i write for an online magazine-style website on a broad range of topics. photography, poetry, the history and geology of Cape Ann, architecture, art, and, yes, i write about grief. i received an email from a reader who was reflecting on one of my grief articles, Hitting “the Wall,” who said this:
It is hard for me to understand how you could be so sad and write something so full and beautiful. It's like a photonegative. I am seeing some glimmers that you might be starting to break the surface of your loss. You create such beauty, I hope that you would heal and continue to create such beauty. ……... So I truly hope that this is that wall that you will break through, and not the wall that keeps you from moving on.
i have been reflecting on this while i worked on a quilt today. the quilts are art. i am an artist. i write a blog titled, “The Art of Grief” but it was not meant as an advertisement for my art. i meant it as a metaphor for the art it takes to live with sorrow and the work it takes to strive to accept the scars it is going to leave.
then, as minds will do, my thoughts leapt to what it takes to create art, the particular mediums i use to create my own particular art.
stained glass: first, the colored glass is made using the float glass method. a continuous ribbon of liquid glass in a molten tin bath flows unhindered under the influence of gravity. glass has natural impurities but to get other colors, minerals or purified metal salts are added. then the top surface of the glass is subjected to nitrogen under pressure to obtain a polished finish, or something close to that. when i draw a design for glass, i have to stay aware that glass will only cut one way. curves can be done, but within the physics of glass. i draw wax lines on the glass and then cut it, snap it apart, and place it on my drawing like a puzzle piece. to weld the glass together, i cover each piece of glass with copper, flux it, and then heat the solder, melting it on the copper thereby joining the glass pieces to create my design. in short, fire, glasscutters, and more heat is what it takes to make a window.
to create all this art in these different mediums, if you look close enough, i have to cause damage. i have to break glass and then melt solder to bind the pieces. the wood i use is veined, gouged, and carved. the quilts are created by cutting apart the fabrics and clothes. each verb is a destructive verb. and that is sort of what life, and death, have done to me.
i kept thinking about what was written in the email, that i am sad yet my writing, to this person, is beautiful. it is hard for this person to see how it can be done. first let me say i am always humbled when anyone finds value in my words much less beauty. i write from the deepest well of sorrow and yet i know that some of the greatest works of literature are founded upon enormous sadness. i am in no way comparing my writing to the likes of Lewis or Twain or Beston who are only a few who have written eloquently on grief.
i believe all who write from the source of any intense pain and sense of loss write from their hearts and from that beauty and hope can be seen as we all struggle to accept what has happened. it is always my hope that sorrow does not keep anyone from expressing their thoughts. i have always believed that in shining a light into the darkness, the darkness cannot hide its cruelty. exposing it and acknowledging it means it can be dealt with and, with effort, controlled.
death took my husband. we had a deep and intense love. we flirted daily. we touched each other constantly. we talked all day every day. the handful of times he left the country to serve his country were our only separations. i am bereft without him yet i have to find my way. my way is hiding myself behind my art.
along this life without my beloved Dragon, i am discovering the hidden truth about grief - it alters a person at the very foundation of their being. whether a person appears to have "moved on" or is "getting better," at the core of them, they are changed. damage has been done to them, much like a woodcutter’s tool is damaging the wood that once was. a part of them has been carved out of their lives and they are different. this has to be accepted at the very least by the intimate survivor of the deceased. it would help if friends and family could see and accept it as well.
the author of the letter to me mentions the hope that i am “breaking through the surface of my loss.” i am still swimming. it has been 14 months now and the times of going under, to continue the metaphor, do not come as often, but they are still there. i have "gone under" twice yesterday and once today. having said that, i can see that i am improving.
i have heard it both ways. “The greatness of the love of the couple helps to heal the survivor more quickly.” and in another book by another expert on grief it was written, “The depth of the love between the couple can hinder the one left behind in getting over their grief. It may take years for them to claim true happiness again.”
see? no one knows. i do not know and i am living it. i do not know what is to come for me. i know only that i am now damaged. but i can still remember love, and express it. i can try to make something good because he lived. i have known a love i know will never come again. i can express it through my stained glass, my woodcarvings, my photography, my writing, and my quilts.
i have no idea what "moving on" means. where do i go from here without him who meant my whole world? if i am "moving on" it is a different person than the one before the moment of his death.
as for hitting the wall, it is a wall that will always be before me. i will come across over and over as i continue to have to live with my Dragon. it was there during my daughter’s wedding. it will be there again when my son marries. i may see it on a random day, some beautiful fall day with swirls of leaves falling in a crisp wind. the wall will be there each Christmas Eve when i lay down alone, year after year. and i may hit “the wall” when i am faced with my own death however it comes. if it is in any way a lengthy process, there will be times when i am left alone and i will see it as an insurmountable obstacle. my fears of dying alone, since he is not here to sit beside me, will make that wall seem to rise up into infinity. and i will have to climb it alone.
for now, i continue to walk forward through this different life alone, one step at a time. i will continue to create art and to create it, there will be, in a sense, some destruction. i will continue to write and it will be founded in pain. it is more a thing of who i am than what i do. i get ideas. i have to create them in whatever form seems to express them best.
from destruction can come beautiful things. fire creates glass. carving wood can give it a shape and form that is magical. fabrics and clothes have to be cut to sew and quilt a lasting, tangible memory. some of the most profound writing comes from authors expressing what their pain feels like. sadness can be a catalyst for deep introspection and out of that can come writing that can help others find their way.
and that is all i am trying to do. i hurt because i miss my husband. his death changed me. i am continuing. i am creating art. it is art born out of my grief. but i am enduring it. i feel burned, drowned, carved, and cut apart. but i love him. i want him to be proud of me. i do not want my children to worry about me. the art of grief is what i am doing with my sorrow. it is all done with my Dragon in mind.