The following entry is from my Groundbreaking Girls website. This week, I’ve been particularly encouraged by the sculptor, Barbara Hepworth. All of the ladies I paint are inspiring, but every so often a mentor comes along at just the right time. I cherish those moments of this project. Thank you, Barbara, for being the fill-in mentor this week.
“A woman artist is not deprived by cooking and having children –one is in fact nourished by this rich life, provided one always does some work each day; even a single half hour, so that images grow in one’s mind.” —Barbara Hepworth
Dame Jocelyn Barbara Hepworth ( 1903 – 1975) was an English sculptor, one of the few female sculptors of her era. She was revolutionary in her style and approach as she carved massive Modernist sculptures by hand. She was also the mother of four….three of them, triplets. In her lifetime, she did achieve some international success, but she was often thought of as provincial because she was a mother and therefor lacked the freedom of her male contemporaries. Still, the focus of her life and her attention to her children in each season caused her work to be extra special, which aficionados especially appreciate now.
Artist’s note: I was drawn to paint Barbara Hepworth after receiving an email from my husband’s first girlfriend (a friend of mine too) in which she remembered visiting the Barbara Hepworth house in St. Ives, Cornwall, when they were art students. I remembered visiting it too with him (over 20 years later) when we visited St. Ives with my traveling parents. I love when I paint a person, and learn about about her, and hers is just the message I need to hear. Granted, this is often the case when I paint artists and writers…but her story came to me in a time when I was really struggling with the idea of trying to be an artist and support my family as a single mother. I was trapped in the story that I couldn’t do it all. So finding out that this woman whom I already admired (I’ve touched her work in its natural habitat!) also had TRIPLETS (along with a first child from another marriage) was a kiss of life to a hurting soul. Granted, she was a genius, but I am inspired. Yes, please, Ms. Hepworth, I’d love you to be my mentor! <3
“I found one had to do some work every day, even at midnight, because either you’re professional or you’re not.”—Barbara Hepworth
Grief comes in waves, they say.
We accept this as a mercy,
sweet relief from the idea of
All Grief, All the Time.
The thing about waves, though—
they aren’t consistent.
Sometimes they are long, shallow rollers,
not unpleasant to move through at all.
The dips and rises almost make you feel
more alive for the moment.
A part of something vast, something majestic.
There may be a weird self-satisfaction
in finding you are still affected by loss,
as if somehow that validates the ocean of love
you surely must have carried in your heart.
But then the big waves move in again
pulled over by the moon or some dark creeping undercurrent
from the other side of the world,
just when you are feeling safe and strong,
overconfident in your swimming skills.
These are the storm wave that crash down hard, relentless in rows,
holding you under, tumbled with the rocks for three minutes at a time,
(which in grief-hours, is at least five days straight.)
The gasping, the panic, the bewildered lack of breath.
You are shocked less by the wave, but the fact that you didn’t see it coming.
And the brief, bottomless understanding that it will come again.
“Son, brother, father, lover, friend. There is room in the heart for all the affections, as there is room in heaven for all the stars.” —Victor Hugo
Happy Father’s Day to all the dads, granddads, great-granddads, and people who step into all those roles for those who need them, regardless of bloodline. This is one thing we have learned over the years: that family isn’t always related, but it is relational. I’m grateful for the men in my life, My own father in particular has always been (and continues to be) a loving, wise, and creative influence in my life, and I have also been impacted by my father-in-law, and before that, my grandfathers. I am also thankful for the men in my life who have been mentors and stand-in dads when perhaps I needed another point of view. I’m thankful for counsellors and pastors and male friends who have walked beside me and given their support or advice when necessary.
There have been a few nights lately when Justine has been sad about the fact that she doesn’t have a father. When I tried to console her, she said: “You don’t understand. You HAVE a dad, and I don’t. It’s not fair!” It struck me that she’s right: I do have a father, and I am reminded to be extra grateful. She doesn’t understand the idea of having lost a partner, a mate, because she’s never been defined by that. She’s never been a wife, of course—she is a child, defined only by having parents. When one parent (or in worse circumstances, two parents) is removed, the child is at a loss for awhile in understanding their anchor to society. Everyone else in her class seems to have a mom and a dad, regardless whether they live together. It’s not like Justine lives in an orphanage…but she recognizes the difference, even at her young age. Something in her identity is imbalanced, as much as I try to tell her she has friends (and she has me!) As much as I might try to help her reframe her thoughts, she is very aware that she is a kind of orphan. Something has shifted in her identity, in the way she sees herself, and the way that she perceives she fits into the world.
