Thursday, October 22, 2009
MOURNING - the art of sadness
William Bouguereau (1825-1905)
Premier Deuil [The First Mourning]
Oil on canvas, 1888
79 7/8 x 99 1/8 inches (203 x 252 cm)
Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Buenos Aires
Touch my heart, challenge my mind, know me but don’t get too close…
When people get too close I get nervous…
Ask me and I will answer, need me and I will be there but once I give you my trust, you may never go away.
I have lived through one of the most horrible plagues that ever touched mankind, AIDS…anyone who says this is God’s wrath or that it’s killing all the right people needs to stay FAR away from me.
I have watched as some of the most talented, caring, loving, generous people ever placed on earth withered, lingered and died.
If that’s the God you believe in, a vengeful, Old Testament beast that not only kills but tortures we live in worlds that are very far apart indeed.
You will need to forgive my lack of tact but I am in mourning.
The first person I personally knew to have AIDS died in 1984 the last in 1997 in between I buried more than 25 of my best friends-I was elected because I wasn’t sick, I was able to do what it took to fight red tape, families, prejudice and fear.
In those early days when AIDS was even scarier because no one really knew how it was transmitted ,dinner trays were shoved across hospital floors in the general direction of people who were too weak to feed themselves much less get up and find their food.
Wasting diseases aren’t pretty to watch and they require a lot of help and care to afford the patient dignity and comfort…back then fear overtook any sense of humanity.
I saw just about the entire repertoire that AIDS has to offer from Kaposi’s sarcoma on.
13 years ago a man who was my vocal coach, accompanist and friend died a nasty death as his brain rotted away from some exotic mold, lingering over months, disappearing mentally and physically a little more each day.
Despite his protestations that he would take his own life and never spend a day in a hospital at the end he became a warrior.
All of us have that will to live strong within us and just when we might allow ourselves the luxury of letting go and slipping away we rally and we start to literally fight for our lives.
I didn’t have time back then to mourn-I needed time to do what needed doing for everyone else and in between I had to make my own way and make a living.
In a life that busy and full of things too horrible to comprehend your emotions shut down, there is no time for tears or self pity; we just do what we must do.
I am an advocate of mental health and how the mind and the body work together, if we are sick we go to the doctor if we are mentally ill (and doesn’t that sound ominous? Mentally ill---conjures up all those visions of strait jackets and padded cells) we also go to a professional who can help us get better.
I found I had shut down.
The years between that last death and this year haven’t been easy for me; I have had a series of losses and health issues of my own.
There is truth to the adage that you don’t need to worry about the sick you worry about the caregiver…
I have never been one to allow anyone to worry about me-I’m about “I’m fine!” especially when I’m not.
It all finally caught up with me this year, too many things, too much stress, too many little bits came together and I finally was forced (despite my protestations) not just to slow down but to actually STOP and take care of all that I had ignored for all those years.
There’s a song that says:
“I never knew that men could cry, never knew they felt so deep,
Never knew they shed tears, never knew they had fears…”
I learned this year what it means to cry.
I have never thought much about crying, tears were allowed in my family-we were especially a clan of angry criers---instead of screaming we would cry from frustration---different thing.
I have a great therapist as well as a great doctor.
He gently but firmly led me to see that I had never mourned all those friends who, one by one, had gone off and left me behind, alone and abandoned.
“Sola, perduta, abbandonata…”
Alone, Lost, Abandoned… Manon Lescaut, Puccini…
Did you ever consider that often WE must tell people to die, that it’s OK for them to stop suffering, that we will be OK and they can leave, but they very seldom ask US if they can go?
One of the great frustrations of death is that it is SO final and to whom can you complain about it?
I wasn’t ready, I needed one more day (hour, minute), and did I say all the things I needed to say?
One day not so long ago, seated on a very unattractive but comfy sofa in an office not too far from where I live, I learned what it means to cry-to grieve…to mourn.
Something primal happened where I knew what was going on but it was far beyond me and I can only say that the closest thing I can describe that feeling to was vomiting tears.
That day was a gift…it was the start of my healing.
I hadn’t done anything creative for some time and for me it’s the same as saying I hadn’t taken a breath in all that time.
I have watched as my art has reflected my various moods from dark and somber to lighter and airier, colours have changed, textures have smoothed and my sense of humor is returning.
So, I am in mourning…at last, much delayed but it is the state of things that we need to mourn so we can STOP grieving.
I share this with you because I wonder how often just the act of sharing is healing.
It not only is a balm to the wounds of my soul but perhaps we are meant to share these feelings so others can begin their journey and know they are not alone or abandoned.
I know I am getting better because I was able to write this entire post without shedding a tear-maybe when I reread it to edit it…
Funny anecdote-I love the movie STEEL MAGNOLIAS…guaranteed for a good cry and some good laughs.
I watched it so many times I know the dialog by heart---catharsis---I don’t watch it anymore---don’t need to.
All of this is a part of why ART is so important-don't just look at what you do, look at what it says about you.
ART can be, NO, IS a part of healing, my healing anyway.
We aren't just showing the world our talent we are opening a window on our soul.