I was scrounging for something in my basement the other day and came across a painting by a 95-year-old woman.
Gertrude was her name. She was one of my mom’s roommates at the nursing home where my mom spent the last 3-plus years of her life.
Gertrude gave the painting to her, and even inscribed the back in labored cursive — “To Margaret. Love, Gertrude.”
I used to visit the nursing home quite often, and Gertrude was a bright spot in an otherwise dreary environment. She was perpetually upbeat despite her situation, and was in relatively good shape mentally and physically.
As my mom declined with dementia, I often engaged more with Gertrude. Painting was her passion. Despite sometimes shaky hands, she spent a lot of time on those 6×8-inch boards, using brushes and acrylic paints her family brought to her.
Gertrude outlived my mom by almost four years. When I found the painting in my basement, I couldn’t remember her last name but I knew she was from New Jersey.
Thanks to the wonders of search engines, I found her obituary. One particular memory came flooding back, of a lunar eclipse one night in 2004 or 2005. The three of us – my mom, Gertrude and I – watched the eclipse unfold through the window of their room. It was a rather surreal way to spend an evening, I admit.
But back to Gertrude and her painting. According to her obituary in 2010, “At age 75 she became a very accomplished artist. She won a local art contest and went to the NJ state finals.”
I think that’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever read in an obit.
Gertrude, by the way, lived to be 101 – four days shy of turning 102. She was born in Germany and came to America as a small child. She loved the ocean and volunteered with Muscular Dystrophy patients, helping them swim. She lost her husband in 1973 and a son in 1997.
I wish I had known at least some of that about Gertrude, or had the emotional intelligence to ask about her life. But at the time I was more concerned with my mom and seeing that she was taken care of, so I think my chats with Gertrude stayed pretty superficial. I should have thanked her for being so kind to my mom, and for giving her that painting of a simple floral arrangement.
So, to the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Gertrude Neufeldt Schuliar (1908-2010), I want to say thank you. And in case you were too young to know her, you should know that she was an awesome lady.