I have a pre-occupation with ideas for mourning, beyond what poetry can offer. This is not to say that poetry does not resonate deeply with my own experience of grieving after my partner died.
…The work of keeping you alive. Just as you
Constantly renewed yourself (and have again,
for all we know), I keep your lesson close;
Be open, honest, true; be rigorous and loyal,
But most of all be joyful in everything I say and do.
The world is shining even as we lose
The people, things and scenes we cherish most.
Walking on the beach, my son whose middle name
Is yours collects stones and makes up stories for each
A life can be a model. I learned that much from you.
From ‘Talking With the Dead’ by Robert McDowell
It’s proved impossible to keep him alive, but I’ve tried in so many ways. Now I understand I am trying to hold my memories in ways that have meaning for me and use my language of making to do this. The first thing I did was a diorama of us in bed together in a pink shoe box. He was a cut down power ranger and I was a fluffy pipe cleaner doll with a Swarovski heart. I launched us into the bay at Williamstown at sunrise a year after he died. It felt pretty crazy but good too. I think he would have liked it.
Then I created a book about my work with art therapist, Nona Cameron. I wanted to explore my grief; not healing, moving on, or getting over it, just feeling its texture. I started journaling about our work, writing poetry too. In the process I discovered my deep pre-occupation with disintegration and reconstruction of things, textiles in particular.
At the end of this work with Nona I made a small textile called ‘I will mind you’. The piece includes old fraying furnishing fabric from my partner’s dining chairs, fragile disintegrating chiffon I’ve had for years, and a small precious piece of silk velvet from Lyon. These fragments are held together with rough stitches of the finest pale green silk. This was a process of reverie, creation of a sensory metaphor about how vulnerable and strong he was in everything he did including loving me.
As I finished sewing I knew this was a beginning, something calling me into a barely sensed future. Somehow making this little textile was a start, a way for me to begin to express my memories and hold him to me in some intangible yet tangible way. I kept on with this exploration. For the next year I worked to create a book of small textiles, a kind of textural narrative of our time together called ‘How you loved me’.