I want to talk about death. I want to talk about death all the time. I want to talk about the fact that the only way I ever knew my Dad was through the lens that one day, he would eventually die. I want to talk about the fact that when he died, it was so much different to what I thought it would be. I want to talk about the fact that I am 25 and I didn’t want this to happen to me. I want to talk about the fact that I don’t know how to talk about it. I want to talk about the fact that losing a parent is losing who you think you thought you were and retracing back through everything you ever knew. I want to talk about how much it has taught me. I want to talk about the guilt I feel for not being there. I want to talk about how I’m scared my Mum will die. I’m scared everyone will die. I’m scared I will die.
I want to talk about the fact that other people find it hard for me to talk about it. I want to talk about how I feel guilty for how people feel around me. I want to talk about people’s sympathy for me. Their pity. Their worry. Their ‘oh, she’ll get over it one day’. Their ‘oh, it’s sad.’
I want to talk about the fact that I don’t know if I’m grieving. Or if this is who I am now.
Most of all, I want to talk about the fact that, ten months on, now more than ever, I don’t know how and when to talk about the fact that my Dad died.
When I look and talk to other people around me who have experienced death, this seems to be the consensus. On the whole, there just isn’t a space to talk about death, in a way that isn’t received 90% of the time, with an ‘oh’, or a ‘sorry’ or an ‘I don’t know what to say’, before they look away solemnly. Or that isn’t deemed as ‘inappropriate’ or a ‘bit much for dinner time’. As a society, we just don’t know what to say, and we’d rather run away from that which we fear, rather than confront and understand it.
We put death away in a box. But it is the most sure fire thing that will ever happen to us. We will die. Those around us will die. We will all encounter it at some point in our lives, yet noone wants to talk about it at any great length. Perhaps it's obvious, but death forces us to face the mortality we consistently deny and I wish we could walk hand in hand, just that little bit more.
Over time, death’s knock quietens and grief convalesces in a nuanced, private undertaking. It becomes unnoticeable and folk muddle on. In fits and bursts. Because they have to. But it's because it becomes more unnoticeable that I worry. Grief isn’t just crying in the immediate aftermath or falling apart in the months that follow. There isn’t a forward moving, linear trajectory. It sits in the getting it back together, the birthdays and anniversaries, remembered songs, nostalgic smells and flashbacks of the funeral when you’re crossing the Kingston Bridge.
I wonder if not being able to talk about it and by cutting a grieving process short; stuffing it into corners to be hidden away is going to do me more harm than good. I don’t want to just get on with it.
I find solace in another who is in the ‘club’. The ‘club’ or community of others who are trying to lessen the struggle, and provide a space to talk about death which provides the most comfort. The ‘club’ of art, film, literature and podcasts which speaks into the truth of the quiet struggle and lets me and others know, that grief is unknown, surprising, many and all things; it bubbles away and trickles through everything. It is an acute aching loneliness that breathes and sucks life into and from everything.
That’s how I felt when I watched Tom Lock Griffiths' Waterfall and Ingrid Kamerling’s Vivian, Vivian, programmed at the Scottish Mental Health Festival. The sense that both films are a working out, a processing where the personal becomes the collective. Both offer a way through. As Griffiths notes: 'It’s a discussion with my self as much as anyone else and an excuse to talk about these things.’ In this case, art becomes therapy and the camera an instrument for which to navigate the unfathomable and unseen depths which lurk beneath the surface of those that are grieving. Griffiths plunges the underwater landscapes to give shape and form to the interconnecting sites between memory, time and space: ‘the vast psychological landscapes.’ The waterfall where his Dad scattered his mother’s ashes is entangled with childhood memories and past relationships and become rewritten over the course of time.
It strikes me that grief is tidal. Grief comes in waves. At the beginning they knocked me over, and sometimes they swallowed me whole. In between the waves, I am trying to breathe, to function and to find joy in the beauty of life. I am deep in the throes of my understanding of what grief is and what it will become, and I don’t have all the words to describe it yet, but here is a list of things which I have seen, listened to and read which have bought a lightness to the darkest of times and have helped describe it for me and will perhaps help others too. Whilst it can be bleak, it is also a process that necessitates a lightness, humour and hope, and I have found that in the art which surrounds me. I don’t think there is a solution or a resolution to living in the face of death, but to find ways to endure and find joy, again in what it is to still be alive.
by Jassy Earl
Jassy Earl is a photographer, videographer and performance maker. At the core of her practice is an emphasis on people, stories and the human experience, working with people, children and communities. Most recently she is interested in grief, loss and the dialogues we have around death, particularly with young people. To find out more about her work, visit her website.
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
Blue Nights by Joan Didion
What Comes Next and How To Like It by Abigail Thomas
Grief is a Thing With Feathers by Max Porter
On The Shortness of Life by Seneca
It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool Too) by Nora McInerny Purmort
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
Grief Works by Julia Samuel
A Grief Observed by C.S Lewis
Death by Julian Barnes