An Ancestral Sky & How I Honor My Loved Ones thru Art

My Vision of an Ancestral Sky & How I Honor My Loved Ones thru art in a time of uncertainty.

I started writing this article the week before Covid-19 hit the earth. I had no idea that during that time I was going to lose two more family members before I could even complete my thoughts. 
This is for Paul Holmes, Horace Gillison Sr., and Horace Gillison Jr aka Pooh.

I was about 18 years old when I heard my grandmother laugh again. I hadn’t heard her laugh since her death a few years earlier. I was sitting at the computer desk in my mom’s house working on a family project. Specifically, I was writing a line about how my grandmother would make gingerbread-men shaped pancakes. I giggled at the thought of my Ma’Cia, almost 6 feet tall, wearing a long skirt she had pulled up over her chest, ducking down like a flamingo to present us pancakes. Then, she giggled too. Clear as a whistle, as if she was hovering over my shoulder watching what I wrote, she giggled then laughed heartily in my ears. I remember not being afraid or anxious of this otherworldly sound but leaning into her presence and thanking her for visiting me.

Because of those giggles, handshakes, hugs, and whispers… I’ve always acknowledged that death was not the end of existence nor was it even an automatic exit of this time and space. Those we loss seemed to only be gone physically. It was never more evident than when my friend Lorna Pinckney died. She was a staple in the art community and an outrageously beautiful soul. We all gathered at her house the night that her physical body died and I swear, it felt like she was gonna walk down the stairs and enter her own gathering. She was still here. Then the next day, while running errands, as if a weighted blanket was being lifted, that heavy presence of hers was gone. It was confirmed when my friend called me and said “Did you feel that?”

It was at Lorna’s funeral when I felt her again and the realization that we weren’t losing her had set in. Hundreds of people had gathered. The African drums filled the room, the dancers chanted and shouted, her loved one’s discussed her in such a way that I recognized, there was no way Lorna could simply cease to exist. There were too many of us who loved her, too many memories and events that existed because of her. She was larger than life, very literally. And then I had a vision.

I saw a starry sky. Thousands of stars. In the sky was an outline on people’s spirits. Lorna, Dyore, MaCia, my son Emmanuel. Just as clear as my grandma’s giggle, I realized that these people were my ancestors. So much more than just spirits but now willing to be being a guiding force in my life. I had always thought my ancestors were folks who had died hundreds of years before. They were old enough to be considered wise and would provide guidance. But honestly, I didn’t have the deep powerful connection to them that I had heard some of my friends describe. I did, however, feel comfortable with Lorna listening to me write poems or Dyore giving me dating advice or MaCia cooking alongside me or Emmanuel guiding my prayers.

It took my almost two years to finally paint my vision. I lit a candle a few days after my dad died Specifically, it was a candle lit to encourage creativity. My ancestral sky had grown since the day of the vision and there were two many outline’s to craft them all. So guided by the smoke of the creativity candle, I tweaked the design a little and a few days later, after much coming to terms with yet another lost, it was time for my sky.

Coping with death is so difficult in itself and in the age of Covid-19, we’ve had to social distance at funerals, watch them via a live stream, or postpone them all together. Some people build altars and others have memorials and release balloons. I decided to paint my ancestral sky. There are some stars that haven’t made the sky yet as I still need to make peace with how they lived. Other’s, I haven’t added yet because it hurts to have loss them. And even other’s who I honor are not my ancestor and are in someone else’s sky. But this will be how I honor those who have gone that I choose to allow their spirits to still be a presence in my life.

To Create An Ancestral Sky (or tree or ocean or flower garden):

  1. Close your eyes and envision those people who even in death, are still impacting how you live.
  2. Choose colors that will represent peace and balance for you. This sky isn’t about what they would want or their favorite color but what you need from them. You can separate friends from family, some are bigger or smaller.
  3. Decide if you want your symbolism to be something that is private to you or something you don’t mind other’s asking about ie: Will you add peoples names? Would you be comfortable with other people seeing your sky?
  4. Make a list of people to include. Decide how and who you want to honor. Be okay with leaving people off your design or saving them for after you’ve found peace.
  5. Leave extra space. Life and death will continue to happen. Choose a canvas big enough or a design small enough. Leave blank space to add more people.


  1. I truly appreciate this article as I did not fully come to terms with understanding how involved our ancestors were within our lives until my Father passed. Thanks for sharing your experience. I am definitely going to try making a succulent garden in remembrance.


  2. I love this. It has inspired me to do a painting for my mom. She has Copd and other health issues right now and I cant see her and hug her. I drop groceries at the door and call to tell them they are out there. Sad times we are living in but the storms cant last forever. Love you Paula!


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