I know Maki feels a version of this too, though he talks about it much less. We have each had this massive existential rug pulled from under us, each in our own way, and it’s impossible to not be aware of that. What I didn’t plan for today was that it would be a hard day for the kids. I’ve learned over the past few years to be wary of Mother’s Day: how to plan the day so I don’t compare myself to other mothers being taken out by their husbands (and children), not to expect much, but also not to ignore the event in case the kids DO want to celebrate. But since I do have a father, I thought about celebrating him, not my late husband. It never struck me till today that the kids would feel the loss.
Every discomfort we have is an opportunity to learn compassion. From now on, Father’s Day will not just be a celebration of the wonderful men in our lives—those who have guided us and unconditionally loved us, whether related or not—but a memorial day as well for all those beloved dads who left us too soon. (It’s always too soon when it a dad.)
Here are some pictures shot on Father’s Day, 2014, the year before Vernon’s accident, Glad we did this, because they are some of my keepers.
“Memory is a complicated thing, a relative to truth, but not its twin.”— Barbara Kingsolver
I haven’t gotten far on my memoir, no surprise there—at 15 minutes a day, I’m just five pages into the project, but my mind isn’t letting me write very much at a time. Its octopus tentacles often prefer to wander off the page, yet I’m putting the minimal time in as a discipline. What has been happening is that I find the exercise of writing does open my mind to memories…but perhaps at other times of day, most likely when I’m not sitting at a notebook or the computer. It’s as if that morning writing time is a key to a portal that peeks into the secret garden of the past. I’m opening myself to the possibility that memories of life with Vernon will chose to flit through, to honor me with their presence, perhaps in the afternoon, perhaps another time. Memories of the early years—so sweet, but fiercely scattered. They are much like little hummingbirds, catching my eye in the sunlight, and as I get close, they skirt away again…perhaps not to return. But another might come through later—when I’m dressing, or exercising, or driving, or painting, a postcard memory will come through. I’ll have a sense of that distant place for a moment, and think: I really should write this down. But even as I reach for the keys, it may have passed. In a way, these are more like waking dreams, which I’ve always been terrible at catching. I’ll have to rest in the glow that they were there, just outside the net of words, and be moved that I remembered for a moment.
My hope is that they’ll accumulate into something I can tuck away and access like a favorite story book or an old letter. This strange new season is teaching me to be open to the echoes of memory as they play across the screen at the back of my eyes. And I am a little more open to them every day, learning to enjoy the light scattering off of tiny jeweled feathers for the moment they are there, keeping the gate open so they can come any time….and maybe putting out a little sugared water, dyed red.
“We tell our stories in order to live…” —Joan Didion
I just finished a very special book, The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion. I don’t even know where I got it, I must have picked it up at a free-library box or something. It’s been on my bookshelf for at least a year without my once cracking the spine. I try to keep my bookshelves limited, not holding onto books I won’t open again, but I’m glad I kept this one, which seemed to jump off the shelf into my hands the other night, exactly the the day I was ready for it. I’ve read a lot on grief this year…and I will continue to, but Didion is such a good writer, that this book is immediately set apart. She wrote the book a year after her husband of forty years died of a heart attack and as her daughter was fighting for her own life in a hospital. As a friend says about her work, you feel like she’s at the table with you, talking about herself.
I admit I’ve never read any Didion before, but she is quickly becoming a favorite author. Her voice resonates with me. She also makes me want to be a better writer I have been thinking for a long time about what to do with Vernon’s blog. Do o I rewrite it as a memoir? Do I try to find a publisher? Every so often I’ll go back and dig in, but then my emotional resistance raises its head and throws me into some sort of fog or panic, and I put the ideas aside till I’m more healed up. Now, reading Didion’s book makes gives me courage to think about trying—to try to write like her? I wish. No, to try to write like myself…but better.
So I’ve started writing. Just fifteen minutes a morning…if I stick with this, it will be a long time till it’s done. But the point is, I’ve started. I’ve gone back to when we were first married, eleven years seems so long ago. Now the thoughts of the past are with me throughout the day, which isn’t bad, just…interesting.
Here are some standout quotes from her book, the Year of Magical Thinking. I love these because in this first year, I have often felt that I am losing my mind. I’ve questioned my own mental health. No where else have I seen these symptoms described and affirmed so clearly.
“Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe their husband is about to return and need his shoes.”
“Marriage is memory, marriage is time. Marriage is not only time: it is also, paradoxically, the denial of time.”
“The mourner is in fact ill, but because this state of mind is common and seems so natural to us, we do not call mourning an illness…. To put my conclusion more precisely: I should say that in mourning the subject goes through a modified and transitory manic-depressive state and overcomes it.”
“We are not idealized wild things. We are imperfect mortal beings, aware of that mortality even as we push it away, failed by our very complication, so wired that when we mourn our losses we also mourn, for better or for worse, ourselves. As we were. As we are no longer. As we will one day not be at all.”