SETTING THE SCENE
Five years after a painful divorce that I didn’t want, I met Lee, or rather he found me! It’s a long story, how we met, but it really was magical and we knew from the very beginning that we would be together forever. However, a few months after we met he started to feel ill, and by the time he was finally diagnosed with cancer (another long story) it was too late, and he died a few weeks later at just 45 years old. How could we know that our forever would come so soon, way too soon. It was a terrible time, made worse by other circumstances at the time.
But - this is a blog about dealing with grief positively, and there is much to be positive about that time, and what he gave me, and the way that knowing him and losing him changed who I am now. That short but oh so sweet time will be with me always.
And that’s my first point really, you never ‘get over’ losing someone special to you, and actually, you don’t want to - you just learn to live with it, live alongside it, be at peace with it. You gradually build a new life around it, and the rawness fades and your dialog with the grief internalises and becomes more private.
As a graphic designer and artist, it was natural for me to turn to art and creativity as a response to the grief in those early days and as time went on. Lee was an artist himself, a great cook and a carpenter, he was spiritual and fun, almost childlike in his love of life and music and dancing, and me! He left many notebooks and scraps of paper with musings and poems and drawings, and plans, but they were all over the place. A seemingly empty notebook would suddenly fall open on an odd page that he had written some message or drawn some sketch for a painting he planned to do one day. Or I would find a bundle of scraps of paper with future plans at the back of a drawer. So it was a joy, albeit a sad joy, to gradually gather together all these random thoughts and expressions - each one like a message from the past reaching out to me.
At first, my house was full of photos and mementos, and that gave me comfort for sure, but as the process of building a new life moved on I wanted to capture the essence of him to keep around me, but in a more subtle and private way.
One of the ways I did this was that he left behind a huge 1m x 1m canvas that he had intended to paint me and my greyhound, Ella on. It never got beyond the planning stage and for several months it was there in the garage - blank, but full of potential. One day it came to me - I divided the canvas into 9cm x 9cm squares, 121 squares altogether. Over the next 3 years, I gradually filled the squares with ‘stuff’ that meant something to me. Of course many are related to Lee, but others relate to over people in my life, and my greyhounds and my memories, and other passions.
During this time I did the Marie Kondo, Life-Changing Magic of Tidying thing. This involves decluttering all of your physical life - if you don’t love it, or if its not useful - get rid of it! (By the way decluttering your physical life in this way is a good start to decluttering your emotional life too!). One of the things I finally cleared out were my ‘memory boxes’, including my wedding box from my previous marriage, and umpteen cards and memorabilia that I have been given for various occasions. But, I kept key pieces and incorporated them into my squares. I completed the canvas earlier this year. I love it.
Lee was the inspiration when I went on a weekend ‘Painting from the Imagination’ course with Nicola Slattery, one of my favourite artists. The Buddha painting I did on the course is about Lee, but also about commemorating other special people and things I have lost in my life. It’s a painting based on a Buddha I have – part of a kind of shrine that evolved almost by accident. Casual visitors wouldn’t necessarily recognise it as such, but everything on it has a special meaning to me. A shrine is a good way to honour and celebrate the people and things in your life you have lost and loved.
Another piece of art on my walls is a set of three photos of Lee when he was close to dying. As these painful and raw images became inappropriate for public display, instead of taking them down, I painted over them, so he is there still, but in a quiet way. Similarly, I have various cushions and a throw incorporating some of his clothes. It’s a way of living alongside his memory in a companionable and sustainable way.
Everyone has creative skills, and to me, they are an important way of helping the grieving process.