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.


  1. OMG that post was from the heart and it has touched a chord in me as blog posts seldom do.
    No one deserves to die of Aids no one.I have not lost anyone to aids but i have in past few years lost a few to cancer including my best friend and also my father.Its true everything you said and i am so glad you at last let yourself grieve.I dont think you ever get over losing someone but in time you learn to live with the grief.In my darkest days i found comfort in my digital art and my words.It is often from the darkest of places that the most beautiful things emerge .Thank you for your words today.The ability to share the good and bad that takes pur breath away is what makes us human.I agree about steel magnolias too its one of my favourites and i no longer need to watch it.
    Jullie with 2 L's
    newbie on altered stART

  2. You speak truth. Sharing is healing. Art is healing.

    I love Steel Magnolias too. "Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion."

    I wish you laughter.

  3. Rick, as a lesbian formerly from Palm Springs, I can tell you that I empathize with you for all your friends lost to aids. Same here. At the time I was an RN and so I saw both sides, i.e. the loss to loved ones and the "don't forget your gloves and mask when you go into that room."
    So sad, it felt like all we did then was walk blindly on, and try to help. Bravo for you working through the grieving process. I lost my 41 yr. old son to suicide 5 yrs ago and feel I've never grieved him completely. Sometimes that "dead inside" feeling creeps up and hits me and all I can do is take care of myself for that period. I also thank using art is helping me deal with it. Thanks for your blogging your feelings and listening here. Carol

  4. Your post touched my heart. I too have had losses. Some to death, some to prejudice and some because people just could not stop hurting me,so I decided to close doors.

    It is sad and scary to think that it is inevitable. That we have to say good bye eventually. Sometimes long before we are ready to do so.

    I know it will not be easy. It has never been easy to let go of a loved one. We think there is so much more! I'm not done! There is much more to tell, so much more to experience... It is not our choice. We, the people left behind, don't get asked if it is all right with us, when they have to go. I understand what you are saying.

    Sadness and tears belong to life! Like shadow belongs to light. We need to give grief it's space, it's recognition and it's deserved respect. It will claim it eventually, if we like it or not. Grief will catch up with you. No matter how fast you try to outrun it, how hard you ignore it, or how little time for it you really have.

    I am sending you the best wishes. Good friends and strong shoulders to lean on in your time of need! I have my husband, my children and my friends and I am grateful for them!

    I even started to paint again.

  5. What would we do without Lesbians?

    I need to blog a bit on that musing-gay women have played such a huge part in my life since I was a tyke-I miss having Lesbian friends.

    I have had as many years with a Lesbian roomate as I have with a male companion and often enjoyed the comfort of a strong woman
    in my daily life more than an indecisive male.

    I always said I would rather be in a bad part of town with 3 lesbians over 20 queens- I always knew when I was out with the "Ladies" that I never had to worry they would have killed anyone who looked at me the wrong way.

    I'm sorry for your loss-suicide is unfair to those left behind even more than sudden natural death---its that decision thing again.

    They never ask if they can leave they get too tired and they just have to go...the consequences be damned...not fair...not fair at all.


Comments are moderated to keep the spammers (especially CHINA) off my blog....Thanks-word verification is off but I am on it...