While I personally ended 2020 in a funk, fueled by the negativity of the world news, personal loss, and burnout from producing twenty new shows in 11 months(!), I embrace the new year in hopes of something better.
The beginning of any new year, in my opinion, is a great time to review our mission and vision to see if our work during the course of the year kept true to that vision. If not, should the work change or did the year force a change in our overall vision of Grief Dialogues?
Did we really mean that we “celebrate” death as if the death of a loved one was a good thing? Or did we have another intrepretation in mind?
One reader recently suggested: “If your website is asking us to celebrate death, loss, pain and anguish just because we get poems and art out of the experience, please count me out. I’m not willing to be happy that a human being …died, just because I got a poem out of it.”
I was personally saddened by this response to our vision. At first I felt terrible guilt. Had I mislead people to thinking that the death of a loved ones is a “happy dance” on the way to creating art? I immediately jumped on our website to re-read our vision. Perhaps I needed to change the word “celebrate.” Why had I chosen that word in the first place? And then I remembered why.
When someone has a baby, we ask about the baby’s name. We ask if there are pictures? We ask how the mother is doing? The other parent? The older brothers and sisters?
But when someone dies, we often shun the person suffering the loss. We don’t ask the name of the deceased. Or if we know it, we are afraid to say it. We don’t ask how the griever is doing? We don’t offer our own positive “pictures” of the deceased as in “I remember the time when your Dad helped me ….”
Personally when I write a play or an essay about my loved one who died, I feel I am honoring their memory. I’m continuing the love I felt for them in life by keeping their memory alive with my writings. When I share the work with others on my website or through my theatrical productions, that memory is expanded upon, hopefully encouraging someone else to think of a memory of their loved one.
I acknowledge that not all memories are happy ones or that all deaths are mourned. In June, we hosted a discussion titled When Your Abuser Dies (Live Zoom Reading from Grief Dialogues: The Book with therapist Peggie Dickens for Reimagine Life, Loss, & Love). Some of the feedback we received made clear that there are times when a death is a relief, perhaps in the case of abuse.
There are also cases of relief when someone dies especially after a prolonged and painful illness. In the case of my own mother, I felt tremendous relief when she died after struggling for so long with the complications of Parkinson’s. The pain I could see in her eyes outweighed the pain in my heart at the thought of losing her.
The loss of child weighs even heavier on the sadness scale (if there is such a scale). Child loss goes against the very nature of Life. The natural order is for parents to die first and then the child, but not before the child is old and perhaps a parent themselves.
Recently we performed my play Untold (for the Beautiful Dying Expo and for Reimagine: Creating Space). It’s the story of one woman’s experience with stillbirth and the child loss stories of the medical providers who take care of her. The woman whose story is the basis of Untold shared with me her heartache when people never say her baby’s name, or they easily brush her grief aside because there is “no empty chair” so how bad could the loss be?
In Untold we celebrate the fact that he was conceived, lived inside the womb, and had a name. In the post-performance discussion, the mother talks about the tremendous joy and relief she feels when she is able to share her story.
Watch the play and hear the post-performance discussion here. This link will be live until February 1, 2021. Warning: The play graphically depicts childbirth and child loss.
I also believe that sometimes death is a catalyst for change. Is that cause for “celebration?” Maybe that change would have come even if the loved one had not died. But maybe it was because of that death that the change occurred.
Artist Caito Stewart wrote in her blog post I am Home, and I am an Artist on Grief Dialogues:
As always, we are looking for new stories for our blog and for our upcoming book. Feel free to submit here. But please, read through our website. Our thoughts and convictions about death and grief may not be right for you. And that’s okay.
Out of Grief Comes Art .