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After All This Time...

What you see here is not all of me.  It really isn’t.  I can’t stress this enough.  The last few years have been painful and difficult, but I still have joy in my life, a partner and family I love, I still garden with passion, enjoy company, revel in nature, look forward to music and art and friendship and travel.  What you see here are the sore bits of me.  I have to keep coming back to them, because they have shaped the way I see the world, the way I navigate through life.  But it’s not all of me.

Self portrait of the artist: After all this time I know what I am and that’s some kind of victory.

I lost my mother to cancer when I was 16.  It was 1980.  There was no bereavement counselling.  Psychotherapy was what rich Californian’s did, not middle class Yorkshire kids.  My father fell apart a bit.  My gran was pragmatic and helpful and comforting and supportive, but then she died too.  My friends were way out of their depth.  I just waded through the devastation, making a mess of things, surviving, and looking to the untrained eye like one hell of a tough cookie.  But inside, things were happening, things that have shaped everything. With each successive loss since, I’ve become a survival expert.  A Bear Bloody Grylls.  I now understand I was traumatised.  I now know that the way I survived it has also been the way I’ve self destructed several times since.  I know that there’s grief written through me like Scarborough through a stick of rock.  I know that I carry those scars very close to the surface.   But now I know.  And now you know.  That really feels like an achievement.  And perhaps I can just let it exist while I get on with other things.

"After all this time I know what I am.  That's some kind of victory."  *

The Make

Grief is a funny thing.  Well, obviously it mostly isn’t, but it is certainly interesting.  I think there’s maybe a perception that you feel sad, and then you feel less sad, and then you’re ok.  Anyone who’s gone through a loss knows that’s not the case, but often we admonish ourselves if we don’t get to the ‘ok’ stage.  Theories about the ‘stages of grief’ have abounded since the 60s, and although now largely refuted as anything from too simplistic to downright harmful, the common understanding of how we recover from grief seems still to be a mix of feelings from denial to anger to acceptance, which we eventually get over.    We don’t walk around bawling our eyes out, but ‘getting over’ – I’m not so sure.  We survive and sometimes even thrive, by absorbing.  That’s not the same thing.

I have no training in psychology.  I don’t claim to understand how the brain works.  I have a sketchy idea about neurotransmitters that is probably a little bit correct but mostly wrong.  What I do have is an intimate knowledge of grief.   I know it’s complicated.  I know it’s not something you get over.  I know you can live with it, and live well, but that loss of someone close will always involve a change to you.  A bit of loss, a bit of gain.  Most of my work over the past two years has been trying to fathom out just what it has done to me.  It hasn’t been intended to be therapeutic, though I think I have learnt from it.  It’s more that it has been the main thing occupying my mind, the main thing that I’ve had to navigate just lately.  Other artists may draw or paint or sculpt what they see around them.  Just lately I have been stitching what I find within me.  Some of it has been painful, some of it cathartic, all of it honest. 

*   I wrote down this phrase as it is spoken by Matthew McConaughey's character in Series 1 of TV drama True Detective, written by Nic Pizzolatto.  Obviously I'm not a dodgy Texan police detective with a death wish, but the line kind of jumped out at me.

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