There will always be a void in our lives where we feel someone is supposed to be standing. As a person who has attended 9 funerals in 10 years, I am acutely aware of this. Here, in a culture that embraces youth and perfection, we aren't taught to deal with the reality that one day all of this ends. In fact, we live every day in opposition to this truth, ignoring our finite nature and becoming deeply offended with the concept of our own mortality. Yet somehow, after all of that experience with death, I am grateful for loss. In fact, I think it is necessary for our wholeness that we come to terms with it. This acceptance is no small feat because I am in no way happy that these 9 beautiful people are gone. In truth, if I think too long on it, their absence feels akin to what I would imagine it would feel like to look into a glorious universe, full of nuance and uniqueness, and suddenly find the door to it slammed shut, unenterable forever. For the rest of my life, I will never talk on the phone to my grandfather or feel the delicate skin on his hands. I will never smell that leathery smell he carried everywhere with him, or see the milky white skin on the top of his head caused by 98 years of cowboy hat coverage; the only hint of his true Irish tones. I will never hear his stories about times I can barely imagine because he took them with him. I would never wish him out of my life; however, I do acknowledge that it was time for him to leave. We aren't given a promise of time or circumstance, yet we allow ourselves to forget that we still have to play by the rules. We still have to die.
That being said, what an opportunity for art to thrive. By exploring feelings surrounding finality, I have for the last few years been examining the space I sense between myself and people who once occupied a place in my world. I have come to believe that a lack of acceptance surrounding decay removes the opportunity to negotiate this difficult part of the human experience with much awareness or grace. So, I now seek help from you: the greater body of humanity. Loss is both personal and communal, with certain aspects of it only accessible through shared experience, and so, I wish to incorporate the communal voice into my artistic practice in a way that promotes positive discourse surrounding this issue.
If you feel safe doing so, take a moment and consider your relationship to a person you have lost. Can you articulate the feeling that rises? It could form as a word, a description of a feeling, or a metaphor. When you think of your relationship to their body, what comes to mind? When you think of death, was there an experience in your life that was particularly powerful? I recently sat down with an artist who described the experience of her first funeral. At only 4 years old, she recollected an era where the family washed and prepared the body at home. In her words, this was death with without "sterility" and it was not a negative thing.
Now I ask for your stories, thoughts, words, and most importantly for your permission to share pieces of these collective experiences as I try and articulate this greater sense of void, a space we have no word for, yet a sliver of the chasm that we all come to know.
You may privately share your experiences to firstname.lastname@example.org or post in the comments section below if you feel comfortable.