what made her feel alive–but assumed that upon her death, she would pass into obscurity.
Jenny, you were so wrong. So break-my-heart wrong.
If I have learned anything in these past few months since Jenny’s death, it is that our stories do not necessarily end when we leave these physical shells. The family has been photographing her work and putting it on a website for family and friends–and the work is literally flying off the shelves. It has caught the attention of people who never met her, whose motives wouldn’t be to garner a souvenir of a woman whose loving heart touched their lives.
I am reminded that Van Gogh sold one painting in his lifetime, and now his work is in some of the greatest galleries in the world. Often, in cases where artists find success after death, it is because someone in the family saw its value and chose to preserve it. Such is the case in the Feldman family. No Feldman would dream of sending a single piece to the dumpster. And my job, one that I accept happily, is to organize her many journals and put them into a cohesive book form for family to treasure–and as I look at her rich words, her journey from impoverished daughter of an immigrant mother and sickly father, to artist, world traveler, wife, mother, and grandmother, I can’t help but believe that her musings may go beyond the family.
It’s sad to think that Jenny died not comprehending her value, either as an artist or as a much-loved matriarch. She said that she didn’t really believe in ghosts, but I hope that somewhere, her ghost is watching and knows that there’s not a dumpster in sight.