Why am I making art about death?
It's taken me over a year to be able to embrace art making once again. A couple of years ago my Aunt Nancy unexpectedly passed away. She was as much of a mother to me, as my actual Mom. She had partly raised me, she was an artist in her own right, my role model in many ways and my rock. Her love and support surpassed distance and time. My love for drawing, painting and art history had all sprung from one source - her.
After she died, I felt numb and like I'd hit a brick wall. I had no desire to be creative at all. In fact the thought of it made me queasy. I've had feelings bigger than words could describe, overwhelming silence in so many ways. I mourned. However as I was aware of how much pain my Mom, my Grandparents and all the other family were in; because now I have my own children and I didn't want to scare them with my sadness ... I bottled it up. I only would bring out the crying and sorrow when I had the rare opportunity to be alone.
Unfortunately this was not the first time sadness had struck me. When I was in the middle of my Fine Arts degree, in my 20's I suffered another huge loss that impacted me fiercely. I lost my first love to a car accident. It was a very complicated time, after a severe brain injury, from which he never recovered ... he died too. I'd been in love with Warren for ten years. I tried to be brave by not showing my true feelings because I saw how much his family were suffering and instead I tried to be strong for them. Again I bottled it up. I sunk in to suicidal thoughts. It was tough.
Without knowledge or proper therapeutic tools to deal with such sorrow, it stumped me. I tried to pack these emotions away and pretend that I could carry on life as such but the truth is, that it took me well over a decade to even begin to feel "normal" again. It was a genuine fight to now, save my self so to speak. I looked for answers all over the proverbial place. Looking back I can now see what a lot of self-destructive behaviour I endured during that period of my life, I was in denial that I was very hurt. It led to depression and anxiety. No amount of every day routine could ever be a band-aid for the deep emotional wound.
I became quite aware of how death has always been lurking around the corners of my life. However in my experience, like the classic British saying, I was expected to "keep calm and carry on". I guess it's a societal comping mechanism of sorts?
My first memory of death was when my Great-Grandmother Luisa died. I lived at my maternal Grandparent's home with a lot of family. I must have been around 5 years old. I remember I woke up one morning and wondered in to her bedroom, where she was sleeping. I sort of climbed on the bed to kiss her good morning, but she was very still and very cold! I was confused and I ran to find my Nana. I asked her why her mother felt so cold to the touch, and she explained to me that Great-Grandmother Luisa had passed in her sleep, peacefully and now she was dead. I didn't even think twice about it, shrugged at this answer and went off to play without a qualm.
At 9 years old, I was now living in another continent. At the time I was in, what I recall being one of my most favourite years of school. We had a lovely class in this all-girls school, taught by an amazing nun called Sister Bernhield. It felt like I was in a Madeline book, and each classmate was a character with unique traits. We had a lot of fun! I am blessed to say, that still today, I am able to maintain friendships across the world with some of these beloved girls. (Except now we are middle-aged women). One classmate was a frighteningly clever, little English girl with very blonde ringlets. Caroline was so very smart! She was a great story teller and well spoken too. We went on holidays during that school year, and she never returned. We learnt that she had been in a terrible car crash with her parents. Neither Caroline, nor her Mom survived. Our class had to attend the funeral.
When we were teenagers, my best friend lost her beloved sister Lynda, in a car accident. Once again, we had all been dismissed for holidays and once again, another friend never made it back. My best friend told me the news upon my family's return from the beach, much to my shock and disbelief. I tried my best to cheer her up and show her love. That event also made a huge impact on me. It hurt to see her and her family suffer and witness their loss. Lynda was one of the funniest people I'd ever met and we all still miss her dearly.Weirdly enough, a bunch of teens from that graduating year and high school died in several different car crashes - including Warren.
I am flabbergasted at the amount of vehicular incidents that have plagued my existence, not only through the suffering of friends and family in such incidents ... but I my self, have been a passenger in three accidents and once I was hit by a car when I was riding my bicycle! Within that, I can tell you a couple of stories, but I shall leave that for another time.
All of this has made me ponder as to how can I find a much better way to deal with all this sobering grief? I am now a mother and I want to have the ability to teach my children about death in a positive manner. How can I deal with my mourning process in a constructive way, that is my own? Because it never really goes away. Even years later I am at times struck by heartache and a deep sense of loss.
I am older and I find more people around me are passing on, not only loved ones, but death marks my age as celebrities whom I'd looked up to, such as David Bowie die. The media constantly bombards us with images and news of death. Video games full of death are merchandised to entice my gaming nerds. I worry how much of this is all desensitizing death to my self and those around me? I'm no longer just a moody teenager with Gothic tendencies, rather,I am the mother of a teenager as well.
As an adult I am now wide awake to the reality that my Parents are aging, my Grandparents are almost 100 years old! My own mortality looms. (Yet I am more anxious about the future loss of my loved ones, rather than my own death). At this point of my life, I've been close enough to death my self a few times - accidents, disease, giving birth with complications. It's sobering to say the least.
Last year my husband gave me a "23andme" kit for our anniversary, so that I could find out where my ancestry stems from. I now have proof for stories told to my by my family members and even discovered facts unknowns to me. Fascinating. It was like I could reach back into history and tap my ancestors' shoulders to say hello. My life is a map of their lives, united through death and I'm passing this on to my own children. I must learn, enrich the knowledge of these cultures that are in my genetics, traditions and customs. Embrace my ancestors. Our history. Some day I shall be an ancestor too.
At that, age doesn't even matter when it's about death. Recently my two youngest children lost a classmate too. I had also taught this little boy art. Tragically Trevor didn't quite make it to 7 years of age. It breaks my heart to have been reminded again, of the unimaginable pain that it is for parents to lose their children, at all kinds of life stages.
Death is unavoidable. It hurts. I want to understand it. Thus, I am making art as a therapy to help me cope, to help me learn, to help me grieve. To help me prepare for the inevitable. I am very interested in the current trend of the "death positive", there is a lot of accessible information available out there.
This is why I am making art about death. I am trying to live in it's shadow, I am trying to gain back my self-confidence which I let erode through grief. I am getting back up. I'm making this for me.