Grief is Yucky
I made this painting on May 10 about a dozen years ago. I know it was May 10, even if I don’t remember the exact year. May 10, 1996 was my third child’s, second son’s birthday.
It was also the day he died.
It was a devastating and grief- laden time for our family. It was a time that we came together as a family to support one another, and also realized the strength of the community we had built around us.
It was also a time that forced me to recognize my own strength. The deepest, most painful, single experience of my life, was the catalyst for the beginning of my healing journey
I have filled the intervening years with ritual and tradition that keep my son alive for me. I bake a birthday cake every year, and plant a perennial flower in my garden.
And, of course, there is art.
Nearly a quarter of a century of filling pages with paint and ink. Colours of the still raw edges of my heart where Malcolm Cassady left his indelible mark.
Sometimes poetry too, finds its way into my life, as I express the scars of grief open up and spill forth.
I allow this to transform the intense pain I feel into beauty and metaphor that contain the memory of my baby boy. I wrote this the year he was to turn 13. It has seemed profound to me, a carrying the daily weight of the grief, to a more integrated manner of experiencing my son in the other aspects of my life.
On Being With the Dead and Dying October 8/09
Whispers to my Son in the Night
Ode to the love, my small child-
And to the pain- joy, laughter and grief
That your spark has endowed.
Your body breathed, only
The essence of artificial life-
Man- made air forced through your tiny lungs
With masks and tubes.
וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים, מְרַחֶפֶת עַל-פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם.
Breath of the divine
Grazed over the top of your head.
It met my lips,
As I memorized the feeling of your downy head
With my kiss.
*The Hebrew text above translates as: And the spirit of god blew across the face of the water.
Every year, I meet this day with both dread and the understanding that my grief on losing this child unlocked my ability to be fully the woman I was meant to be. I scrape through layers of paint, just as I do the years of living and remembering. The process of art making and creating metaphor for the feelings that threaten to bury me in intensity, urge me forward to metamorphosis, and onward to the light.
The painting above, was done as an art therapy process: layers of black charcoal, covered with layers of black paint, found materials that gave it structure, and also represented the caged feeling of grief, splatters of colour that light the way, and finally, a s**t brown blob of brown, because there’s no getting away from the crap in our lives. Creating a textured and layered representation of the feelings in my body, the grief can be seen, shared as the most human experience that exists. When I can give both form and words to my sensations, there is a sense of lessening the dissonance between what I feel in my body and the words that come out of mouth.
And really, I don't need words. This painting speaks for me: for the ups and downs of holding such a painful loss.