Creating art has changed for me in many ways. My eldest son, Jordan died in a car accident in March this year. He would have turned 26 on the 18th of March. For a few numbing months, lost in the shock of it I thought I would never paint seriously again. I remember in those first few weeks I took to watercolours, but in my mind they were just doodles. I felt I’d lost my mojo. I was and often still am overwhelmed by the grief that can be so intense words alone cannot describe it.
I’m back painting again. I only have a very short attention span nowadays, preferring to numb out emotion through whatever means easily accessible (food, alcohol, Netflix. Anything mindless) . But I’ve come to realise that through creating artworks ‘about’ Jordan, I’m also creating new memories ‘with’ him. This is an important distinction for me, and I suppose it is based on the belief that he is still ‘alive’ in the truest sense.
After a death you are still in a relationship with the person, however, now because of the chasm of death, that relationship is connected through pain. That’s why many grieving parents say they will never ‘get over’ the loss of a child, and they don’t want to either. That child is a part of you. A deep and indelible part. A parent-child relationship is an unconditional one where the parents’ role as nurturer causes such a strong psychic connection that their concern is always centred around the child’s safety and thriving.
We are accustomed to, as parents, to worry about our kids. We can be heartbroken and concerned for them. We suffer with their sufferings and rejoice in their triumphs. This doesn’t change after death. Through my artwork in some ways I’m saying, “are you ok Jordan?” “You are loved” “you are remembered” “You are amazing” , and a wonderful quote from one of his friends, “heaven adores you”. I suppose art has given me a way of nurturing him, including him and yes of course, remembering him and his time on planet Earth. I want him to be forever remembered by everyone who knew him. And if you know me I want you to know him, too.
When I studied art therapy I learnt about how art can facilitate these ‘altered states’ It’s not as mystical as it sounds. Altered states are just below the surface of our everyday pragmatic existence. You experience them when you are deeply involved in something. It’s a chance for your subconscious self, to come to the foreground of your awareness. This always happens when we dream, because we have no filter and our minds are not preoccupied with the mundane. When Jordan left us I realised how often I straddle these two states. I long to become aware of the spiritual, to learn how to notice little things he may be saying to me. Yet I am so deeply aware of how difficult this is. It’s frustrating, when we are alive we are truly bent away from seeing anything spiritual. So seldom do we scratch the surface of our existence. The times he has sent me a message, and I have been ‘awake’ enough to receive it, are held very deeply in my heart.
Because being creative helps us access this ‘altered state’ or dreamlike state of awareness, it has helped me understand my own pain, just a little bit. I’m someone who will feel something deeply then minimise things once I’m past the pointy end of my pain. A painting holds up a mirror in this way. When you are very emotional anyway, you develop tools to numb things over, so validating an experience is important. On another level, there’s the things we don’t know about the ocean that is our psyche, and engaging in art can be surprising. It can reveal things previously outside of our awareness.
So many people who have lost their precious children have also lost purpose. What’s the point? What’s the point in doing anything? Everything is meaningless. Life is about surviving until we can be with them again when we die. It’s only been nine months for me. So I have no answers and I feel like this often too. All I know, really on a very basic level, is I’m grateful for my art. I don’t even care what others think about it now. At the end of the day, it’s a comfort. It’s a comfort because of the tangible link it has to the Spirit. Music is the same, as is writing.
I will always remember Jordan saying-not that long ago- “oh cool mums getting her paints out. I love it when mum paints!”