“My little flower, where are you going?”

That’s the name of this painting my brother did. I found it this weekend, in a box of art supplies my mother salvaged from his apartment. The title is written on the back, along with his signed name. It’s a nod to the Italian song “Piccolo Fiore” by Vittorio Merlo, a rough English translation of “piccolo fiore dove vai.” This song is one my grandmother Lucia would play for him.

At first glance, the painting looks like it could be many things: a self portrait, a portrait of me. But the more I thought about it, I realized that it was actually a portrait of my grandmother in death, eyes closed, white hair, as she looked in her casket. The shape of the chin with its elegant point is the giveaway. The painting is dated March 3, 2009, and Lucia passed away the month before, in late February.

I cannot remember any specific conversations with Andrew about the painting. But it feels right, and I’m learning to listen to the intuition of the dead.

My mind works differently now. When I come across objects from the past, I go into deduction mode, filling my head with the material of possibilities, then filtering out as many unlikelihoods as possible.

Then my next thought, always: “I should ask Andrew about this.” And then I remember that he’s dead. It’s a sharp, sad stab that I’ve learned to ride out, kind of. It’s my way of communicating with him, even just the idea of him. It’s how I continue our relationship.

It’s how I keep the dead alive.

[A historical aside: My grandmother is 100% Italian, both of her parents immigrants from Italy who settled in the Wilmington, Delaware area when they arrived. As a child my brother and I spent a lot of time with my grandparents, and my grandmother — we called her “Mom Mom” — was always speaking in bits and pieces of Italian. (A pretty incredible thing about her was that she was fluent in English, Italian, AND Spanish.) Certain words and phrases echo through my childhood. Because I heard them so often, I assumed they were words everyone knew until once I referred to underwear as “moodons” in casual conversation, and was met with a stare of blank confusion. Later I learned it was an American pronunciation of the Italian slang word “mutande,” meaning “drawers.”]

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